It was during this earlier period of almost four centuries, devoted largely to medical research, that the Arabians acquired considerable skill in the art of distillation and the preparation of distilled waters, of several oils and of alcohol, a skill that was later lost in large part. Medical and alchemistic literature reveal this knowledge of distillation, distilling apparatus and distillates.
Since the time of the Egyptians it was Geber, whose fragmentary writings reveal for the first time a fair knowledge of distillation, both of the dry distillation and of the distillation with water. He used apparatus made from glass, also from glazed earthenware. Next to Geber, Mesue the younger was probably the earliest of the more important medical writers. He lived somewhere between the eighth and tenth centuries. It is not improbable that there were several authors bearing this name, also that other writers published their works under this famous author's name, and that in later periods an exchange of names and writings may have taken place.
The most important work of Mesue is his Antidotarium seu Grabaddin medicamentorum compositorum libri XII. For many centuries it was a medical authority. In the twelfth chapter, De ole/s1) the method of preparation of oils is described. Most of these are aromatized fatty oils. However, the oils from juniper wood and bitumen are directed to be prepared by dry distillation which process is described in detail. According to Bergmann, Mesue is supposed also to have known distilled oil of rose and amber oil.2).
Other medical authors of this period reveal a knowledge of distilled waters and oils and their uses. Thus Ibn Khaldun3), who lived during the ninth century, mentions that distilled rose water was an important article of Persian commerce during the eighth and ninth centuries. Nonus Theophanes,4) who during the tenth century was physician to emperor Michael VIII in Constantinople, recommended rosewater as a medicinal agent. The Syrian physician Serapion (Janus Damascenus) who lived in the ninth century, also Avenzoar5) who lived about a century later and who was physician to the Caliph Ebn Attafin of Morocco, used rose water as an eye-remedy and rose oil sugar as an internal remedy. In the medical writings of Abn Dschafar Achmed, an Arabian physician of the eleventh century, which were translated into Greek by Synesius of Constantinople, rose water, rose oil and camphor are mentioned among the current remedies.1)
) Editio Veneti 1502. fol. 80.
) "Mesue medicamentorum plurimorum inventione magnam famam et nomen evangelistae pharmacopolarum consecutus est; durantque hodie nunc in officinis nostris compositiones nonnullae, quae ille primus descripsit." - "Mesue aquam destillatam rosarum, oleum ex succino et lateribus tamquam veteribus nota memorat". (Torbert Bergmann, Historiae chemias medium seu obscurum asvum. Editio Hebenstreit. Lipsiae 1787. p. 7).
) Notices et extraits des manuscripts de la bibliotheque imperiale a Paris 1862. Tom. 19, p. 364.
) Nonus Theophanes, Praefatio ad Synesii De febribus. Editio Bernardi. Amstelodami 1749. Cap. 28, p. 112.
5) Liber Theizir Dahalmodana Vahaltadabir Prooemium Averrhoi Cordu-bensis ab Jacobo Hebraeo. Anno 1281. Colliget Veneti 1553. Liber 7. fol. I. Lib. 5. cap. 9. fol. 44.
While Geber was the first, and also the most important Arabian writer who was acquainted with distillation, the writings of Albucasis, who lived three centuries later, reveal such an exact knowledge of the subject, that the assumption seems justified that distillation was largely practiced by the Arabians. The Liber servitoris2) of Albucasis contains a very clear description of the process of distillation which Torbert Bergmann, the
1) Synesius, De febribus. Editio Bernardi. Amstelodami 1749. p. 58 and 240.
2) A number of the works of the Arabian physicians and alchemists of this period have been preserved in a collective edition published in Venice in 1501. In addition to the principal work of Mesue and the Antidotarium of Nicolas and commentaries on the same, this folio contains several works of contemporaries. The titles of the individual works are herewith given:
"Uni Joannis Mesue Liber de consolatione medicinarum simplicium et correctione operationem aerum canones universales: cum expositione preclarissimi medici magistri Bondini de lentiis feliciter incipiunt." (fol. 2-31.)
"Additiones Petri Apponi medici clarissimi, et Francisci de Pede-montium." (fol. 31-90.)
"Joannis Nazareni filii Mesue Grabaddin medicinarum particularium incipit" (fol. 91-266.)
"Antidotarium Nicolai cum exposition/bus, et glossis clarissimi magistri Platearii." (fol. 267-293.)
"Expositio Janis de Santo Amando supra antidotarii Nicolai incipit feliciter:' (fol. 294-330.)
"Tractatus de synonymis quid pro quo:' (fol. 331 - 334.)
"Liber Servitoris seu libri XXVIII Bulchasin Ben-aberazerin: translatus a Simone Januensi: interprete Abraamo Judeo Tortuosiensi." (fol. 334 - 345.)
"Uni Saladini de esculo Servitati principis Tarenti physici principalis compendii aromatiorum opus feliciter incipit" (fol. 346 - 354.)
Quae omnia supradicta hie finem habent ad laudem del. Veneti impressa anno Domini 1502, die 23. Junii.
The oldest individual editions of some of these treatises date back as far as 1471, hence to the invention of the printing press.
Swedish chemical historian, regards as one of the first and best.1)
The distillation of water, of acetic acid, and of alcohol is described in the following words in the writings of Albu-casis.-)
"Modus faciendi aquam rosatam. Operatio ejus est secundum quatuor modos . . . Sed modum operationis ejus, quae fit cum aqua et inge ligno-rum, ego monstrabo secundum formam, quam faciunt reges Abarach. Et hie est modus ejus. Facias berchile parvum in domo ampla, cujus fundus et latera sint ex plumbo, adeo discreta simul solidata, ut aqua non possit egredi ab eo: et facias tibi coopertorium ex vitro cum sagacitate, vel ex terra vitreata, et in eo forma secundum formam vasorum destillationis, vel secundum quantitatem magnitudinis berchilis, vel parvitatem ejus, secundum volun-tatem tuam faciendi multam, vel paucam aquam rosatam. Deinde pone ollam magnam ex aere vel cachabum post parietem, juxta quam posuisti berchile secundum formam ollae balnei, et construe earn super furnum, et berchile sit constitutum super furnum, inferius ab olla, ita quod applicet de calore ignis berchilis ad ollam. Et facias caminam cum foraminibus, per quae possit fumus extra domum egredi, ita quod fumus totus e domo egrediatur, et non noceat aquae rosatae. Deinde imple ollam ex aqua, quae sit in puteo facto juxta ollam, sicut est puteus balnei, et accende ignem sub ea, quousque bulliat aqua bene. Deinde dimitte venire aquam per canale, quod fecisti per discretionem ad berchile, deinde pone aliam aquam frigidam in ollam ex puteo, sicut in olla balnei sit et constitue in berchile canale, per quod egre-pone cucurbitas sive ventres, et sunt vasa destillatoria in foraminibus berchilis; et stringe cum panno lini discrete, ita quod bene sedeant in foraminibus suis, et vapor aquae non egrediatur extra. Similiter, et capita eorum stringes cum panno lini ... Et operatio ejus quae sit in terra nostra est servior et brevior, quam illa, quam dixi. Et est, quod accipias ollam ex aere sicut est illa tinctorum, et pone post parietem, et pone super earn coopertorium discrete factum, cum foraminibus in quibus ventres ponuntur, et pone in eo ventres cum sagacitate, et postea imple ollam aqua .... Operatio ejus sine aqua et cum igne carbonum est, quod facias furnum quadrum, aut rotundum, et habeat coopertorium superius, super quod stabunt ventres ex terra vitreata, ut possint sustinere ignem, et quando accendentur carbones, et incipiet aqua rosata destillare, claude os furni, et dimitte foramina aperta, per quae fumus egrediatur."