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Zosimus - Formula of the crab

Ms 299 in the library of St Marks in Venice is a 10th century copy of some Greek works on alchemy including some texts by Zosimus who lived and worked probably in Alexandria around 300 AD.
Contained in this manuscript is a series of strange characters called the 'Formula of the Crab' which is said to contain the secret of the transmutation of metals. In the margin of this late copy is a note in a fourteenth century hand giving an interpretation of the symbols.


1. The first sign implies "Nota Bene" and is equivalent to the words "important; begin; attention."

2. To pan, the all. This also means a mixture of lead and copper (molybdochalkos).

3. Chalkou ios, rust of copper, i.e., verdigris. This would introduce more copper to the tutie, and impart a yellower shade resembling gold.

4. These are two signs for copper joined by the sign for lead, molybdochalkos kekarmenos, i.e., burnt copper-lead.

5. The sign of the crab or scorpion with eight anterior claws. The words are argyrochalkos kekaumeitos kai pepegmenos. In some MSS. the scorpion's tail is barred and in some a semicircle. It signifies "silver-copper burnt and fixed."

6. The word "fixed."

7. Emeritos, "divided up."

8. Dragmai, "weights."

9. Implies the number " 14"

10. This is an abbreviation for titanos chalkos to pan ostrakon, i.e., calx of copper is the whole shell, or oyster, or philosopher's egg. A "calx " meant a metal calcined and reduced to its oxide.

11. To pan ostrakon repeated.

12. Titanos, calx, repeated.

13. Chalkou, "of copper."

14. Ho Noesas makarios, "blessed is he who understands".