University of Erfurt

Gotha Research Centre of the University of Erfurt

Projekt von Dr. Malihe Karbassian

Symbols in alchemical context: Kitab al-Aqalim al-Sab'a, its content and approach to the different alchemical traditions from Harran to Late Antiquity

My project is about one of the symbolic alchemical works in Arabic: al-Aqālīm al-Sabʿa fi al-ʿIlm al-Ṣanāʿa (Seven climes on the science called art [of alchemy]) by Abu al-Qāsim al-Iraqī who known as al-Sīmāwī, a less known alchemist at 7th /13th century. One of the oldest copy of this manuscript is accessible in Gotha library (Ms. Or. A. 1261/1). 

The main subject of al-Aqālīm al-Sab͑a is the answer to this question that how can be made elixir?

al-Sīmāwī follows Jābir Ibn Ḥayyān in alchemy. In fact, it seems that his attention to symbols and secret languages refers to Corpus Jabirianum. 

al-Sīmāwī retells several interesting alchemical tales especially about famous persons who follows Hermetic tradition. As he has referred to some Greek and Roman alchemists includes clearly that he knows well hermetic literature in Arabic. The other reason in this regard is his usage of Greek and Syrian names of planets beside Arabic.

The other point in al-Aqālīm al-Sabʿa is the usage of symbols and pseudo-hieroglyphic signs beside ancient alchemical mystic images. Now, based on reports of several Muslim authors we know that alchemical writing and illustration was remained to 4th/10th century.

This project in base of this background tries to answer these questions:

1. What are sources of al-Sīmāwī in al-Aqālīm-Sabʿa?

2. Which relationship is between symbolic and secret language in this book and Corpus Jabirianum?

3. What is linkage between symbols of al-Aqālīm-Sabʿa and works of Greek, Roman and Muslim alchemists? 

4. The authors of these books have used which methodology to mix ancient alchemical traditions? Or, can we find their method to interwoven various traditions by reviewing the combination of allegorical illustration, author-portrait frontispiece, and pictogram?


Malihe Karbassian holds a B.A. in Persian Literature and M.A. in Ancient Iranian Languages and Cultures from Tehran University. Karbassian submitted her PhD dissertation in Islamic Studies at University of Bonn. She is a member of the editorial board of the “Indo-Iranian heritage” series (Iran – Germany), and “Iran and Iraq common heritage” (Iran). She is also a contributor to the Center for the Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Her main centers of interest are Ancient Iranian Mythology and Religions, Symbolism, Etymology of Iranian Languages. She conducted research, and edited the Dasātīr by Āẕar Kaywān, and the Jām-e Kaykhusraw by Khudājūy ibn Nāmdār for the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) at Reinische Friedrich Wilhelms- Universität Bonn (April 2012 – April 2015). Karbassian’s publications include “The meaning and etymology of Barzakh in Illuminationist philosophy” Writing in Light: Illuminationist Texts and Textual Studies in Honor of the Late Hossein Ziai, Edited by Ali Gheissari, John Walbridge and Ahmed Alwishah, Leiden: Brill, 2018, pp. 86-95; “The Dustūr al-munajjimīn and its Approach to the Pre-Islamic History of Iran; A Preliminary Study,” Science in the City of Fortune: The Dustūr al-munajjimīn and its world, Edited by Eva Orthmann and P. Schmidl, Berlin: EB-Verlag Dr. Brandt, 2017, pp. 189-197; Dīwān-e Ḥājī Abarqūhī, Introduction and Notes by Malihe Karbassian, Qom-Bonn: Majma‘-e Zakhā’ir-e Islāmī, Institute for Oriental and Asian Studies, 2014; Peymān-e Dīn (Confession of Faith in Zoroastrianism), Critical transcription and Translation of Avestan and Pahlawī Texts of Yasnā 12-15, Tehran: Akhtarān Press, 2010; Dar Kharābāt-e Mughān (Some Observations on Old Iranian Culture and Literature), Tehran, Eṭṭilā‘āt Press, 2007; Three Mystical Treatises by Qāsim ‘Alī Akhgar Ḥaydarābādī, Edited With Introduction and Notes by Malihe Karbassian and Mohammad Karimi Zanjani Asl, Tehran: University of Tehran, 2006; A short Dictionary of Old Iranian Mythology, Tehran: Akhtarān Press, 2005.



User menu and language choice