Agathodaimon And The Fiery Poison Concoction

Many names have been associated with the study and development of alchemy through the ages, but few are as famous as Agathodaimon. He was said to be a great alchemist from around the third century. 

During late Roman Egypt, Agathodaimon would go on to make a name for himself as one of the most prolific alchemists, but in modern times, much of his work is unknown.

A few surviving fragments which reference his work are quoted in medieval alchemical texts, mainly the Anepigraphos, and thanks to these surviving fragments the name of Agathodaimon lives on.

Though the surviving works of the great alchemist are few and far between, he is mainly renowned for his work describing the elements, minerals, and his description of a method used in producing silver. Though his works were largely positive, he is also regarded as the founder of a substance called the ‘fiery poison’.

Based on his description, the fiery poison is thought to have been arsenic trioxide, a highly toxic amphoteric oxide.

The substance he created would go on to become a lethal weapon used in assassinations.

L0012731 Manuscript anonymous on Alchemy, 17th century Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Alchemy, detail. 17th century

Who Was Agathodaimon

The name Agathodaimon translates as “good genius”, or “beneficent divinity”. 

In ancient Egypt, the Agathodaimon was held in high regard, as a good hearted spirit, shaped like a serpent with a human head. The ancient Greeks also looked upon the Agathodaimon as guardians of the people. They were wise, and often foretold future events like oracles. 

A mysterious man named Agathodaimon would also appear in the history books, as one of the greatest alchemists who ever lived. Despite the mythology surrounding his name, Agathodaimon was a real person who gained a famous reputation.

Despite the lack of known sources, in medieval times, he was referred to as the ‘father of poison’. In other sources, he is said to have been a student of the God Hermes. 

The Fiery Poison

It’s thought that Agathodaimon was able to create the substance when he fused either realgar or orpiment, with naturally occurring sodium carbonate. When this mixture dissolved in water, it would appear clear. 

He went on to describe how when he dropped a copper fragment into the substance, the copper would turn a deep green colour. This reinforces the idea that orpiment or realgar was used in creating the poison. Both orpiment and realgar are arsenic ores, and with the addition of copper, the substance would become copper arsenite. 

His methods can be considered the basis of future poison “experiments” and were often used for murder.

Influence in The Middle East 

Fragments of alchemical writings attributed to Agathodaimon are preserved as quotations in later Arabic texts.

Nestorian Christians fled to Persia around 400AD. This sect of Christians gathered works on Alchemy and preserved them. After the Islamic invasion, these works were passed on to the Arabs, which contributed to the rise of alchemy in the middle east.

The influence of Alchemists like Agathodaimon in the middle east gave rise to people such as Jabir ibn Hayyan, who gained an interest and knowledge in the works of Alchemy, and went on to become one of the most famous Arab Alchemists.

The modern English word “Alchemy” stems from the Arabic language.