BERTHELOT, Pierre-Eugène-Marcellin

BERTHELOT, Pierre-Eugène-Marcellin. Paris 25.10.1827 — Paris 18.3.1907. French Chemist, famous for his work on Organic Chemistry. Also a Scholar of the History of Chemistry and Alchemy. Son of a physician, Jacques-Martin B., educated at Lycée Henri IV (classsmate of Renan). Studies in Paris, dr. ès sciences 1854. From 1859 Professor at École sup. de pharmacie, from 1865 Professor of Organic Chemistry (a new chair) at Collège de France. In 1873 member of Académie des sciences, 1881 senateur inamovible. Served as minister of public instruction in Goblet’s cabinet in 1886-87 and as minister of foreign affairs in Bourgeois’ cabinet in 1895-96. Married with Sophie Niaudet, six children.

MB started his historical studies with Greek alchemy, extended soon on Syrian and Arabic sources, and began then to cull out parallel material from Persian, Indian and Chinese sources available in translations. Soon found references to India in Syrian and Arabic sources. He corresponded with the Parsees of Bombay on Iranian tradition and with Prafulla Chandra Ray (1861–1944) on Indian.

Publications: Much on chemistry (mainly organic).

Les origines de l’alchimie. P. 1885; with C.-E. Ruelle: Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs. 1-4. P. 1887-88; Introduction à l’étude de la chimie des anciens et du moyen âge. 1-3. P. 1893.

– “Les lapidaires chinoises”, JS 1896, 573-592; “Quelques renseignements sur l’alchimie persane et indienne”, JS 1897, 627-633; “Sur l’alchimie indienne”, JS 1898, 227-236; “Alchimie indienne, d’après les textes”, JS 1903, 34-36 (on P. C. Ray’s book).

Sources: E. Franchescini, D.B.F. 6, 1954, 198f.; A. Rosu, “Marcelin Berthelot et l’alchimie indienne”, BEI 1, 1983, 86-91; Wikipedia (with photo, more in French version).

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