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"Metal question for Latin scholars"

February 19, 2018

affil. link
"Gaii Institutiones"
from Abe Books


Q. Hello to everyone. I am translating from Latin into Spanish a Roman legal textbook written about the year AD 161 (Institutiones Gaii)
One paragraph states that: if gold (Latin word is "aurum") and copper-bronze (Latin word is "aes", and it could mean both) mix together, even though they alloy and cannot be separated (Latin words "deduci non possit"), each metal maintains its properties (Latin words are "utraque materia etsi confusa manet tamen").
Could someone please explain to me the chemical meaning of the statement, considering the state of the art in that time and place. Could anyone tell if "aes" should be translated either as copper or bronze?

Thank you very much in advance.

Jorge Menabrito
- Mexico City, Mexico

February 23, 2018

A. Jorge,
Since I'm a metallurgist but not a historian, some further context might be helpful here.

It could be that they were trying to get at some sort of atomic or elemental theory, which is to say that an alloy still contains atoms of the individual metals mixed together, and is not in and of itself a new or different metal.

The old-time alchemists stumbled on a lot of chemical truths, but had no real explanations for them until much closer to modern times. I have no idea what the prevailing theories were circa 161 AD, though.

ray kremer
Ray Kremer
Stellar Solutions, Inc.
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McHenry, Illinois
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