UseFool

Knowledge and manipulation of nature between usefulness and deception in the Arabo-Islamic tradition (9th-15th century)

UseFool brings together a corpus of previously unexplored Arabic technical sources that
illustrate how to exploit the properties of natural substances in order to entertain and
deceive. The project considers for the first time the technical knowledge of nature as
applied by merchants, charlatans, craftsmen, and entertainers in the streets, markets, and
other public and private urban spaces ofthe Arabo-Islamic Mediaeval and early modern
world. Erudite scholars and street performers alike were engaged with the knowledge of
nature and its numerous applications. UseFooI investigates the parallel development of this
interest in the different social and intellectual groups engaged in the transmission ofthis
knowledge and involved in its practice. UseFool adopts the practitioner’s point of view and
studies how both nature and humans are being manipulated, and the kinds of knowledge
that develop around and in response to these practices.

Ductus and typography structures

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum

  1. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Massa sapien faucibus et molestie ac feugiat sed. Nisi vitae suscipit tellus mauris a diam maecenas. Amet facilisis magna etiam tempor. Scelerisque fermentum dui faucibus in ornare quam viverra. Ultrices mi tempus imperdiet nulla.

  2. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Massa sapien faucibus et molestie ac feugiat sed. Nisi vitae suscipit tellus mauris a diam maecenas. Amet facilisis magna etiam tempor. Scelerisque fermentum dui faucibus in ornare quam viverra. Ultrices mi tempus imperdiet nulla.

  3. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Massa sapien faucibus et molestie ac feugiat sed. Nisi vitae suscipit tellus mauris a diam maecenas. Amet facilisis magna etiam tempor. Scelerisque fermentum dui faucibus in ornare quam viverra. Ultrices mi tempus imperdiet nulla.

  4. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Massa sapien faucibus et molestie ac feugiat sed. Nisi vitae suscipit tellus mauris a diam maecenas. Amet facilisis magna etiam tempor. Scelerisque fermentum dui faucibus in ornare quam viverra. Ultrices mi tempus imperdiet nulla.
Hosted by UseFool

Alex Metcalfe – Fonti Medievali per Trucchi Magici e Illusioni

Hosted by UseFool

ALL-Chymia

Hosted by UseFool

Beatrice Bottomley – How to Be Things with Words

Hosted by Universitad Complutense, Madrid

Ink-Quiry (Workshop, Universitad Complutense, Madrid)

Hosted by UseFool

Sébastien Moureau – ‘Chrysocollate’

Hosted by HSS - Portland, OR

HSS Annual Meeting (Portland, OR)

Replication

Argyrography

This replication, based on three different attestations of a recipe, tries to convey the idea that an artificial substitute for precious substances is not necessarily associated to the use of unexpensive or easily available materials.  
Mercury, in fact, was not to be found in every household, and the technology for its manipulation was an integral part of alchemical knowledge and practice. Comparing the different variants of the procedure, one may make some observations.

Recipe 1

Another way of writing

If you want to write on a red sheet or on a blue one in a way that the writing looks like silver, take some mercury, pour some tin in it and calcinate it. In this way, the black component of the mercury is extracted, and it will be possible to grind it and make it into a powder. Add some gum arabic water e write anything you want. Once that the writing has dried, burnish it with a burnisher made of onyx, and the writing will appear as if it were written with silver.
Al-ʿIrāqī, Kitāb ʿuyūn al-ḥaqāʾiq

Recipe 2

Silver ink

Take ten dirhams of Jupiter [i.e. tin] and two dirhams of mercury; if you take one part of mercury and one part of Jupiter [i.e. tin], fix them and use them with gum water, it will become a wonderful silver; write with it, burnish it, and it will be the apogee [of beauty].
Kitāb al-nuǧūm al-šariqāt

Recipe 3

Another preparation similar to silver

Take four parts of tin, melt it and add the same amount of mercury. When they form the amalgam, crush it in a stone slab until it becomes as thin as kohl; purify it with carefully water and salt until all the blackness and dirt have come out. Then add a modest amount of tragacanth gum or arabic gum to it, and use it to write on any support, then burnish it with a shell. Use it to write with a pen, God willing.
Al-Malik al-Muzaffar, al-Mukhtaraʿ fī funūn min al-ṣunaʿ

Recipe 4

White mercury ink

Take some alkali/lye, add four dirham of mercury, grind everything well, add one part of gum arabic, write with it, and let it dry. Rub the writing with a rag, and the writing will appear white as silver.
Al-Zarḫūrī, Flowers of the Garden

Discover more alchemical secrets

How to get yellow ink in 3 different ways