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p. 11. Aristotle's quartet: the elements in antiquitylocked

  • Philip Ball


‘Aristotle's quartet: the elements in antiquity’ outlines how the study of elements progressed from ancient Greece to the seventeenth century. The Aristotelian system of elements claimed that there were four types of matter — earth, wind, fire, and water. After the Dark Ages the medieval Western world held classical science in reverent awe, and differing views were treated as heretical. However, in this system metals were treated as ‘earth’. Alchemy provided a means of investigating metals, concentrating on turning metal into gold. By the end of the seventeenth century Aristotle's ideas were losing traction, and the work of Robert Boyle and John Dalton changed alchemy into chymistry, then into modern chemistry.

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