The Alchemical kairos

Zosimos of Panopolis and Timely Tinctures


  • Joshua Werrett University of Oxford



alchemy, religion, kairos


For Zosimos the alchemist (c.4th C. AD), it seems that the whole of alchemy depended upon the kairos – the opportune moment, determined via katarchic astrology, when an experiment would succeed. In fact, Zosimos refers to alchemical transformations as kairikai katabaphai – colour changes achieved at the kairos – and states that they are «subject to lunar influence and the passing of time» (The Visions 10.12). This paper explores Zosimos’ understanding of kairos and its importance in his alchemical practice. Firstly, a general overview is presented of Zosimos’ use of the term and the nuances which can be gleaned from his own work and the work of those in his intellectual milieu; the second half of this paper focuses more specifically on the term kairikai katabaphai to examine what role exactly kairos may have had in Zosimos’ wider religio-philosophical beliefs and his understanding of the mechanics behind alchemical change. Ultimately, this paper concludes that alchemists seem to have regarded the kairos as having many fascinating aspects: it is a divinely-inspired, precisely calculable, repeating, transformative moment, without which alchemical success is almost impossible. Zosimos’ practice involves a complicated amalgamation of prayer, sacrifice, calculation, and technique; as this paper hopes to demonstrate, a true appreciation of the kairos is at the heart of all of this.