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Transforming base metals like copper into gold was a major focus for Alexandrian alchemists such as Maria Hebrea (a. k. a. Miriam bat Isaac ). Their primary focus, however, was to synthesize the elixir, a substance that could heal, rejuvenate, and extend human life.

Likewise, Chinese alchemists independently sought longevity in something they could ingest. Having observed its immutability, they believed gold to be the most potent of those substances. And so, given its scarcity and their poverty, they attempted to synthesize it. Their first known work devoted exclusively to alchemy, the Ts’an t’ung ch’i by Wei Po-yang, appeared in 142 CE. Unlike the Alexandrians, the Chinese focused on not only the synthesis of gold but methods for ingesting it to achieve immortality. Ironically, many emperors were poisoned in the process.

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