The pseudo Ramon Llull

Critical editions of Ramon Llull’s works always start by providing proofs of the Lullian authenticity of each text, because the history of transmission of his writings contains a considerable number of false attributions.  We are dealing with a phenomenon which affects many of the great writers of the 13th and 14th centuries, such as Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Bonaventure, or Arnold of Vilanova.  In Ramon Llull’s case, what particularly attracts one’s attention is the vitality and cultural importance held by those works on alchemical matters which circulated under his name from the later 14th century onwards.

Thus, the Llull Database (Llull DB) offers three separate lists of Ramon Llull’s writings: 1.  Works of the historical Ramon Llull; 2. Works of the alchemical Pseudo- Llull; 3. Works on other subjects falsely attributed to him.

The historical or authentic Ramon Llull can be recognised by means of internal indicators within a work, (such as the presence of the mechanisms of the Art, with its terminology and its evolution over time), by means of references in the ancient catalogues and inventories of Llull’s works, and thanks to Llull’s own references to his works; all these elements assist also in establishing the chronology of his immense production.  The Llull DB, therefore, gathers all the available information regarding catalogues, inventories and auto-citations.

In order to begin to distinguish the documented historical character from the other writers who shared his name, one must always recognise that the Ramon Llull from Majorca, the author of the Art, was not an alchemist, because he explicitly denied the legitimacy of the transmutation of metals and the techniques surrounding it, but that there existed another Ramon Llull, created with great skill by certain anonymous authors from the 14th and 15th centuries, who had supposedly composed works on the philosopher’s stone and the elixir, and made alchemical gold.

Alchemists are fakes

The explanation given -and one which was very common in the 13th century- was that alchemists were fakes and swindlers who took advantage of the credulity and the hunger for wealth of powerful men: “-Sir -Felix said to the philosopher-, according to what you say, it would seem you think it impossible to transmute one element into another or one metal into another by the art of alchemy. For you say that no metal wants to change its being into that of  another being, since if it changed its being into that of another being, it would no longer be that being it prefers to be. Now that I haver understood all your arguments and exemples, one thing still causes me great wonder – how can people be so fond ot the art of alchemy if it is not a true art?”.

Ramon Llull, Llibre de meravelles, ed. Anthony Bonner; col. Lola Badia, Antònia Carré i Eugènia Gisbert, "Biblioteca Barcino" 11 (Barcelona: Editorial Barcino, 2017), p. 197

Pseudo-Lullian alchemy enjoyed great prestige in the 16th and 17th centuries and the fame of the authentic Ramon Llull which was to reach Descartes, Leibniz or Newton was indissociable from the alchemical writings.  This phenomenon can be explained by the success of the anthologies published by Lazarus Zetzner in Strasburg, one of the most notable episodes of Lullism in the Baroque period.

The other fake Ramons lent his name to writings on very varied themes: on Mary’s Immaculate Conception, on Jewish Kabbalah, on cartography and navigation, on the distillation of perfumes and cordials, etc.  From the 14th to the 18th century, false attributions contributed to a confusion of terms in the violent polemics surrounding Ramon Llull.

The erudite assessment of the figure of Ramon Llull which began in the 19th century and, above all, the role that the Romantics would bestow upon him as father of Catalan literature led to the entry of his historical figure into the imaginative world of the novel.  Literary fiction of the 19th and 20th centuries, therefore, has created still more Ramons, who at times recycle, with greater or lesser success, ancient legends, such as the alchemical ones, those relating to his conversion as a result of a disappointment in love, or that of his martyrdom in Tunis.

See: Michela Pereira, “La leggenda di Lullo alchimista”, Estudios lulianos 27 (1987), pp. 145-163; Michela Pereira, The Alchemical Corpus Attributed to Raymond Lull, “Warburg Institute Surveys and Texts” 18 (London: The Warburg Institute, University of London, 1989); and Michela Pereira-Barbara Spaggiari, Il Testamentum alchemico attribuito a Raimondo Lullo.  Edizione del testo latino e catalano del ms. Oxford, Corpus Christi College, 244 “Millennio Medievale” 14 (Florence: SISMEL-Edizioni del Galluzzo, 199).