mercury / quicksilver

Mercury, element 80, has been known since antiquity. The name comes from the association of the metal with the planet Mercury by medieval alchemists. English use of the name dates to the 14th century and it is found in Chaucer’s Canon Yeoman’s Tale, from c.1395, the Canterbury Tale that is a treasure trove of alchemical terms:

What sholde I tellen ech proporcion
Of thynges whiche that we werche upon—
And of the esy fir, and smart also,
Which that was maad, and of the care and wo
That we hadde in oure matires sublyming,
And in amalgamyng and calcenyng
Of quyksilver, yclept Mercurie crude?

(What should I tell of each proportion
Of things which that we work upon—
And of the slow fire, and hot also,
Which that was made, and of the care and woe
That we had in our matters subliming,
And in amalgamating and calcining
Of quicksilver, called raw Mercury?)1

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