Regarded as the Noble Art, alchemy has evolved over several centuries and across three continents. It is a culturally and philosophically diverse study encompassing chemical, religious, mathematical, and mystical ideas. For my purposes, I am interested in alchemy's influence on science and philosophical thought beginning in Western Europe in the 12th century.
It's most basic tenet is the creation of a philosopher's stone which could transform base or imperfect metals into gold or silver. Alchemists also believed an elixir of life could be found which would grant immortality.
The Noble Art was as much a philosophical belief system as it was a rudimentary science. Alchemists believed one must have the right destiny to succeed in projecting 'the stone' and failure was a fault of personal character.
Therefore, alchemists strove for perfection in their approach to chemistry and in their devotion to it. One may not be born with the right destiny, but if one were disciplined, they could create their fate. The improbability of success was assured, and in my mind, this makes for a provocative group of men forced to confront constant failure, poverty, and denial.