Marsilio Ficino on the Alchemical Art

Marsilio Ficino On The Alchemical Art
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For the specific result of his passion appears to be a Golden Age not of unqualified harmony with nature, but rather of superabundant creativity, of which Zephyr is as it were the presiding Zeitgeist. And the association of the zephyrs with that vocal musicality or music made from the breath which ultimately produces poetry is certainly a suggestive one in the context of this painting. It seems, in other words, as if Flora represents a coming renovatio or a second Golden Age, putatively centred on Flo rence, that is to be a figurative and decorative embellishment in a mimesis which far exceeds its original model of an earlier and simpler epoch Chloris.

The religious and moral anxieties engendered by the pagan-inspired poetry, art and philosophy of the early Renaissance have frequently been commented on; poetry seems to have had an especially ambivalent place in this context, because of its condemnation by Plato in The Republic. In the figure of Zephyr, Botticelli seems momentarily to acknowledge the complexity of this debate. The metamorphic and creative impact of the god on his environment vividly evokes the passionate enthusiasm for the hidden mysteries of the pagans, and the delight in new forms of aesthetic display derived from pagan sources, which characterised the new cultural movement.

Through his incorporation of this pictorial element, then, I see Botticelli as framing and even qualifying his sublime vision of a restored Golden Age, in an oblique evocation of troubling questions of both cultural and historical agency: questions which were becoming increasingly prominent in the Florence of the s.

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Marsilio Ficino on the alchemical art. Item 7 from Ms. Sloane Transcribed by Justin von Budjoss. This text is a translation of a Latin text, Marsilius Ficinus. Marsilio Ficino on the alchemical art Item 7 from Ms. Sloane Transcribed by Justin von Budjoss. This text is a translation of a Latin text, Marsilius Ficinus.

A not dissimilar ambiguity informed the Renaissance desire for a renovatio of learning, as it looked back to a classical era of pristine knowledge, but also forwards, to a hoped-for restoration and embellishment of that wisdom. In calendrical literature such as the Fasti of Ovid and some parts of Pliny, time is conceived of, necessarily, not as unique and singular, but instead as a repetitive process, in the form of the more or less predictable cycles of temporal repetition. These seasonal cycles are augured by different signs such as the first blowing of the west wind normally dated by the ancients to the 7th or 8th of February , but above all, by the regular movement of the stars.

If the painting contains calendrical allusions, then, these should surely alert us to the idea of renovatio , not as a singular historical event, but rather as a complex process which had a vital repetitive or cyclical dimension, and whose comprehension, above all, required that the observer be attentive to a succession of subtle signs. The passage aptly expresses the ambivalence which was always felt by Ficino and other Platonists towards the descent of spiritus into matter or material forms, and the dissemination and fragmentation of the One into the Many.

However, my suggestion that the painting is plausibly informed by contemporary interest in the problematic faculty of daemonic inspiration, as defined by Plato and the Neoplatonists, is, I believe, original. It was the meaning and ancient cultural efficacy of this faculty, understood primarily as the mediation and interpretation of hitherto secret signs and correspondences, which Marsilio Ficino was at that time attempting to recover from the texts of the ancient philosophers.

Allen , chapter 4. The four furors are ranked by Plato, in terms of their moral and spiritual efficacy, as follows: poetic, hieratic or priestly, prophetic and finally that of love, or the desire for divine beauty. Allen , In his radiance, Plato gave birth to his first child, and it is itself almost entirely poetical and radiant. See also Plotinus, Enneads , 3, 4. Daemons are the envoys and interpreters that ply between heaven and earth, flying upwards with our worship and prayers, and descending with the heavenly answers and commandments, and since they are between the two estates they weld both sides together and merge them into one great whole.

They form the medium of the prophetic arts, of the priestly rites of sacrifice, initiation, and incantation, of divination and of sorcery, for the divine will not mingle directly with the human, and it is only through the mediation of the spirit world that man can have any intercourse, whether waking or sleeping, with the gods. And the man who is versed in such matters is said to have daemonic powers There are many daemons, and many kinds of daemon, and Love is one of them.

Plato, CA. Michael B. Clearly, he regarded himself as one of these ingeniosi. Allen suggests that:. We must imagine an exchange, as it were, of mirage-like images, of musical voices, of Ariel music, an exchange that can occur equally during wake or sleep.

Bredekamp observes that the extraordinary richness and diversity of vegetation in the painting marked a decisive technical departure for Botticelli, and he attributes this new preoccupation with floral and vegetable decoration to the impact of the exquisite floral imagery depicted in the retable of the Flemish painter Hugo van der Goes, painted for Tommaso Portinari and displayed at the church of San Egidio in Florence on May 28 Bredekamp.

If the painting was produced after this exhibition, then its production coincided very closely with an event which, according to a scholarly consensus, imbued the years around with a heightened sense of historical urgency and anticipation. Allen relate this cultural and social tension to nervous expectation of a major astrological event: a Great Conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn, which was to occur in the enigmatic sign of Scorpio in November Hankins I, Moreover, the sign of Scorpio had an especially potent reputation, bestowing, according to the Roman astrologer Firmicus, high religiosity and prophetic gifts.

Its other attributes included, more ambivalently, passionate desire and fecundity, and a secret, possibly venomous power, paralleling that of the scorpion. The most serious study of this conjunction, the Pronosticon of Paul of Middleburg, a friend and correspondent of Ficino, was published in Instead, it might be more accurate to regard these emblems of a new Golden Age as poetic tropes that are not monovalent, but may instead create petal-like layerings of signification, delineating the cultural renewal which is at stake as a multiple event with diverse aspects and possibilities.

It is evident that all little trees, flowers and small herbs are produced from water and the union of a subtle earth. And if you endeavor to produce a tree or an herb, you must not take earth or water, but rather that which is from them, as a scion or a seed, which being committed to the bosom of the earth, the parent of all things, and cherished with a nutriment of their own nature, and called forth by the darting of the solar light, do in due time break out into the superficies of the earth, into the species of a tree or an herb.

In like manner that divine art teaches how to take the seed our of the more perfect body; which being put into the philosophical earth prepared by art and continually decocted by a temperate heat into a white or red powder, is said to have converted the inferior bodies into the nature of the superior.

Chapter 4. Delivers why the Philosophers have sought for this art ,not moved them to it, and this question is resolved: why the spirit in metals cannot propagate its like, since the spirit of everything is the author of generation. But we readily affirm that the inspiration of God was the chief cause why those ancient philosophers searched after this science. For the philosophers seeing that all vegetable and animal things, as also other things, do by a certain spirit of their own multiply themselves, and that a transmutation is in this inferior world made by the air, which seemed in a long time to corrupt all particular things, and that their nature changed itself by the motions of another thing: There arose among them this question: namely why the spirit in metals could not propagate its like, since out of one scion there grew many, and out of one little grain almost innumerable grains did multiply themselves.

It was at length decreed by the divine oracle, that the spirit was withheld by a grosser matter, which spirit if it were separated by a certain sublimation at the fires and being separated were preserved in its own connatural seat, it might as a seminal virtue, without any untruth, generate its like.

From hence the philosophers thought to bring the light and luster of the most perfect body into the inferior bodies since they had found that they differed among themselves only according to the decoction, either greater or less, and the mercury was the first original of all metals, with which mercury extracting the metallic part of gold, they brought gold to the first nature. Which reduction indeed since it is easy and possible, it was by the philosophers concluded that a transmutation in metals is easy and possible.

And when these primitive philosophers had reduced gold into the first matter, they made use of the celestial influence, that it might not be made a metal again such as it was before. Afterward they purified its nature, separating the unclean from the clean. Which being done they called that thing, the transmuting stone of the philosophers. For the making whereof several operations have been invented by several philosophers, that that might be completed by art which was left by Nature; since Nature herself is always inclined toward her own perfection.

Chapter 5. Treats of what the philosophers stone is, and discourses first of its first part. And because the philosophers had so obscurely set forth this science in strange involving of words and shadows of figures, the stone of the philosophers was doubted by a very many men. Which it is of what things made?

But if you will mind diligently, we divide the stone into two parts. The first part we say is terrestrial Sol , wherein both the ancient philosophers and the more modern do plainly agree with me in their testimonies in the Turba. Without terrestrial Sol the physical work is not perfected. And as the sun diffuses and darts down most lively and penetrating rays on this elementary world: So the stone of the philosophers being by a physical operation made out of gold, the son, as I may say, of the sun, disperses itself into other metals, and will forever equalize them to himself in virtue, color, and weight.

And because all metals, we deservedly take gold before others. For since we would make gold and silver, it is necessary to take the same. Man is generated out of man, a tree from a tree, and herb produces an herb, and a lion a lion; since each thing according to the temper of its nature, which they call the completion, generates and produces its like. Yet the philosophers more truly do not make gold or silver, but Nature cleansed by the skill of the operator. Chapter 6. Treats of the second part of the stone, where the spirit is compared to the most glorious virgin Saint Mary. We say the mercury vive is the second part of the stone.

Which since it is living and crude, is said to dissolve the bodies themselves, because it naturally adheres to them in their profundity. This is the stone without which Nature operates nothing. Whence the philosophers advise us not to work but in Sol and mercury; which being joined make up the stone of the philosophers. Who therefore can deservedly praise the merits of mercury, since it is he alone who maketh gold thin and who has so great a power, that he can reduce Sol itself into the first nature?

Which power nothing else in the world is discerned to have. It is thus said of the mercury which the wise men seek for, is in mercury. Mercury destroys all foliated Sol: it dissolves and softens it, and takes the soul out of the body. If it be sublimated, then there is made aqua vitae. If any one therefore ask you: What are the stones? You shall answer, that Sol and mercury are the physical stones. But these stones are dead on Earth and operate nothing, but what is by the industry of men supplied to them.

I will propose you a similitude of gold. The ethereal heaven was shut from all men, so that all men should descend to the infernal seats, and be there perpetually detained. But Jesus Christ opened the gate of the ethereal Olympus, and has now unlocked the kingdoms of Pluto, that the souls may be taken out; when by the co-operation of the holy spirit in the virginal womb, the virgin Mary did by an ineffable mystery and most profound sacraments conceive what was the most excellent in the heavens and on the earth; and at length brought forth for us the savior of the whole world, who out of his super abundant bounty shall save all who are able to sin, if the sinner turn himself to him.

But she remained an untouched and undefiled virgin: whence mercury is not undeservedly compared to the most glorious saint the virgin Mary. For mercury is a virgin because it never propagated in the womb of the Earth and metallic body, and yet it generates the stone for us; by dissolving heaven, that is, gold, it opens it, and brings out the soul; which understand you to be the divinity, and carries it some little while in its womb, and at length in its own time transmits it into a cleansed body.

From whence a child, that is, the stone, is born to us, by whose blood the inferior bodies being tinged are brought safe into the golden heaven, and mercury remains a virgin without a stain, such as is was ever before. Chapter 7. Determines why the philosophers have hidden this knowledge: where the praise of the art is set down, and he inveighs against Zoilus the Carper as the philosophers. We read also in the end of the Turba: For unless the names were multiplied in this physical art, children would deride our knowledge.

Wherefore we do not much value those who cavil at our divine art as adulterate; from which the most famous philosophers used to take all the knowledge of almost all things; as heretofore the statuaries did the thefts and the threads of our art, from the statue of Polycletus. It would also be most absurd to suspect that those ancient philosophers of venerable authority, especially in this discourse of natural things, have delivered down anything of falsehood to posterity, who employed their chiefest labor in inquiring after truth, although they ascended not to the sublimeness of the saving nature of faith, and the greatest height of the divine essence.

Who therefore, but Zoilus, would not praise this science, and particularly favor it? From whence almost all the arts of these detractors are taken: from which so many colors very useful for the art of picture drawing derive their beginning, I say nothing of the art of money making: I pass by the learned distillation of the physicians, whereby they use to draw out the virtue, which they call a Quintessence.

Which shall I say of those brazen vessels wherewith we make lightening and thunder among men? If they did but use them only against the sacrilegious enemies of the Christian faith. Besides the science of the stone is so sublime and magnificent, that therein almost all Nature and the whole universe of beings is beheld, as in a certain clear looking glass. For it is like a lesser world, where there are the four elements, and a fifth essence, which they call heaven in which another most noble essence has placed its seat, which some philosophers have used to compare with reverence be it spoken to the omnipotent God, and the most holy and undivided Trinity.

Which is neither of the nature of the heaven, nor of the natures of the elements: and they have called it by a particular name, the soul, the middle nature. And as God the maker of the world: so this essence, which is called by the title of a God, is everywhere in the whole world, it is, in the physical glass. And as the omnipotent God is immense in the procreation of its like, even to the last end of the greater world. For then the generative nature shall be taken away from every procreating thing. From which words one skillful in Nature may gather, that the stone can tinge many parts; whereby also many other difficulties may be removed.

Then out upon Aristarchus who blushes not to profess himself an interpreter of the divine writings, and yet feared not with his most impudent railing to attack this knowledge of a Nature created by God; than which, next after the sacred writings, God has conferred on this world nothing more magnificent and more sublime. Tell me by the immortal God, what is more unjust than for men to hate what they are ignorant of? And then if the thing do deserve hatred, what is of all things more shallow?

What more abject? Or what greater madness and potage is there, than to condemn that science in which you have concerned yourself just nothing at? Who hast never learned either Nature or the majesty of Nature, or the property or the occult operations of metals. The councilor also babbles and crokes, and the pettyfoggers of the law, the greatest haters of philosophy, who with the hammer of a venal tongue coin themselves money out of the tears of the miserable: who shipping over the most sacred of laws, have by the intricacies of their expositions persecuted all the world with their frauds.

But why do I go after jeers and satyrs? Let these crabbed fellows and their followers remain perpetually in their opinion, who know nothing. Which is honest, which is pleasant, which is delightful, which lastly is anything elevated above a vulgar doctrine: and who have attained at nothing glorious and famous, but perhaps at some plebian business from the black sons of Cadamus.

But to which purpose are these? I have made the choice of this stone of the philosophers familiar to me; and I very often call it the only Minerva, and the greatest pearl of all occult philosophy, or of magic, not indeed of the superstitious, but of the natural. Yet it seems in the opinion of the unlearned to degenerate far from a better study: which is decreed and ordained by the divine will. Chapter 8 and 9. Treats of the first essence of all things: and it is here discussed what Nature is, what the soul the middle nature, what the soul of the world, where that very great error is confuted of philosophers asserting the world to be an animal, and it is disputed that there is only a human soul; by a participation or likeness of which, there seems to be a brutal soul.

And that the sun is the eye of the world and the heart of heaven. I have now a mind, candid reader, to procure you something concerning the secrets of Nature, both out of philosophical, and the theological magazine. Since I have perceived that many of the ancients as also of the more modern have taken great pains in searching after Nature, nobody but one beside himself will deny that those things will be of use to the whole academy and exercise of philosophy.

But here the cradle of Nature is to be looked for a higher, do not therefore think it pious, if I make a digression a little further than perhaps this undertaking may require. The most glorious God, the contriver, and the ineffable author of all things, before the beginning of the world, wanting nothing, but all-sufficient to himself, and forever remaining in the most profound retirement of his divinity, being out of his most abundant beauty willing, that the things from all eternity foreknown should proceed into existence, created in the beginning a certain essence of them, in rough draughts, as I may say, as yet unformed, which Moses, he whom I am to stile the fountain and chief president of the philosophy of the philosophers, does sometimes call a void and empty earth, sometimes an abyss and water, but Anaxagoras a confused chaos.

Others have rightly termed it, the mother of the world, the foundation and the face of Nature. Within whose womb when all things lay undistinguished and undigested, nor more conspicuous in their proper forms, the artificial creator, did by the intervening spirit of God exactly and regularly drawn and describe this visible world, according to copy and the similitude of the intelligible world. Hence he with shining fires most workman-like adorned the heavens hung up on high, and so ordered and digested the motion of them, and of the stars, that they should in a wonderful manner run about the arch of heaven, for the formation of the varieties of the seasons succeeding one another; and that by their motion and light they might warm, cherish and preserve in their beings the inferior things.

Therefore he laid the inferior things beneath the superior, as an egg to be hatched under a hen, or as a woman to be made fruitful by a man. Into which he from the beginning inserted certain seminal reasons, that they might, taking their opportunities, multiply themselves, as I may say, with a perpetual fertility and offspring. But God wrought out his compacted being of the world by certain harmony and musical proportion alleyed to one another, that which are in the superior world are in the inferior also, but in a terrestrial manner: that which likeness are in the inferiors, may also be seen in the superious, in a celestial manner indeed, and according to the cause.

To which you may perhaps apply the opinion of Anaxagoras, holding that everything is in everything. Wherefore it is agreeable that God should rule and fill up all which he created. Nor do we therefore say that God does fill up all things, that they should contain him, but that they rather should be contained by him.

Neither is it to be thought that God is in all things so that each thing according to the proportion of its bigness may contain him, that is the greater things the more, and the lesser the less. But God so filleth up all things that there is not anything where he is not. And we therefore understand within all things, but not included without all things, but not excluded: and therefore to be the interior, that by his uncircumscribed magnitude he may include all things. Therefore St. Dennis says: That all things may be affirmed of God, since he is the author and governor. On the contrary, that all things are more truly denied of him, since he is nothing of those things which he created.

Which seems to me more acceptable and more certain, as well by the variable course of this world, as for the unsearchable abyss of his most exalted divinity. For God has placed the greatest distance between him and the created things. But God is truly immense and ineffable, not to be discovered, not to be understood, above all imagination, above all thought, above all understanding, above all essence, unnamable, to be by silence alone proclaimed in the heart: the most powerful, the most wise, the most clement: the father, the world, the holy spirit; and altitude incomprehensible, a trinity indivisible, an essence immutable.

Whose image is all Nature, though the eye never be so intent. Who is the unity of all creatures, and main point, and the only one; who is stronger than all power, greater than all excellence, better than all praise. Whom the divine Plato made to inhabit in a fiery substance, meaning, that is, the ineffable Splendor of God in himself, and love around himself. Whom others have asserted to be an intellectual and fiery spirit; having no form but transforming itself into so ever it would and co-equalizing to all things universally.

Who in a manifold way is as it were joined to his creatures. Again going forth from that his infinity eternity and omnipotence, he by a ferverent love, sincere faith and solid hope may be imbosomed in the purified minds of men. Let whom be blessed for all thousands of thousands of ages. We said a little before that God was unnameable, whom Martinus Capella says that Arithmetica saluted by a proper name, when going to salute Jove, she with her fingers folded down into them, made up seven hundred, ten and seven numbers.

But what that most noble number means, and its division into its members, the Arithmetician knows; not he who inquires into the mercantile way of numbering but into proportions. In this number we discover all numbers, and every proportion both musical and geometrical. Add something of greater moment. That in these numbers the name of God is most exactly found. Whose most holy and forever adorable name is in this fullness of time set down in five letters. When in the time of Nature it was written with three, and of the law with four.

We say moreover that God has every name, because all things are in him, and he is in all things: as shall hereafter be disputed of, and yet has no name, because a fitting name cannot be given to the divine majesty.

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But how much mystery and strength number has in itself, I easily believe the Pythagoreans knew very well, who called one number Pallas, another Diana, another the father, another the mother, and finally one the male, and another the female: and those who had the greatest knowledge in the numeral science, applied the monas the united to God the creator: But the dias or duality to matter: to forms themselves the virgin trias or three: then to man and to his life hexas and heptas the six and seven.

But the eneas or ten they not a miss did very handsomely apply to all creatures. But to return to the purpose, hear Dionysius repeating: That God is in all things, or all things are in God, as numbers are in unity, as in the center of the circle are all the right lines: and as the soul is the strength of the members. Because as the unity is the common measure, fountain and original of all numbers, and containing in itself every number entirely cojoined, is the beginning of all multitude.

But guiltless of all multitudes is always the same and immutable; so in like manner are created things toward the creator. And as an individual soul, is the ruler of its body, and the whole present to the whole body, and to every part of it: so God is everywhere in this world and fills and governs, and perpetually preserves it by the virtue which he daily infuses liberally into created things out of the eternal fountain of his spirit. From whence we rightly by a certain similitude of the soul, do call the God of Nature or the power of God, by which he maintains all things, a soul, a middle nature, or the soul of the world.

Not that the world itself is an animal, which we may explode from the entrance into Christian philosophy, partly in the Christian metaphysic, and partly in this consideration of the stone. But sublimeness of the Nature hereof requires to be composed in a loftier style; we have here chosen a lower sort of speech; and we place the soul of the world chiefly in the sun. For there is nothing in the soul of the firmament, beside a soul, which represents a greater similitude of God than light itself.

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Since everything does challenge to itself so much of God, as I may say, as they are capable of light. And since nothing is more conspicuous bright-eyed than the sun, many of the platonicks chiefly imitating Orpheus herein have termed the sun, the eye of the world. Because all things were seen and shown themselves in it as in a certain most bright mirror. Hence Heraclitus says, that all things would perish, should you take the sun out of the world.

What is this small body of ours, if the soul be away? No vein having a pulse is to be felt there, there is in it no show of sense, no vital breath nor any respiration therein. Wherefore it also seemed good to some to call the sun the heart of heaven. Because as in the heart there is the only fountain of blood moistening and reddening the other members of the human body, and infusing a vital motion: So there seemed to be in the sun the vegetation and preservation of all, as well inferior as well as superior things.

Because he by this light inspires as it were, life and heat into inferior things. But light is a certain simple of single action converting all things unto itself by an enlivening warmth, passing through all beings, carrying their virtues and qualities through all and dispersing darkness and obscurity.

Phoebus therefore resides in the middle with his refulgent locks, as king and emperor of the world, holding a scepter of the government: in whom that there is all the virtue of the celestials, nor only Iamblichus, but many others have confirmed. This also may be even a mighty argument to you: that the sun approaching toward us, the earth grows full of herbs and ripens, but when he departs it withers.

But I now delight to make some comment on the infancy of Nature. Chapter 9. Of Nature. We affirm Nature to be a certain power implanted in things producing like things out of like. For Nature generates, augments and nourishes all things. Wherefore it has in itself the names of all things. An animal is from Nature; a stone, wood, a tree, and the bodies which you see are from Nature and her maintaining.

Nature is the blood of the elements, and the power of mixing which brings to pass the mixtures of the elements in everything in this sublunary world, and has imprinted on them a form agreeable to their species, by which that thing is distinguishable and separated from each other thing.

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Nor is Nature of any color, yet a partaker and efficient of all colors: also of no weight, nor quality, but finally the fruitful parent of all qualities and things. What is therefore Nature? God is Nature, and Nature is God: understand it thus: out of God there arises something next to him. Nature is therefore a certain invisible fire, by which Zoroaster taught that all things were begotten, to whom Heraclitus the Ephesian seems to give consent. Did not the spirit of the Lord, which is a fiery love, when it was carried on the waters, put into them a certain fiery vigor?

Since nothing can be generated without heat. God inspired into created things, when it was said in the generation of the world; increase and be ye multiplied, a certain germination, that is, a greenness, by which all things might multiply themselves. Whence some more profoundly speculative, said that all things were green, is called to grow and increase, and that greenness they named Nature.

But Aristotle says: That motion being unknown, Nature is unknown, since it is now volatile and in a continual motion of generation, augmentation and alteration, which at length in the latter end of the world, shall be stable and fixed. Because God will then take away from things that virtue and power of generating, and will place it in the most inward treasure of his omnipotence, where it was from eternity.

I therefore had a mind to call this virtue of generation and of the preservation of things, the soul of the world. Not that the world is an animal, as the Platonic accounts and the testimonies of the Arabian, Egyptian, and Chaldean Astrologers seem to approve.

For the Philosophers maintained the world to be an animal, and the heavens and the stars to be animals, and the souls of things to be intelligent, participating of the divine mind. Moreover that a God or certain soul presided over everything and that all things were full of Gods, was the opinion of Democritus and Orpheus and of many of the Pythagoreans: to whom they ordained divine honors.

And to the same they dedicated prayers and sacrifices and revered them with diverse sorts of worship. Besides they reduced all such souls into one soul of the world. They likewise referred all their Gods unto one Jove. This Aristotle and the Aristotelian Theophrastus, this Avicenn, Algozeles [al-Ghazzal]; this the Stoics and all the Peripateticks do confess, and with their utmost power have endeavored to prove. I do not doubt but that from hence sprung all the error of gentilism: from hence the fictions of the poets, the diabolical sacrifices and sacrilegious victims.

Hence the Egyptian land did in their chapels worship and adore some certain animals and other prodigious monsters. Who will not say therefore that the philosophy of the heathens is vain? Which was most miserably ruined by this common error, and by many others: where the philosophers seemed to me to be most like the beehives, or children busying themselves with bottomless vessels to drain a great well.

Yet we may think them worthy of forgiveness since there had not shined to them the true light, Jesus Christ the savior. Therefore it behooves the Christian Philosopher whose authority is graver, and judgment more certain to bring within the verge of the Catholic Church, which things so ever seem to make for the obligation of the nature of the faith as being possessed by unjust heirs: after the manner of Virgil who said he gathered Gold out of the dunghill of Ennius.

Marsillo Ficino-The Art of Alchemy year 1518

Also like little bees, while they suck out the sweetest among the flowers of Hymettus and Hybla for the sake of making honey. Who is there who would not bewail with tears, the untimely death of Picus of Mirandolla, whom the fatal sisters have particularly envied to our Age. Who had he little longer enjoyed life; would have trimmed up with new beauty, the tattered and begging philosophy, blotting out all of its errors.

Yet let everyone highly praise the lawful Philosophy, whose foundation is Nature, or the world, and which prescribes manners and virtue to man. Which does correct for you the first youthful years and rudiments of your life. Which challenges to itself the interpretation of Nature, and the search of things the most abstruse from our eyes. Most worthily true to which the scanning of divine and human things should be referred.

We thereby as much as we can by the divine favor and by natural light inquiry into the recesses of the world, into the earth and the tracts of the seas, and the high heavens. This described heaven and the immeasurable multitude of stars, as also the journey of the golden haired sun, and the laborious eclipses of the moon.

This, with a geometrical staff, describes the ways of the stars. This teaches the Aeolian bellows and whispers of the winds, which Hippotades does with his scepter rule. What breeds the dew, the lightning, what the hollow Fleeces of the clouds, the swellings of the Earth, And the three forked thunderbolt. What gathers showers, what the glazen hail; What are the seeds of gold, what of Iron; whence cruel thunder, whence the fountains of continual waters take their beginning, and such like other things. Let tender youths in their minority learn that philosophy; and everywhere avoid the doting fables of those philosophers who hold the world to be animal, and that it consists of innumerable animals, and those divine.

What is more vain, what is more idle?

For what else is it to say, the sun is animated, or the celestial bodies are animated, and participating of the divine mind, than to fall into an evil heresy, and the abominable falsehood of idolatry? Neither is it to be granted witness St. Augustine that those sidereal globes doe live by certain minds of their own, and those intellectual and blessed. I doe certainly know that only a human soul is divine light, created according to the image of the word, the cause of causes, and the first pattern; markest with the substance of the seal of God: and whose impression is the eternal word.

By a participation of which we believe the brutal soul to subsist, taken out of the bosom of Nature, seeming to have a slender similitude and small footstep of a rational Soul, as the echo is the image and resemblance of a living voice. But let others look after the vegetable soul. The theological doctors admit intelligences movers of the orbs; not that they inform the orbs themselves, or according to the opinion of St. Jerome make them intellectual and sensible, but to assist them in moving.

Though also those orbs might the divine Will so commanding be voluble of their own accord. Yet the omnipotent God out of his ineffable bounty, would have second causes to preside over this worldly fabric, that whosoever does move themselves, does also give to others the power of moving. Whence also he also deputed angels for the custody of human souls, though he also primarily guarded himself. Yet it is not to be thought that such like Intelligences are necessarily applied to turn the spheres, as if they could not be turned about by their own rotation; when some busy men do in like manner frame that heavenly machine of copper or brass, fixing the earth in the very middle.

Then they afterwards with certain little wheels affix the other elements, also the orbs of the stars and heavens, whereby they endeavor exactly to express the motion of the planets and the face of heaven. There are other curious men who endeavor to frame clocks and also certain mills which should turn perpetually. If man can imitate the divine method, who would not believe that those sidereal globes by their own power may be wheeled about?

But what shall I say of the vain astrology, which our Picus of Mirandolla, famed in all sorts of learning, has sometime since by forcible reasons overthrown? Tell me, why astrologer, why refer you all things to heaven? Why do you romance about the natures of the stars and the signs, and of the motions of the planets? Who can by no means guess at the force and property of even the least terrestrial thing?

Why should you fear the constellations and the stars, or rather lie? Who cannot by dimensions comprehend any little earthen body. What is more ridiculous, what more absurd, that have not in the ninth or tenth heaven to catch at such figurations and images of lines, or at the figures of the eighth heaven from the wandering application of the stars?

What power do you think such imagined images have? What do the triplicities, what do the aspects of those stars and the rest of such like books void of the truth and virtue pretend to? Although such motions and the natures of the stars, and various applications of things to one another should seem to have some signification, yet I am persuaded man cannot well know them unless it were shown to them by some miracle from heaven.

Hence St. Jerome thus derides astrologers and nativity calculators. These are they who are vulgarly called mathematicians, and think human affairs to be governed by the course and ways of the stars: and when they promise safety to others, know not their own punishments. I, while I was yet in the city Agrippa played thus upon the Astrologer.

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In the beginning when Phoebe is joined to Sol, she is set on fire by him, who being enkindled is seen to shine by degrees before midnight; but when she has filled up her whole orb, she uses to enlighten all the night. Which seems to me more acceptable and more certain, as well by the variable course of this world, as for the unsearchable abyss of his most exalted divinity. His medical works exerted considerable influence on Renaissance physicians such as Paracelsus , with whom he shared the perception on the unity of the micro- and macrocosmos, and their interactions, through somatic and psychological manifestations, with the aim to investigate their signatures to cure diseases. The third part of the work is: You shall make citrine with a strong fire, the most white, earth which you have obtained: afterward you shall rubify it by the force of fire, and it is the elixir to the red. Here, too, we find recipes and techniques for preparing medicines closely resembling those in sixteenth-century 55 Andreas Libavius, Rerum Chymicarum Epistolica Forma ad Philosophos et Medi- cos quosdam in Germania, 3 vols. Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Press.

In my opinion it commonly happens to those Astrologers, as it did to Thales Milesius heretofore, who when he went out of his house to gaze at the stars, is said to have fallen into a ditch underneath him. Who when he ridiculed an old woman, being laughed at by her, he returned home with shame.

Wherefore, O Christian philosopher, send away into perpetual banishment beyond the Caspian mountains, such like foolish chattering of Astrology, and its daughters Geomancy, Hydromancy, Pyromancy, Necromancy, Soothsaying, and many other such dotages with what other vulgarly resembles them and do not attribute to his creatures the glory of the omnipotent Lord God.

Now let us see what Nature the philosophers inquired after. Chapter What the Philosophers, and what sort of Nature they would have: where the spirit is said to be the ethereal chariot of the soul. The stone which the philosophers do seek is an invisible and impalpable spirit; it is a tincture and a tingling spirit: which indeed another visible and palpable spirit has hidden in its innermost bowels. Even so the Philosophers have left us the same spirit undiscovered, under the veil of Enigmas that the stone is a fifth separated from four. It is the bond of the elements, the medium and the chain, which has made the elements of God agree, and which in the womb of the earth conglutinated Sulphur and Mercury into a metallic body.

And because such a bond, as is in the earth, since it is invisible cannot be had, the philosophers sought after it in the more perfect body. The Philosophers do therefore inquire after the generative Nature, which may be able to generate metals, that they cleanse it, and make it a hundred thousand times more potent in tincture than it was at first in Nature.

And they accustomed themselves to call it a living fire, or the living fire of Nature, or by a secret word, The Soul of the Middle Nature. And as physicians distinguish man into body, spirit, and soul, in like manner the philosophers have divided the stone into those parts. Sometimes the spirit is the life of the soul, the soul is the life of the spirit.

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Again those two are the life of the body. The spirit is also the tie of the soul and the body, and as it were the ethereal chariot or vehicle of the soul, which spreads abroad the virtue of the soul through the whole body. You may also understand the four elements, when the philosophers affirm that the stone consists of body, spirit, and soul. For the water is spirit; also Air: the middle Fire, as I may say, is spirit.

The earth we call not spirit but body, because it is the retainer, the matter and the seat of the other elements. Teaches that solution is necessary, by which the generative spirit is brought out of the body. But such a tie cannot be easily had, by reason of the most strong compactedness of gold itself, except by solution, which is the foundation and beginning of this noble science, in which the Arcanum of all Nature does consist. It is the treasure of this affair. Whence the philosophers demand why the bodies, that is, gold and silver are dissolved. They answer: That the pure may be separated from the impure.

For the body is for this reason dissolved, that the earth itself may be cleansed in the profundity. Which Nature could not, because she operates simply [or singly]. And in that cleansing the impediments of the tincture is away, so that it may innumerably propagate its like. But if so be that this propagation of its like be made by the spirit, since every spirit is the author of generation, and it is hindered by grosser matter, we say that solution is necessary, by which gold may be made living, and as I may say, spiritual, and be reduced into the first Nature, that is into the spirit of the water, and the vapor of the earth, that there may at length be had such a sulphur and a mercury with us, out of which metals are generated, in the womb of the earth.

But solution is perfected when you shall have separated the soul and the spirit of gold. But because with philosophers gold is the most temperate body, having equal parts of hot, cold, moist and dry. Therefore it may with the more difficulty be corrupted and dissolved by reason of the equal agreement and proportion of the elements. Therefore there must a disagreement be made among the elements by contrary elements: and this discord makes a solution and mortification of the body: which being done there is made a cleansing modification of Nature, which nevertheless cannot be done without a physical separation of the elements.

But the elements of the body must be so separated, that the generative nature may remain in its flower and bud. That if anyone should burn that flower, and separate the elements from one another, the generative sperm would be lost; nor would any creature be able to join them anymore, so as they should generate. This is the truest consideration of the philosophers. If any out of his own fancy consider otherwise, he is indeed a natural fool, and makes syllogisms against Nature.

Disputes of hidden things in the art, and about threefold separation. But ye sons of wisdom, there are three solutions in the physical work. The first is of the crude body: the second is of the physical earth: the third we place in the Augmentation. There are also in the solution these three hidden things: the weight, the measure of time and fire. Wherefore if you know the weight of mercury and gold, and the measure of time, how long solution is in the making, and in a temperate fire, you have solution: which ought to be made in the secret Furnace, and a little larger glasses.

Wherefore diverse fires are to be procured, and so different parts to be put in glasses; that you may at last endowed with divine favor, find it out. You must also distinguish in this admirable work the days, months and years of the philosophers. The philosophers affirm, that if you, you may make the trial in three natural days. That if you are of a sprightlier wit, say they, you may distinguish it in twenty four hours. They in philosophy have appointed two nights and three days.

Beseech the greatest and highest God that you may be worthy to the last red day. The philosophers also lay down three keys, solution, conjunction, and fixation. Or if you profoundly understand them, three separations. First there is made the separation of the soul from the body by the spirit. Secondly the grimes themselves, which have shown themselves in the solution, are separated from the soul and spirit. Lastly the spirit shall be separated from the soul and this happens in the fixation of Nature: so that hereafter and here I shall have told you so great secrets, that it cannot be believed.

I do faithfully affirm two keys in the whole circle of philosophy. The first indeed which opens the body may be distributed into several keys. For what thing so ever shall dissolve gold and reduce it into a spirit is called a key, though only one among others be the most powerful and natural key, as I wrote in chapter 8. And such a thing is called the stone. The second key which shuts up and does retain and coagulate the tingling spirit, we term the earth alone, which all philosophers have called the principle Stone.

Treats of the praxis of the stone, of its first solution, and separation: where the Arcanum of Nature, otherwise most abstruse, is laid open to a son of wisdom, in which Lucifer falls out of heaven. Likewise that all common solutions and vulgar sublimations are adulterate works and belong nothing to the true and natural science of the philosophers.

Marsilio Ficino on the Alchemical Art

Wherefore I judge those mountebanks are to be avoided who with their dealbations and rubifications have cheated almost all the world, in whom there is no vein of philosophy, which is warm, and who are rather to be esteemed false philosophers, since nothing is dearer to philosophers than the truth: nothing more foul than falsehood and deceit.

Whereby it comes to pass that there are fewer philosophers, than you have perhaps believed. Now let us descend to the praxis, which we will divide into two works. In the first mention shall be made of the first solution, and of separation and distillation. In the second we will treat of conjunction and fixation, where consideration will be had of the most secret augmentation, which you will find in no book in the world.

But here I have a mind to bring in the degrees of all the work wholly. For first we compound, the compound we putrefy, the putrefied we dissolve, the dissolved we divide, the divided we cleanse, the cleansed we unite, and so the work is accomplished. But to speak of these, each particularly, shall be our labor. But the philosophers are of opinion that in the praxis of the stone less than a twelfth part of mercury aught to be taken.