Marsilio Ficino
On the Alchemical Art

Excerpts from the Original Electronic Text at the web site of the Alchemy Web.

Chapter 1.
Of the generation of metals in the bowels of the earth.

The opinion and determination of all who philosophize rightly is the same: that all metals are generated by the vapour of sulphur, and of argent vive. Because when the fat of the earth being heated, finds the substance of water somewhat globulous, it as well by its natural virtue, as by the rays of the celestial bodies and the endeavor of heaven, as according to the purity or impurity of each, consolidated it in the veins of the earth into those most beautiful bodies, gold, silver, copper, tin, iron, and lead.

Chapter 2.
Of Nature and art.

But there are in the arch of this world, two efficient causes, Nature and art. Nature daily produces and generates new things. But art by conception, making an impression of the similitudes of those things upon herself, does in an admirable manner prosecute the footsteps and delineations of Nature. So that if the wit of man do not sometime assist in some things, it is evident that Nature herself had gone astray from her operation. Or art sometimes does by the help of Nature, correct, supply and in a manner (especially in this magnificent discourse of mineral things) seems to exceed Nature. Which has already been long since consecrated to perpetual memory by those ancient Philosophers.

There are two sorts of Philosophers. Some only searching into Nature by herself, have in the monuments of their writings delivered the virtue and power which sublunary things have, as well from the elemental qualities, as from heaven and the stars; as the physicians are. And some others who have described the natures of animals, trees, herbs, metals, and precious stones. But others truly are more glorious, penetrating most sagaciously and sharply not only into Nature, but finally into the arcanum itself of Nature, and into her more inward recesses, have by a truer title assumed to themselves the name of philosopher. But because Nature produces all metals out of two things sulphur and Mercury, and has left us the superior bodies generated out of them, with the inferior bodies, certain is it is that the industrious may make the same out of her three operations, and reduce the inferior bodies to the Nature and perfection of the superior bodies.

Chapter 3.
Refutes an opinion of some in this art, and the philosophical art is laid down in a very few words.

And because by most of the studious in philosophy it is granted that metals themselves are generated of sulphur and Mercury, some have judged that sulphur and Mercury, since they are the root and matter of metals, ought to be taken and so long decocted, until they were conglutinated together into a metallic body. These truly had they descended deeper into nature's sanctuary, would never have come to such foolish opinions. For though sulphur and Mercury were as it were the root of metals before the first coagulation, yet now they are not, since they are brought to another nature: whence it remains that there cannot be made out of them any metallic body. Since also the chain is unknown, by which Venus and Mercury copulated together in due proportion. Wherefore they are not to be taken, but rather that which is out of them fully decocted in the womb of the earth, and that truly the most pure; whose like you will not find in a vegetable nature.

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 firesn 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 lustre 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 involvings 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. Since they all assert that there is no true tincture without their Ęs brass because in that there is the most pure sulphur of the wise, in which sage Nature contains her seed. 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 saviour 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.

But Hamul in Senior declares the chief cause why the philosophers have delivered this art down to posterity and the sons of wisdom, by uncertain similitudes and obscure allegories: that they might attribute it to the glorious God who might reveal it to whom he would, and prohibit it from whom he would. Rasis also in the book, 'The Light of Lights', reports: For if I should explain all things according to what they are, there would be no further occasion of prudence, but the fool would be made equal to the wise man. 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 cavill 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 labour 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 feareth 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 councellour 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. 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 metaphysick, 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. 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 seemeth 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. And also Proclus says: At the sun's aspect, that all the powers of all celestial things are gathered together and collected into one, which we believe are gathered together and collected into one, which we believe are at length through his fiery breathing have spread over this lower world. 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.

"An unknown concerning the Chymicall Art. But Lucerna Salis affirms him to be Marcilius Ficinus, an Italian of the Dukedome of Florence or Tuscany, in the year 1518." Item 7 from Ms. Sloane 3638. Transcribed by Justin von Budjoss. This text is a translation of a Latin text, Marsilius Ficinus, 'Liber de Arte Chemica', which was printed in the Theatrum Chemicum, Vol 2, Geneva, 1702, p172-183. It is not entirely certain if this text was actually written by Ficino, or was later ascribed to him.

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