Title page, ‘Philosophie Naturelle’ by Arcade d’Orient Vial
Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA is an excerpt from volume one of Arcade d’Orient Vial’s ‘Philosophie Naturelle’, Delaroque Jeune, Paris, 1820. The extract is from part IV of the introduction, pages 96 to 102. This is a teasing-mode satire, with discreet hints pointing us to real gems-waiting-to-be-discovered. This playful sense of humor, probably was targeting the ‘zozoterists'(see note down below) of his time (yes, each epoch displays a bunch…). All these assets give to this ‘Panorama of Alchemy throughout the Ages’, an old-fashion charm. We suggests listening at the same time to Ravel’s orchestral version of Mussorgsky’ s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’. The effect is guaranteed 😉
A little introduction
Mainly known through the memoirs of Firmin Boissin (a.k.a. Simon Brugal), the main source for his biography, and also his association and friendship with Antoine Madrolle, the Vicomte de Lapasse, Eugène Aroux, Adrien Péladan (Joséphin’s brother) and his involvement with them in the fascinating and ideally complex life of the nineteenth century Christian esoteric societies.
Arcade d’Orient Vial, born in 1790, first was a watchmaker, then a jeweler; he came to settle in Paris earning a fortune in goldsmithing, owing only to himself the cultivation of his intelligence. He devoted to study all the free time left to him by his profession. This is how he successively learned Latin, Greek, English, the physical sciences, theology and history and published a few scientific books, some collections of prophecies and lyrical poetry on historical subjects. In his old age, he became a vegetarian and lived as a true ascetic; he maintained that man, by eating meat, animalizes himself, bestializes himself and brutalizes himself. Truly natural foods are vegetables, roots, herbs, fruits, cereals and dairy products. And he only used these foods.
He died in 1877 at the venerable age of 87. Arcade d’Orient was involved with social work. In the Saint-Sulpice district in Paris, where he last lived, ordinary people nicknamed him “the man of God”.
IV. Of the transmutation of metals
‘Need gave birth to the Arts: From the early ages of the world, necessity got men to learn the art of metal working. The ‘Scriptures’ talks about Tubalcain, a descendant of Cain, as a gifted blacksmith agile with bronze and iron works. ‘Fuit malleator et faber in cuncta opera oeris et ferri.’ (Genesis, IV, 5, 22). Olaüs Borichius deducts that Tubalcain-that I want to link to Vulcain (Hephaistos)-was a great chemist, and that chemistry was a science in honor long before the Flood. This great age did not satisfy Mister Fourmont who even pushes it back to some Chrysor, who may have lived three generations before Tubalcain. Much more, some alchemists are not afraid asserting that Adam was an adept of their cabalistic science, ‘ars est sine arte, cujus principium mentiri, medium laborare, finis mendicare.‘ ( it is an art without art, which has its beginning in falsehood, its middle in toil, and its end in poverty ). These points are still heatedly debated; but the majority agrees to hold the great Hermes to be the inventor and father of chemistry, which retained the name of ‘hermetic art‘: this Hermes is the Thot or Thoyt of the Egyptians, the Taaaut of Tyr and Sidon, the Mercury of the Latins, the Teutates of the Gauls, the Idris of the Arabs.
The Antiquarians, it is true, do not agree neither of the place of his birth, nor of the time he lived in and this has an debilitating impact over the endless discussions that were generated on this important matter; a dozen of Thot are numbered, five or six Mercury and I don’t know how many Hermes. The one we are speaking of here, and upon whom the chemists highly claim hereditary rights, bear the nickname of Trismegistus: it is an honorific title, a composed word, a little bit like Moliere’s ‘Trissotin’ (note: famous character of a pedant and hypocritical wannabe-poet and, btw, the name means ‘triple idiot’). Some want to see this ‘true’ Trismegistus either in the figure of Janus, prince of the Latium, or in Enoch, son of Cain, or in some Egyptian king called Siphoas. Others claim that it could only be the divine Osiris, or the wise Zoroaster, or Chanaan-cursed by his father. Some other have a different opinion in favor of Misraim, of Vulcain, Isis, Cham, Jethro, Sesostris, Eliezer, Melchisedec, Asclepius, Moses, and who knows, right? As we must find Hermes somewhere…The problem is that History does not say a word about the chemical knowledge of these people, and Diodorus of Sicily, who talks a lot about Hermes, does not mention any of his talents in chemistry: This writer was certainly not an Adept ! Another aggravating circumstance for this on-going discussion is that the works of Hermes were not written before the beginning of our modern time (Common Era of the calendar, also called A.D, Anno Domini by the Christians). Suidas, an eleventh century rhetorician, is at pain claiming that Diocletian ordered to be burned all the books that were dealing with the Great Work (A.K.A. Alchemy), but he wouldn’t convinced the most skeptical, who would have a less suspect authority.
Authorities! Shouts Borichius: Do we need more respectable than Moses, Orpheus, Homer, Hesiod, Pindare, Sapho, Hippocrates, Pythagoras, Plato, Democritus, Philostratus, Virgile and Pliny? We are wondering what these writers have to do with chemistry? Borichius will thus entertain us along in his ‘De ortu et progressu chimiae’ dissertation:
Moses, does he not talk of a ‘golden veal’? Without chemistry how could the tabernacle being built? Orpheus composed hymns: Is there any doubt they were chemical hymns? Hesiod was accused of debasing the divinity by the introduction of polytheism: his mythology is nothing more than an ingenious allegory, under which he was right to have veiled to the lay-man the secrets of divine alchemy. We could not be mistaken: Mars obviously is iron, Saturn lead, and his Mercury quicksilver. Who would not recognize the hermetic art in Homer’s golden chain? Hippocrates, would he have been such a great physician if he would not have taught chemistry? Because, without chemistry there are no medication, and without medication what would be left of medicine? Plato, Pythagoras, Democritus travelled to Egypt: Do we travel to Egypt without learning Alchemy?
The ‘ramus aureus’ in the Sixth book of the Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’ (v 204) represent, without being mistaken, the philosopher’s stone; even though some other commentators, claiming to be more inspired than others, arrogantly assess that the poet intentionally alluded to the divinatory wand; and to support their views use another paragraph of the poem, where Virgil says in these very words: ‘frondescit virga metallo‘ (v144); is it possible, they shout 0ut in a pedantic outburst of admiration, to describe more poetically the magical wand, that shivers when close to a metal, and is for its owner like a bough that ceaselessly blossoms gold? There is only one option: Either Virgil was an alchemist or he was a sorcerer.
Who else than a chemist could erect the Rhodian colossus? or take away the golden apples of the garden of the Hesperides? Or killing on Mount Maenalus the bronze feet doe? What could possibly be the famous fleece the Argonauts were after? He! What could it be, if not a ram’s fur upon which were written the golden elixir of the wise recipe? Everybody knows that in these times, people were writing books on tanned skin; and history tells us also of the bark of the papyrus, from which our word paper derives its etymology; all this gives us a lavish proof, I think.
Do we think, like idiots, that Prometheus was punished for stealing fire from Olympus? No, Blaise de Vigenere is better informed: he informs us that Prometheus was victim of the celestial wrath only because the chaotic love he professed for chemistry. The gods sure envied mankind for the precious help and the unforgettable pleasures that the possession of fire and metal working were promising: ‘Look to these fools’, they said happily, ‘they will be able to slaughter each other!’
And the Jean de Meun’s ‘Roman de la Rose’ ((The Romance of the Rose), is it not an allegorical story of the divine at work and the difficult trials to endure for anyone brave enough who aspire to be initiated to the sacred mysteries of the hermetic transmutation?
Should I talk of all these symbols, all these enigmas, glyphs, logoglyphs, hieroglyphs, mystical tables, hermetic columns, so lengthily talked by the scholar Michael Maier, in his ‘Arcana arcanorum omnium Arcanissima‘?
Nothing obscure, ambiguous, enigmatic there, in the ‘Scriptures’, in the mythological fables and in historical events that becomes in the unintelligible writings of the alchemists as many authentic documents of the old age of their cheating science: nobody refutes them, because one would need to read them!
It is assumed that the word chemistry is derived from Chemia, name that Egypt was called in hieratic Egyptian, according to Plutarch. The word ‘Alchemy‘ was read for the first time in a work of Julius Firmicus Maternus, who lived during the fourth century. It is composed of the Arabic article ‘al’, that expresses sometimes excellence like our definite article in our language: therefore, alchemy means ‘the’ chemistry by excellence.
These etymologies, teaches us that the chemical science had for cradle Egypt and Arabia. Egypt saw the birth of the most ancient hermetic writers: Sinesius, Zozime, Ostanes, Stephanus, and a few lesser known. All were flourishing during the dawn of Christianity.
Geber or Giaber, Arab writer of the Middle Age, whose origin like everything connected with alchemy is veiled with darkness, is considered as the father of modern alchemy; even though he only edited in a doctrinal corpus what was known before him. He was the chief of the Arab philosophers, who continued after his death to practice chemistry way up until the thirteenth century, when it then reaches Europe.’
Note: End of the part we have chosen. What follows deals with the Middle Ages and further on with also a discussion upon the alchemy’s key concepts. We may continue this translation soon and provide the whole as an e-book to be included, as a bilingual edition available for a small fee, in our forcoming 2023 ‘Via-HYGEIA Classics’ E-book Bookshop.
Note: What is ‘zozotererism’ and who are the ‘zozoterists’?
The word zozoterism is a portmanteau, formed of zozo and esotericism.
Zozo (familiar): ignorant and credulous person.
Esotericism (from the ancient Greek esôteros, “interior”): secret teaching reserved for initiates.
Zozoterism is therefore the fuzzy wacky esoteric claim offered to credulous people. We will rather call zozoterist the one who develops such conceptions, zozoteric those who are followers of them out of credulity. Both devotedly participate in the proselytism of zozoterism. (Source Marc Labouret & his great site: https://www.marc-labouret.fr/mots-de-la-mort/les-secrets-des-batisseurs.html)