The assembling instructions of the famous Orthelius marble sponge to capture the celestial influences in a corporeal medium in this fifth chapter of his commentary on Sendivogius.

orthelius commentary sendivogius 5orthelius commentary on sendivogius marmor spongia

My translation from latin in quotation marks, my comments in regular:  Theatrum Chemicum Zetzneri Argentorati, Orthelius Commentator in Novum Lumen Chymicum Michaelis Sendivogii. Chapter V, Tome 6, page 413:

“Title On the attraction of the air in water, as well as of the proper medium in which that corporeal and earthly liquor gets life and impregnation by means of astral beams.

The text is interrupted by a short sermon: the catching of the air for possibly five or six months.”

For air Orthelius means the aerial part of the Secret Fire/Spiritus Mundi to be extracted from the atmospheric humidity.

“Sendivogius in his section ” On the Enigma” states that the water is everywhere, and nothing can live without it. It is drawn in wonderful ways, but the real best is the following, which is about how to extract it with the power of our chalybis, which is found in the belly of Aries. Very few know it (  when Sendivogius says ” the central part and occult food of life is in air), while the many are used to see only the rind or shadow of the thing.”

The Sendivogius infamous sentence-word  in Ventre Arietis, or in the belly of Aries, has taken off sleep to many alchemists. Orthelius mentions it again in the first chapter ( Orthelius Commentary on Sendivogius. Chapter I) : “……..For this reason it is fair to say the human Rebis ϰαἔ έξοχήν exceeds all other excrements, nonetheless from our experience it is known that the ovine droppings (of which, in the undercover mention IN VENTRE ARIETIS, Sendivogius sufficiently turns the topic into a dry louse…in latin: hanc quaestionem satis sicco pede transit) ……that a look alike earth or simple or prepared should be achieved and extracted in the beginning of Spring, with the Sun entering the sign of Aries (1)”. Let’s resume the fifth chapter now:

“The same in the epilogue. Nature has a proper light, unavailable to our eyes. On the other hand the shadow of nature is within our eyes. But if the light of nature irradiates and the shadow discharged from our eyes lifts, the point of our magnet corresponding to both the center of beams, and of course of sky and earth, can easily manifest.

Again. Every creature invisibly uses it. And from her comes all the things in the world. But there is nothing special in her, however in her everything special is combined.

In addition to the water taken from air, there are then the water distilled from snow and the december air frozen on the trees. Concerning other systems in summer the water from hail is actually preferred because of its darting lightning.”

It follows the description of the marble sponge, whose translation I decided to keep strictly verbatim. Only maintaining the integrity of the text I can avoid to alleviate the author’s ambiguity, in fact there are many clearly intended vague details in the sponge description. I’m aware that the raw literal rendition will lead to a very involute technical account of a bizarre implement, but on the other hand this was the author’s desire. The scheme in some points emerges so bizarre that it may even appear as an allegory for something else, rather than a device with any real use:

orthelius commentary sendivogius attraction aerial water” Sidenote: way to attract the air: beyond the above presented there are other systems to extract the air in the water substance, one of those is given without veils: a copper implement ( instrumentum cupreum) or even one or more imitations of the here presented model, from two or three parts ( ex duabus vel tribus partibus……) accordingly cemented is prepared (this is my only interpretation. The original is ……constantia optimè ferruminata parantur) .

A large sea sponge ( magna spongia balneatoria) is placed in the inferior part, to which are added two pounds of marble calcined for five days and nights in a furnace for glass ( quae duabus libris Marmoris per quinque dies & noctes in fornace vitriaria calcinati) and broken in pieces (confracti) together with a pound of red marble ( cum una libra Marmoris rubri) as big as an Avellana walnut ( a slightly larger nut than the standard) and mixed with calcined marble ( & cum calcinato marmore mixti, gravatur), so to be forced through an inferior small tube and in combination with a small container.”

Before going ahead and having information on the actual role of the sponge, as well as of the calcined and shattered marble, it can be interesting for the reader to know that the nomenclature “sponge”, when found in a seventeenth century alchemical treatise, sometimes hides a salt or a set of salts very predisposed to act as sponges for atmospheric humidity, and consequently for the Spiritus Mundi/Secret Fire from the sky. To improve their spongeable quality, those salts must previously undergo a long calcination at crucible or furnace, a common way to free them from any previous water and make them ready to absorb humidity again.  Not  common salts, though, but preferably salts very keen to reintegrate the water molecules incorporated in the crystalline structure lost when heating at high temperatures.

However Orthelius doesn’t present here a salt hydrate ( like copper sulphate CuSO4,  for instance), but marble, that’s to say a rather pure calcium carbonate mineral (CaCO3).  Anyway, as he recommends for the marble to be long heated in a furnace (actually five days), one wonders whether the CaCO3 mineral’s use would be purely mechanical ( to give a weight to the sponge) or chemical. So far the author just tell us to heat, till complete oxidation, and break the marble into pieces and assemble it in the very odd implement. But, if merely for mechanical purpose, why to recommend two types of marble then?

Concerning the marble chemistry, the ancient have long known how to transform in quicklime, which is obtained by high temperature baking of limestone, marble, shells or other materials containing calcium carbonate. In the heating phase the chemical reaction CaCO3 → CaO + CO2 occurs (calcination reaction) which leads to liberation of carbon dioxide and the production of calcium oxide or lime, an alkaline substance. After baking stone fragments reduce their weight by about 40% because of the carbon atoms and oxygen lost, and assume a porous texture. Then to obtain the hydrated lime, or slaked lime, the material must be subjected to the power-off reaction: CaO + H2O → Ca (OH) 2, associated with two obvious macroscopic effects: a violent heat release and disintegration of the stone for the expansive effect of the transformation from oxide to calcium hydroxide.


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