Are we so sure the translations from latin of Artephius Secret Book incipit are faithful? English and french ones are indeed neither correct nor knowledgeable.
It seems they who rendered them did content themselves to give poetic and evocative allures. Of course, as we are taught to expect from the opening words of a text. But in this case, perhaps, a lack of alchemical reality did the remaining setback. The consequence was this sentence represents one of the greatest highlight in alchemical treatises translation from latin errors history.
“Antimonium est de Partibus Saturni” is by far the most famed and obscure Alchemy opening words. World literature provides plenty of enigmatic and charming beginning sentences. In some cases the incipit of a text do transpire the whole work. In other cases they are so prodigious the remaining book will never reach the same highs. See Franz Kafka and his “Metamorphosis”. People love incipits, since they do love promises. But the same people are generally absolutely uninterested to know if these promises will ever be fulfilled. This is not only a literature foundation but also a political science one. And Alchemical treatises translation art and science makes no exception.
The decisive issue in alchemical cases is the lack of knowledge of the subject matter: if a translator is trying to understand what Alchemy possibly is, and some of them did learn as they translated, he/she faces huge difficulties before sentences which would require a minimum alchemical reality. But that’s the way it goes. In these cases a proper “ dogma” would be: always apply a verbatim, word to word, translation. Do not try to be interpretative.
The french translation “ l’Antimoine est des parties de Saturne” or “Antimonium is of the same region of Saturn – is in the nearby of Saturn ” simply put on a neo latin vulgar idiom to a latin sentence. Sadly neo latin idioms are, in most of cases, very different from latin idiom. Our european neo latin languages do derive only in minimum part from latin (sounds and assonances), the most ( syntax) were from preexisting locals: etruscan, umbrian, sicilian, venetian, celtic, slavic, goth. Back to our translators the french one was surely more verbatim, nevertheless he fell in a syntax error leading to an alchemical nonsense. If Artephius, or he who translated from arabic to latin, had intended a meaning as “Antimonium is of the same region of Saturn – is in the nearby of Saturn ” he could have wrote: “ Antimonium est de Partes Saturni”.That’s to say he should have employed the Pars-Partis word in ablative singular case and not in ablative plural, as he did. Since this plural way to express “nearby or region” is a neo latin vulgar idiom not true latin. When Cicero ( one of the most used latin author for comparisons) wanted to indicate where one was banished to, he wrote: “Ad Orientis Partes” , that’s to say in “to eastern region” or more informally “ to eastern parts”, as we neo latins are used to say. But an ancient latin author, whatever case he meant, formal or informal, he would always have written “Partes” singular. Partibus is plural. And moreover it is not used for the case.
Nevertheless I must admit the french translator did not fail in giving poetic and evocative allures. But he failed to brought the sentence to completion, or rationality, for all the treatise long. As a matter of fact “Antimonium is of the same region of Saturn” can be evocative only for those knowing that Saturn can, and must, be divided in parts.
English translations of Artephius initial words are of two kinds: the first was as much as possible verbatim, but trying to be on the safe side, remained too much vague: “Antimony is of parts of Saturns”, the second was too much interpretative “ Antimony is a mineral participating of saturnine parts”. We don’t know if translators here provided a decent knowledge of latin language, and thus they correctly read “parts” as portions for “partibus”. Or they persevered along the same french lines intending “parts” as an informal for “region”. In addition the second version, probably to give a sense, allowed to add a word ( mineral) never mentioned in the latin original phrase: “Antimonium est de Partibus Saturni”. Antimonium is …….from parts of Saturn” , in fact without any mention to a mineral.
Here an italian translator could have made the difference, but they sadly often limited themselves to translate from french fatigues, avoiding the annoying operation of opening a latin dictionary. This little operation would have taken a little time to help generations of alchemists not to remain stuck in poetry. The latin word Pars-Partis first meaning is “part, portion, fraction, partition”; Second is “role”; Third is “mission, duty”; Fourth one is “part as in legislative meaning”; The fifth is “faction, political party; and finally sixth one, and last, is “ region, province, territory, parts”. But, as I said when mentioned Cicero, it was not used with plural. Remember “Ad Orientis Partes” is written in singular, Artephius “Partibus” is plural. The latin “Partibus” can only be intended as “partitions”.
But, even in the case of a verbatim translation, what’s the use of this strange and hard to set “partitions”? Since we are handling a plural, do not forget it. Thus my translation is unavoidable: “Antimonium is from Saturn partitions”. This is the verbatim translation of “Antimonium est de Partibus Saturni”. Very probably translators did panic before a partition of Saturn. It was true that in greek mythology Saturnus – Chonos was castrated, so partitioned. And Venus was born from foam fallen into the sea. So even mythological Venus appears to be a Saturn partition. But in Artephius case partitions are a bit more complicated.
Conclusions: Artephius did not mean to point at any metallic antimony at all. In fact, in the case, he would never mentioned it so clearly, with the real name. Thus erroneously the english translator used the name “ Antimony”, while he/she should have left “Antimonium”, which in Alchemy is a definition, one of the countless indeed, of our first matter, Prima Materia. That’s to say the Mercurius Philosophorum as we use it in the main work (Mercurius is the product of salts volatilizations in the preparatory work and then fixed, according to the art secrets, thus becoming of Philosophers, Philosophorum in Latin). This first kind of Mercurius Philosophorum is also called “Saturnus” because it comes out of the first putrefaction or black phase (see an Opus Magnum scheme). When out of the second putrefaction, and thus in the main work, the same substance is called First Matter, Prima Materia, because it begins to show off colors.
The second work will consist in a marriage and then washings (1). This is the point from where Artephius Secret Book begins to tell and explain.These washings will be performed by the Mercurius Philosophorum/Saturnus coming out of the first putrefaction or preparatory work. Or better, by and with the Mercurius Philosophorum/Saturnus we should have previously partitioned and set apart. These portions will be then “poured” over Materia Prima/Antimonium in order to get a well ripe and refined Materia Prima/ First Matter.
Thus: Antimonium will be composed by all of the previously set apart Saturnus partitions poured over it. Now we are ready to understand all the Secret Book first paragraph: “……..This saturnine antimony agrees with sol, and contains in itself argent vive, in which no metal is swallowed up, except gold, and gold is truly swallowed up by this antimonial argent vive. Without this argent vive no metal whatsoever can be whitened; it whitens laton…………”
The substance in the main work, or Antimonium, is of the same substance of Sun/Secret Fire/Mercurius/Saturnus and is perfectly able to “cook” itself . This matter can dissolve every metal, even gold, which is not dissolved by any other dissolvent. Only this substance can make ripe itself. Without these washings no metal can become a white Sulphur. These baths are called white Laton……
From this point on Artephius Secret Book is really accessible. As Mercurius/Saturnus partitions are the less intelligible part of Alchemy. Artephius put them as an incipit, as they are the true Alchemy turning point. These opening words are now able to transpire the whole work. See also Artephius, Secret Book and Secret Fire.
P.S. Andreas Gerasimenko ( Андрей Герасименко) provided an accurate philological research on the use of the expression “….est de partibus…” in the book “De aluminibus et salibus”, which you can find at Андрей Герасименко Google plus post .