Are we so sure the translations from latin of Artephius’s 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, 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 that this sentence represents one of the greatest highlights in the history of alchemical treatises translation from latin errors.
“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, a text’s incipit transpires 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 make love promises. But the same people are generally absolutely uninterested in knowing 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 that 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 ” put on a neo-latin vulgar idiom to a latin sentence. Sadly no latin idioms are, in most cases, very different from latin idioms. Our European neo latin languages derive only in minimum part from latin (sounds and assonances), the most ( syntax) were from preexisting locals: Etruscan, Umbrian, Sicilian, Venetian, Celtic, Slavic, and goth. Back to our translators, the french one was surely more verbatim. Nevertheless, he fell into a syntax error leading to alchemical nonsense. If Artephius, or he who translated from Arabic to latin, had intended meaning as “Antimonium is of the same region of Saturn – is in the nearby of Saturn ” he could have written: “ Antimonium est de Partes Saturni”. That’s to say he should have employed the Pars-Partis word in the ablative singular case and not in the 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 authors for comparisons) wanted to indicate where one was banished to, he wrote: “Ad Orientis Partes”, that’s to say “to the 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, would always have written “Partes” singular. Partibus is plural. 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 bring the sentence to completion, or rationality, for all the treatise long. In fact, “Antimonium is of the same region of Saturn” can be evocative only for those knowing that Saturn can, and must, be divided into parts.
English translations of Artephius’s initial words are of two kinds: the first was as much as possible verbatim, but trying to be on the safe side, remained too 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 the 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 the addition of a word ( mineral) never mentioned in the latin original phrase: “Antimonium est de Partibus Saturni”. Antimonium is … from parts of Saturn”, without any mention of a mineral.
Here an Italian translator could have made the difference, but they sadly often limited themselves to translating 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”; the Second is “role”; the Third is “mission, duty”; the Fourth one is “part as in legislative meaning”; The fifth is “faction, a 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 the singular, and 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 these 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, the translator did panic before a partition of Saturn. He went back to classical mythology and saw a Saturn torn to pieces. And Venus was born from foam falling into the sea. So even mythological Venus appears to be a Saturn partition. But in Artephius’s case partitions are a bit more complicated.
Conclusions: Artephius did not mean to point at metallic antimony. In this case, he would never mention it so clearly, with the real name. Thus erroneously, the English translator used the name “ Antimony”, when 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 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 of marriage and then washings (1). This is the point from where Artephius’s 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 to get a well-ripe and refined Materia Prima/ First Matter.
Thus: Antimonium will be composed of all the previously set apart Saturnus partitions poured over it. Now we are ready to understand the Secret Book’s 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. No metal can be whitened without this argent vive; it whitens laton…”
The substance in the main work, or Antimonium, is of the same substance as 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’s Secret Book is 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 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 .