Atalanta Fugiens picking up golden apples loses her a running race, but  just a percentage of alchemical ways can fit this volatile fixation model.

atalanta apples detToo many hermetic authors have been using this myth  as an allegory to explain volatile fixation, but are they fair when saying metallic gold is the unique method to slow down an excessively fast girl?

Michael Maier entitles his Emblemata Nova de Secretis Naturae Chymica, 1618, after a particular episode in  Atalanta  myth: Goddess Atalanta, who in greek-roman culture is often assimilated into the mainstream of hunting female deities, is the most fast running and  one day taking exercise she feels herself suffering from a violent thirst in nearby an Aesculapius temple. So she strickes a rock and brings forth a spring of fresh water, which she is drinking. From this introduction we are allowed to see her as our Mercurius: hunter, so looking for victims (1) to dissolve. Fast running, fugiens in latin, so too much volatile. Bringing forth water from rocks, in so doing exactly as our Universal Dissolvent/Mercurial Water extracting Secret Fire/Waters from minerals to get them unified with Waters from above (2). Hortulus Hermeticus engraving number 29, on the right, provides a good representation of the concept.

Is not a fortuity Venus providing the golden apples to Hyppomenes. As a matter of fact Venus (3) is here representing a mercurial phase preceding Atalanta. And now Venus must be made fixed and thus turning into Atalanta.

To make our Atalanta/Mercurius fitting her dissolving role we have to slow her down or better slow down her volatility inside our vessel, or fix her volatility. In fact, in all alchemical ways, Mercurius, once achieved, is difficult to handle. But in many wet ways just ceases to exist after vessel opening. Thus, if Hyppomenes wants to marry her, has to stop her getting her fixer. Three golden apples are thrown by the smart boy to arouse Atalanta curiosity. As a matter of fact the girl, in addition to her kinetics or as a direct consequence, is also very curious. Thus she stops her escaping from Hyppomenes to pick up the golden apples. In so doing allowing alchemists to easily draw as a logical conclusion that metallic gold has the property to fix Mercurius volatility and turn it into Mercurius Philosophorum (4), to then follow the  Opus Magnum scheme. But……..

  • a) often in some ways if we try to open vessel to introduce metallic gold powder we lose all our Mercurius. And;
  • b) metallic gold is not a must for Alchemy. In the sense that we can successfully perform Alchemy without any metallic gold at all. Often all we need is Philosophers Gold;

Michael Maier did perfectly acknowledge Atalanta solidified or calcinated by metallic gold just being an over-simplification, in fact Maier uses  the golden apples episode just in the cover, preferring the lion-lioness allegory to evoke fixed-volatile in his emblems. But let’s back for help to mythology.

We know only Hyppomenes can be a feasible companion for Atalanta, in fact he is an offspring of  Water God. Thus another Mercurius and we cannot be surprised to find him and Atalanta, in a later moment,  desecrating the Cybele Temple. Consequently the irate goddess immediately turns them into a lion and a lioness. Two identical animal, but for their sex. But let’s get back to metallic gold.

atalanta e hippomene det frontispiece

We know that one of the differences between dry and wet ways is the lack of a dissolving agent in the first one. Although a dissolving phase is altogether present in both methods. In addition, strictly speaking, in wet ways Mercurius is not uniquely bound to a dissolving task. Dissolving or incrudating a metal should be equivalent to volatilize it. Or better a mere volatilization should stand for incrudation. However we are not talking in chemical sense but in alchemical one.

Alchemical operations are far less in number than allegories representing them. If the only way to fix or stabilize Mercurius volatility was to put it into metallic gold contact, Atalanta Fugiens emblem sixth and the running curious girl in the cover might be two allegories  pointing at the same concept. The operation in which Atalanta/Mercurius has to be fixed could be nothing more, nothing less, the same as that one represented in emblem sixth putting on display the gold sowing in terra alba foliata (6). Alchemical symbolism is nasty but not redundant. Thus golden apples stopping Atalanta may really not be made out of mere metallic gold. Some authors are even ready to provide weights or proportions for  golden apples. It is a pity they forget to reveal us what way and raw matters they intend to start from. Since molecular chemistry is still relevant for our alchemical operations. The state of the art cannot tell us if Mercurius is volatile because of its molecular part or the spiritual one (the same concept for its odor) (5). As a matter of fact Mercurius Philosophorum still retains dissolving capability in spite of a new fixity. Nevertheless volatile-fixed axiom is not just from a mere chemical point of view.

atalanta fugiens frontispieceOvidius, in his Metamorphosis, wrote that Hyppomenes was transformed into a lion and Atalanta into a lioness. Which we do not find in ancient mythology. Indeed myth said (since myths did not start in a written way) that the two young were turned into lion and lioness. Male and female sperms. And that’s all. One can guess the remaining. But we are not so sure that Atalanta, in which metallic gold has been dissolved, does retain her female sex. If I remember right the Mercurius in which gold has been dissolved takes in a male property, indeed it becomes a male sperm, that’s to say what in ancient superstitions was believed to give all the new life properties. Unless…..symbolism here does not intend Atalanta related to her partner Hyppomenes, but just a Mercurius that would make metallic gold  ready for real incrudation, in so doing giving a sex to a Mercurius, because incrudation extracts the real seed of a metal (of course metals do not provide seeds). So we have learned that dissolving/volatilizing and incrudation are not the same operations, but dissolving/volatilizing reduce gold in a spiritual substance  to  then undergo real incrudation. That’s to say dissolved again in different weights or proportions. This is why authors giving weights for Mercurius and metallic gold reactions are pretentious. As well as being  one of the reason why the number of salts involved in Marriages or Amalgams is a real enigma (7). Also because the same authors forgive to detail what marriage they mean.

 We have not find an answer to the aforementioned points in a and b, for the moment. But we are ready to accept that a lion, or Mercurius Philosophorum well fixed and ripe, with metallic gold in spiritual form inside and a virgin lioness Mercurius Philosophorum are now ready to duplicate or mirror themselves in a finally convenient Marriage or Mercurius Duplicatus (8). But it goes without saying that a previous convenient Marriage is between fixed and volatile to achieve Mercurius Philosophorum or Lion. The real fixative marriage is just to achieve a volatile fixation. And any method, and I can assure there are countless of them, is welcome.

When, in alchemical symbolism, we find a Lion without any other attribute we know we are dealing with our Philosophers Gold or a Mercurius Philosophorum which might be defined Sulphur or Fixed. And very often we only need to sow just that into our earth. Or to sow our earth into it.

  1. See also Blaise de Vigenère & Salt Sacrifice, Victim of Fire ;
  2. See also Thesaurus Hermeticum & Dry Pythagorean River ;
  3. Venus stands for the first appearing of whiteness, Mercurius, as well as for second appearing, White Sulphur. Alchemists do not know a homologue lexicon. Here Venus is standing for Diane/Mercurius;
  4. See also Introitus Apertus vs Waite’s Open Entrance chapter 2;
  5. See also Morienus & Mercurius Odor ;
  6. See also Atalanta Fugiens & Terra Alba Foliata ;
  7. See also Cabala Mineralis & Three Salts Enigma ;
  8. See also Atalanta Fugiens & Mercurius Duplicatus ;