Giovanni Carbonelli translates the latin verses in Codex Laur. MS Ashburham 1166, and deals with the acrostic I.A.A.T on the vessel since the beginning.
Of course they are the initials of the four elements, but there is something technically relevant involved in their acrostic inside the vessel. Carbonelli only indirectly helps us with the comprehension of the acrostic. He prefers to study in deep the allegory of nature, which instead I prefer to analyze in a coming post on the folio 10r. The question simply put does remain: what the acrostic I.A.A.T. does mean? And is it really important to be decrypted? Sure, as it is the alchemical works foundation. In the end of the article, when Carbonelli’s notes come to an end, I will try to give an answer.
In my previous article Carbonelli, Bellini and the Codex Laur. MS Ashburham 1166 you can find notes and facts on the codex conserved in Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana in Florence as Miscellanea d’Alchimia, as well as a gallery of the complete collection of black and white images taken by the italian historian and all the original watercolors I could take from the web. There are also elucidations of my theory of the too superficial attribution given by historians to Johannes von Teschen-Ticinensis as the author. While the name, instead, of Giovanni Bellini, the great renaissance Venetian painter, might be put forward for the written part too.
My translation from Sulle Fonti Storiche della Chimica e dell’Alchimia in Italia, on the sources of chemistry and alchemy in Italy, Roma 1925. In italics, and quotation marks, the original latin text translated by Carbonelli, in normal his commentary and notes. In fact Carbonelli implements the translation of the latin aphorisms with quotations from other ancient italian manuscripts, a very interesting way to decrypt a symbolism we do not normally read in more modern treatises. Folio is latin for sheet.
Giovanni Carbonelli: The first page presents no picture but two encrypted words which I couldn’t decrypt. The first figure is Hermes Trismegistus enunciating his great aphorism. I warn the reader that, for that codex, I will transcribe the latin text, as the translation is not always easy due to the damage from burns and poor latin, even if a later correction had been provided.
The line written in folio 2r (on the top of the page) says only: “Pater Hermes Philosophorum”. Figure turning to the right, wearing a large turban surmounted by an imaginary heraldry crown: up is the eight-pointed star with rays, perhaps reminiscent of the star in Crysopoeia. On folio 2v continues the concisely enunciated following hermetic theory, that is:
Folio 2v: “Hermes father of the philosophers also called Chains those that fasten the magisterium of the philosophers. Melting, ie joining: to putrefy ie to blacken, whiten: to fix ie to coagulate: to make poison ie to wax: to dye ie to make red. Every operation is done with these four systems; ie: to dissolve bodies or spirits: or to fix bodies and spirits: or to dissolve the bodies and fix the spirits: or to fix the bodies and dissolve the spirits: The first two he said to be poor.”
In these few words all the alchemical theory lies, and they are the incipit of the short but important manuscript. In “Dream of the Anonymous Philosopher”, of Liber Laureatus, Hermes position among the ancient alchemists is a leading one: “…..The first to sit in Aries was Hermes Trismegistus philosopher king and very scholar in Alchemy, he rules Egypt; on his crown it is written: so real without lies, and this is the truth of the truths; in the book: in this way you will separate the coarse from the subtle and the fiery from the terrestrial; in the thigh; its pulp from the deep of the earth, in the right foot: trust, we will see; in the other one: as, with-out the faith, it is impossible to achieve (1)”.
In the letter written by Rosinus to Euthesia it is said that Hermes in his book called Key of Every Prosperity (2). He goes on saying that no one has ever designate the real name ( of the stone) but Hermes who said: I found some stone tablets in which it was scratched by Hades son when was necessary for the world to expire. The ignorant being between fire and deluge: ( read the treatment with water and fire) Hermes explained those words we find in the tablets saying: you have to know that no dye can be done, but from the red stone (3). See also the legend of the fallen angels books, and of destruction of the human breed according to the Bible.
Folio 3r: into the four plates, coupled two by two and joined by two lines crossing in front of the philosophical vessel, are represented the four elements: Terra-Earth with a country landscape with trees; Aqua-Water with the blue waves of the sea; Aer-Air with a light blue dye; Ignis-Fire, with a red flame. In within there is the closed philosophical pumpkin shaped vessel set on a straw support to stand it; the Elements four initial letters are inscribed, to be read crossed as they are, ie: I (ignis) A (aqua) A (aer) T (terra).
All is within a circle, to mean the union of the elements in the alchemical process dependent and tied each other, carried out in the philosophical vessel. At the bottom of the page the properties of each element are described, that is reading before the second line with the names:
“Terra; sicca, frigida ( dry, cold) Aqua; frigida, humida (cold and humid) Aer; humida;calida ( humid, warm) Ignis; calidus, siccus ( warm, dry).”
The words intersection speaks more clearly in the figure than if it were written: in the third line are repeated again the initial i.a.a.t.
“Item heu nobis qui multis….lunarem. Silicet decoctionem continuam….imitari spernitis nomen dicunt philosophi quod ignis et azoth tibi sufficiunt. Mercurius philosophorum.”
The four elements, as are there presented, fasten each other with two crossed lines joining the earth to water from below to above and from left to right, the water with fire from right and left from below to above, crossing the two lines in front of the philosophical vessel.
The earth per se wasn’t philosophically considered a principle because to be such it needed an association with other elements.
Folio 4r: The latin text, as far as it can be read, says: “Item prima extraitur mercurius (the damage of the parchment is very ancient, since the word mercurius is re written by a later hand)……solvuntur corpora imperfecta que terram reg…rantur, dealbantur et tunc fiat compositio sol…. Also in first place mercurius is extracted, the imperfect bodies found in the earth are melted, whitened an the composition with gold is made.”
The picture represents a cylindroid seen in perspective, whose inner part is a four- sided rendering of the four elements also by colors and light drawings; the flat truncate surface represents the earth, or the world, it is divided into three segments, the two minor are air and fire, the third is the Philosophers Stone (according to the word phrase “Lapis Philos”): above the philosophical vessel. This ideal figure is accompanied by the text:
“Sublimo, calcino, Solvo, Abluo, Cero, Coagulo, Figo: Hortulanus vocat serras ( lately corrected in Efferas) vel catenas que claudunt magisterium. Item mercurius vulgi philosophicus. Potest reperiri in parte quinte octo partium operatiomis: sed participio, et sal metallorum est lapis philosophorum tantum occultatum per unam litteram. It can be translated: Only seven operations can be above all, that is to say: Sublime, calcine, dissolve, wash, melt like wax, coagulate, fix: Hortulanus calls these operations ties or chains which fasten the magisterium. In the same way the common philosophical mercury can be found in five of the eight parts of the operation: but your participation, and the salt of metals, are the philosophers stone so hidden with a letter.”
If I have exactly, or more or less, got the sense: the explanation of the figure, that’s to say of a base shaped by the union of four elements, which ends in a plane divided into three segments the major of those is the philosophers stone, lies in the genesis of the world, that is: Aristotle says (4): alchemists should know that a substance cannot be turned into another if before it is not be reduced to first matter. The first matter, as reported by the Genesis, was water, God divided the waters, and created the firmament and earth, and from this he created Adam, from whom he shaped Eve, both generated males and females from who all the human genre come down. So the man comes down from man and no more from earth; which nevertheless keeps to provide nourishment: the earth is an elemented element, that’s to say it contains in within earth, water, air, fire and therefore man partake of the four elements that’s to say with the elemented substance with which he was given food. The same happens with our magisterium; we have to do as nature when we want to generate metals, unlikely God did when created it. In fact in the beginning he created a substance from which he draw all the metals, as man did from the earth; so if we want to generate some gold and silver, we should have of these metals, give food to them with a pure substance until we have generated their simile. But being water the first matter, let’s get back at this point, we have to reduce the substance in water otherwise we work in vain (5). After this statement it is easy to understand how on the base of the four elements one can get the three segments and the major is the Stone.