In the Renaissance neoplatonic academies the study of Alchemy was interconnected with the classical mythology. In Greek mythology, as in Alchemy, the deities of the Olympus are barely characters in their own right but more than often intermingled in a web of tangled and never random relationships. In Alchemy we know why: the same ineffable substance keeps on transforming and covering many roles. So Latona and Zeus, Apollo’s parents, represent the previous roles of Apollo, and the same Apollo shares his features with his twin sister Artemis/Diana. So he previously was the god of the thunder (Zeus), as well as the goddess of the night (Latona). Zeus was the “constructor of fire”, Latona the blackness. While Artemis, the huntress, is the volatile elusive feminine part of Apollo. But this is not what Dürer ‘s interpretation seems to be about, as apparently the German artist did not take inspiration from the canonical alchemical lab works as we know them, so let’s deepen the classic mythology to find out more: The Roman Horus, or the Greek Horos and the Egyptian Hor, were constantly identified with Apollo and represented by a falcon or a falcon-headed God. So we get that Apollo can be identified with the esoteric Sun, or soul, or inner central Sun.
Apollo was also the most important of musician-gods, who are known to be in communication with the chthonic world. In fact, not only Apollo was the patron of divination and prophecy in his sanctuaries, through the intermediary of priestesses, the Sibyls, but ultimately he was a deity of sudden death. So Apollo was back and forth unknown and forbidden worlds. Nevertheless Apollo is neither Pan nor Dionysus, he is Apollo the esoteric Sun, the soul at a certain extent.
The fact that the twins Apollo and Artemis were being given birth in a place where the sun’s rays never penetrated and that her mother Leto/night gave childbirth after nine days and nine nights of atrocious suffering, would be enough to paint Apollo as our alchemical first matter, achieved during the nocturnal dark and after nine repetitions or days. Additionally, the fact that he had not been nourished with his mother’s milk, but with nectar and sweet ambrosia to his lips, makes Apollo to be our perfect red, indeed (see an Opus Magnum scheme). But Dürer’s drawing appears to be more sophisticated: Apollo is the alchemical Sun (like the perfect red/soul/sulphur), but in the image he is outside the Sun, he was looking at the Sun, and his name is backwards. Someone could say that he is looking at his double, and it would make sense, representing the soul or even the male Mercurius. But his name is inverted, or better, is backwards (my opinion is corroborated by the observations of some art critics: as though Apollo went back and forth, to and from himself).
As I said above, Albrecht Dürer’s symbolism is often more neo-platonic than merely that of the lab Alchemy. Unlike many artists of his time, he preferred to target his art to more shrouded topics than our “cooking”, he aimed the obscure part of Alchemy. For instance either the part before the preliminary work, or the part after the achievement of the Philosophers Stone. Two parts sharing a common claim: to explain how Alchemy works. In fact, so caught up by our material-visible-detected works, we neglect to inquire into the hidden mechanism: we know that the Solve et Coagula is the engine of the destruction of the matter with the consequent coming out of the Secret Fire, and the new matter building up together with a new concealing of the Secret Fire. But a question becomes imperative: what does occur before and after our works, i.e. when the Secret Fire is “steady”? Is the Secret Fire idle in the interior of the matter? Or does it pulsate? Or even resonates?
A theory, almost retaken by German Aureae Roseae Crucis and Italian neoplatonic academies, states that Secret Fire tends to pulsate, resonating in the interior of the bodies hosting it. The theory tells that in every independent body there is an inner central and invisible Sun, which tends to communicate with the largest inner central Sun, that hidden into our solar system star, the Sun, indeed. And this communication would be back and forth, to and from, like a huge breathing or heart beating. I have already dedicated an article running along similar lines concerning an image from the Voynich Manuscript (3) corroborated by some Compass der Weisen and Symbola Aureae Mensae engravings. It is a theory, perhaps one of the most shrouded in obscurity, and I don’t understand why, as it would be the one to give us some hope.
What the theory doesn’t specify is what is meant by “Sun”: the Soul/Sulphur, i.e. the differentiated spiritual part, or Spirit/Mercurius, our undifferentiated part which we have in common with all the universe? A final observation: Apollo is son to the ancient god of thunder “the constructor of fire” and the night. Definitely not a common sunbathing environment. And to this extent, the incomplete sitting personage trying to shield herself from the rays with her uplifted hand, could suggest an escape from sunlit environment, to the night or underground (4).
Artemis/Diana, Apollo’s twin sister, chief hunter to the Gods and Goddesses of Olympus, is also born from the thunder/fire and night, like all the divine huntresses she is a representative of a dissolving character (5) and so she can be our Universal Dissolvent/Mercurius/Spirit, the one who extracts the Soul/Sulphur from the body. But Artemis is also the chief of the divine lunar personages, to an extent to represent the Moon. Apollo cannot be studied without his twin, the Moon.
In “Il Mistero dell’Amor Platonico nel Medioevo” (6), or the mystery of the platonic love in middle ages, London 1840, tome I page 42, the Italian historian of literature Gabriele Rossetti cites the inversion of the name Apollo among the Romans (to tell the truth he did it by quoting Vecchioni, another Italian historian of Italian literature): “..….when the night overcomes the day, Pluto assaults Osiris; when the day wins over the night, Osiris triumphs on Pluto. In the six months the sun being in its highest point, is Osiris; and in the six months when it is in the lowest, is Pluto; the god of the good in the fecund season, the god of the evil in the sterile one. Between the two equinoctial points that include the winter, Pluto assaults Osiris; between the same points which include the summer, Osiris triumphs on Pluto; in the fall equinox, the maleficent god pounds the beneficent, and the fight lasts a semester; In the vernal equinox, the good overcomes the nasty, and the victory lasts the same. We can say the same about Apollo, and for this reason he had two names in the arcane taletes, that’s to say in the last revelation of the mysteries: ….hence Heraclides of Pontus is cited when saying ” that Apollo is the same as the sun, and being a single numen he cannot but being decorated with two names, it is notorious to us through the mystic legends, on which the theology of the arcane taletes is poured. And this is in the people’s mouth, and is preached upside down, sun-Apollo and Apollo-sun.”
Rossetti goes on: “The sense of Heraclides words seems to me very clear, but I don’t know why Vecchioni writes: “the real sense of these words is not manifest; but we have to infer that in the mysteries they taught some very arcane doctrines which to the physical properties of the sun joined the theological opinions about a numen.” (P. 92) And because of the two positions of the planet, which with its presence causes the day, and with its absence the night, they consecrated to Apollo a white and a black bird, that’s to say the swan and the crow, corresponding to the light and the shadow, the summer high and the winter drop, as Eusebius said.” (Ad Il. D., lib ii. page 449).
Rossetti could be right if Apollo and the sun were opposite, like Pluto-Osiris, but being the same thing ( the same numen) one cannot be the antithesis of the other, so they cannot represent the antithetical day and night. Nevertheless Gabriele Rossetti is known to never express an own opinion but let the ancient writers and historians to talk for him (Rossetti, who in the beginning of the nineteenth century was banned by the Vatican and had to flee to London, knew very well how the ostracism of Santa Romana Chiesa could be dangerous when persecuting the residue of paganism in Italy).
Readers will wonder why I did not start from the easiest symbol, the sceptre, which in fact is a symbol of initiation. But, to me, it appeared as an incidental balancing.
- Augurello and the Art of Making Gold. Second Book 1;
- See also Orthelius Commentary on Maria Prophitissa. Part 1 , Franz Kieser and the two Perceivable Lights ;
- Voynich Manuscript and the Unknown Part of the Rhythm ;
- See also Atalanta Fugiens and the Golden Apples ;
- See also Busa di Manna, the Sinkhole , Nuisement and the Sun resisting capture;
- See also Thesaurus Hermeticum & the Dry Pythagorean River , Two Stars in Venetian Geocentric Sky and The Pythagorean Thigh in the Northern Sky .
- Il Mistero dell’Amor Platonico nel Medioevo, Tome I .