Disciple of Bernardino Telesio, Antonio Persio, in his treatise published in Venice by Manutius’s sons in 1576, develops the concept of genius as Spiritus/Mercurius.
Trattato intorno all’Ingegno dell’Huomo, or treaty on the human genius, is a pretty ignored sixteenth-century pamphlet written in Italian by Antonio Persio (1543 – 1612), although so courtly and convoluted to make reading difficult even for an Italian native speaker, like me. So it does not surprise the book has not known a more comprehensive eco, and frankly, I doubt it will ever find a complete translation into a more global language. As typical for the sixteenth century, they disguise the form of the work in a mix of purely philosophical dissertations, common sense ethics, and health standards recommendations, as the duty of every earnest parson, as the priest Persio was. On the other hand, a book written in vulgar language and not in Latin was addressed to the vulgar indeed, or at least not to a scholarly audience. If the books in Latin were subjected to Sant’Uffizio, books in vulgar were much less but had to be very cautious. After Telesio’s death, Persio had already ordered his teacher’s ideas in Varii de rebus naturalibus libelli, or pamphlet on various natural things, in which it can be found some parts as Quod animal, De somno, and De Natura, which would have been posthumously banned by Sant’Uffizio and inserted in the Index of prohibited books published by Clement VIII in 1596.
Trattato intorno all’Ingegno dell’Huomo is entirely Persio’s work. The article presents only a selection of the most interesting parts, initially hidden, dissolved, and scattered throughout the 129 pages. I have fully transcribed and translated them, conserving the original wording. I have left out the parts the author uses to dilute his thought, masquerading it as a pamphlet on moral philosophy.
It has been mistakenly thought that Trattato intorno all’Ingegno dell’Huomo only regains the sense of Bernardino Telesio on astronomical sun or sunlight. Still, it takes up and amplifies the entire particular issue of the inner central sun of all beings. And we’ll see how the concept of ‘genius‘ symbolically and clearly, brings instead to Mercurius and how many issues in the book can be recognized as typically alchemical, in an unexpected sense that can embrace both the so-called inner and lab Alchemy. With a minimum hint of Alchemy, the reader can immediately understand ‘genius‘ as perfectly standing for Spiritus, spirit/Mercurius. And for Mercurius, I mean the mercurial substance, i.e., the ineffable matter of alchemists. The features Persio gives to genius are recognizably peculiar characteristics of the alchemical Mercurius. If the reader dared to mentally replace the term genius/Sun/God with Mercurius, a fresh vision might appear before their eyes.
In this way, we will acknowledge the alchemical symbolism as we accustom alchemists to recognize, and many obscure symbols can find a way out and a meaning. We will find classic alchemical symbols like the inner central Sun, fishing nets, rivers, and oceans. And intriguing as well, as a pretty unexpected explication for motion and sound as Spirit/genius accelerators. And memory with its doubling and keeping the property. As well as an express explication of potable gold, with its effects and uses. To end up with the sleep of great initiates and the making of gods.
The Italian word Persio specifically utilizes for genius is ingegno, which could be more appropriately translated in English as ingenuity. Still, as most English-speaking academic scholars in the Italian renaissance preferred to translate it as genius, I also kept this English academic expression to create a continuity with their work. Even if they often seem to reel in the symbolic sea of Renaissance Italian literature without grasping the alchemical significance that can not be ignored; instead, the authors of the time well knew however much. A typical example of this incomplete interpretation is the book by Noel L. Brann, The Debate Over The Origin Of The Genius during The Italian Renaissance, the theories of supernatural frenzy and natural melancholy in accord and conflict on the threshold of the scientific revolution, 2002, in which the author can grasp the importance of the Platonic and Aristotelian theories in the Italian Renaissance, as well interpreting the meaning of genius as spirit, but misses the hidden sense of spirit as alchemical mercury (which is instead a fundamental Plato’s feature). In Brann’s analysis, the spirit does not go beyond the definition of mere intellectual faculties.
Some notes on Bernardino Telesio (1509 – 1588): Italian philosopher and naturalist was the initiator of the new philosophy of nature during the Renaissance. Giordano Bruno, Francis Bacon, and Thomas Campanella drew many concepts from his teaching, to cite some that were said to border on Alchemy. At the University of Padua, Telesio began by participating in the contrasts between Averroist and Alexandrian in interpreting Aristotle. During these disputes, he elaborated his critique of Aristotelian physics, developing an interest in the study of nature to which he devoted all his future works.
Telesio first put forward the idea that knowledge of nature must be based on the study of natural principles (iuxta propria principia) abandoning any metaphysical consideration but taking the pantheistic and vitalistic conception of the pre-Socratic and Plato, which survived in the Neoplatonist Renaissance circles and magical beliefs of the time. Contrary to Aristotle, who argued that “quidquid movetur ab alio movetur“, another body in motion moves everything in motion, Telesio believes that the movement is a principle inherent in the heat. So he developed as the first acting force the warm, expanding; as the second force, the cold, condensing; and a body substrate, the material. As the erudite reader may discern, these are but the alchemical forces that allow the Solve et Coagula, or the world machine.
Persio sets the introductory part of Trattato intorno all’Ingegno dell’Huomo in Venice and starts it with a eulogy and dedication to nobleman Pietro Contarini, who allegedly associated whose family name with Alchemy. The author thanks Contarini for allowing him into the Venice State Institute of Printing and Minting. Persio describes gold assay, how to do it by dissolving the metal into strong water, then moves to silver cupel delineation, talking of all that as man’s brainchild, which he defines genius. But what is this man’s genius? With these considerations, which could have been found as incipit in a lab Alchemy treatise, he analyzes the origin of human genius. Nostrum opus exasceatum sit, or our opus, has been drawn up:
Genius as Spiritus/Mercurius.
Accordingly, Genius is a synonym for spiritus, which not only invents things but refines those already invented. And the spiritus creates and refines the already created, as Mercurius, a synonym. Persio makes examples of inanimate objects, such as statues or paintings, revealing they gain life through genius. Semina flammae abstrusa in venis silicis, seeds of flame hidden in rock veins – Virgil, Eclogues.
Genius as Memory/Mnemosyne.
We can define genius as a ray of divine wisdom, but it is surprising what Persio intends as divine wisdom. The author here cites Plato when saying that our soul had abode in heaven before entering the body and, once down in the body, it will be provided with genius/Mercurius, which for Plato other was then the faculty of remembering, so a memory exercise [Mind, memory, not the mental exercise that can be defined so marginal in modern psychology, but the aptitude so necessary in Alchemy and ancient mythology instead, Mnemosyne. Something that will require a doubling].
Etymology of the Latin term ‘ inginio’ or to seed.
Seek the etymology of the word genius; that’s all latin. Inginio, from ingenero or do as a seed and generate planting inside a thing [ Totally alchemical concept of the seed of metals, the seed of all things, Mercurius]. The genius does not dwell only in animate things but also in what is thought to be soulless [like the places known as ingenium loci, today known as ‘genius loci’, instead].
Genius as the source of water.
Lucretius defines it as a source of water, waves, and sea. Unde mare ingenui fontes externaque longe flumina suppeditant?, or where the native and external sources rivers supply from afar the sea? – Lucretius – They are called geniuses, as they run to the sea because of their natural habit and are not confined or imprisoned because of any artifice of man’s will, for instance, tanks or other closed places. So for Lucretius, genius is a natural and inherent power engendered by us. An idea close to the concept of Mercurius, often represented by the serpent precisely because of its darting. Indeed, it is not said the gods are those that flow.
Genius as a fishing net.
A very consonant definition is the ancient Greek word ‘sagena‘ σαγήνη (sagḗnē, “dragnet”) or fishing net, marine netting. Another symbolic representation of the spirit or alchemical Mercurius is the fishing net.
Genius as the nature of air.
The spirit of animals, as well as ours, are within the entire body. Still, as far as Persio knows, it leans to “ ventricelli del cielebro“ [ the Latin form for cerebrum is indeed the same cerebrum and not cielebrum, which may instead appear as a mix of cielum [sky] and celeber-celebra [ celebrate], but fourteenth-century poets as Cecco d’Ascoli and Boccaccio cite celebrum instead of cerebrum, and concerning ventricelli there can hardy find an established meaning, but ventricelli is used in some central Italian dialects as rolls and rolled shapes at large, so one can argue that ” ventricelli del cielebro” may stand for convolutions of the brain], but further on Persio says its nature is warm and soft, and resembling air.
Genius, motion, and sound.
And in addition, it can emit sound and motion, as claimed by Platonian. The spirit moves and takes pleasure from motion, a great pleasure, therefore loves musical and regulated sounds since it gets motion from them. From the spirit, each part of our body receives movement and the sense of hearing.
The mutual relation of Geniuses.
And we indeed feel to make the spirit feel; we move to make it move and let it move all parts of our body wherever it likes. To where if the substance of the spirit was not in our body, we could not move—nor stand. If any particle of the spirit, localized in any part of the body, gets injured, the universality of the spirit immediately rescues it.
Genius as a mirror.
Galenus says that from the spirit it will be made two spirits, animal and vital, and then three with the addition of natural. But Persio adds that the spirit Galenus, clothes with the nature of air and then the nature of fire, is the father, source, and root of our genius. In our body, different forms of genius are being born, like a mirror: the cleaner and clearer, is the mirror, the more quickly it receives imprint and likeness of image.
Comparison with gold.
You could make a comparison with the gold assay. In short, you purchase gold of wisdom and can expect to be purified in the fire of spirit, a hot and animated substance. Pindar says that gold has the virtues of fire. Many wise found that gold, as the spirits, has the Sun’s and Jupiter’s virtues.
And if you want to make it very thin and well purified so that one can drink it, and because of that, it has been called potable gold to recreate the power hidden in our hearts. With gold, one can buy another precious.
Mind not to let your pores too open.
But pay attention to your skin pores are not too open, because in this case, the very thin spirit will fly towards the Sun, his father, as it has been seen in some who were left deprived of everything, if not dead, they are little different from the dead.
The sleep of the initiated.
It is said of Epimenides Cretan, who for 50 years was believed to be in sleep, so Pythagoras for ten years and Zoroaster for 20. Even without moving, Socrates was seen in several places. If Archimedes had spent his genius to take refuge in a protected place, his life would not end so soon.
Genius as a microcosm.
Many say this system is not very different from having a soul sown and scattered by the sun throughout the universe. And where this universal spirit expands, it interweaves with all the parts of the universe and in all parts of the body, where more were less, and for this, it is called a little world or microcosm.
How Genius can gain solar virtue and why he should.
And if you find the person who will discern the whole parts of spirit so to make it an elected wine, white sugar, balsam, gold, precious stones, and other things that shine and smell, and especially the warm, moist substance, and it will be like when to feed the brain or liver sufficiently, they eat the same parts of a noble animal, the same way you do for the heavenly spirit. For example, if we wanted to make the spirit solar, or participate in the solar virtue, we would use solar things proceeding from the less perfect to the more perfect, till us, which would be the most perfect.
Spirit-Sun multiplies himself.
So is it true that the world is living in every place, which is clear from motion and generation, so it is proved that the hot Sun can pull the vapors from the earth and make them very subtle, but also forms the same animal souls? So the spirit is widespread all over the universe while, at the same time, being in every little part of the universe; his action generates different forms and makes up different spirits. Plotinus pointed out the difference between great and little spirits, universal and particular. But there isn’t the same difference because the spirit and warmth of the sun and sky do not feed the essence of things below, but for himself, because it is fitted out with the ability to multiply himself.
Apollonius of Thiana and the seven rings.
Apollonius of Thiana said that one should not marvel at Apollo’s ability to deify the spirit inside him caused this Apollonius comprehended the language of birds. An Apollonius ancestor had seven rings called by the name of certain constellations; every day, he wore one on his finger according to the name of the day.
Warm as a source of Spirit motion.
Aristotle said that cold was its principal danger. Indeed the spirit is much more agile when it is warmer and thus agile when in motion. And being very free and fast for his tenuous nature will easily impress this thing’s image.
Genius/Spirit prefers dwelling on the upper parts of the earth.
The nearest air movement towards the sky is located on the top of the mountains or upper parts of the houses. And it is also good practice to change places, fleeing from the swampy ones.
Genius/Spirit prefers dwelling on the upper parts of bodies. How to overwhelm human nature by hitting one’s head.
Like Minerva’s being born, they say that Vulcan was beaten with an ax Jupiter’s head, and Minerva came out, who, with her voice, shook heaven and earth. The spirit’s headquarters lie in the body’s upper parts, especially the head. Jupiter’s golden rain on Rodian people means the deposition of spirit particles.
There were great wise who wished to operate with the genius, but genius while operating created unease in their body. These men overwhelmed human nature and were deified after their death, and all this could not have been achieved if they had not hit well the head and brought out many good fruits of genius; with this system is the way to acquire again the already had.
Genius’ color as gold turning purple.
The genius color must be that of gold, and his whole body the same, though turning to purple, as the wise say he who wants to buy very pure gold must be careful it has the actual gold color, created by the Sun. And as the fire makes and refines gold by heating it and lights it as well with his motion, the genius lit by its motion becomes red, hot, and shiny; in the same way, the celestial arc is represented by its various colors.
Spirit/Genius dry property.
The spirit generated by the well-tempered heat becomes thin and pale, like brandy, and leaks out from the narrow meatuses of his well-organized body, so subtle it ascends yet warm with his motion within that nourishes the spirit; for this reason, food is digested. Spirit recreates and constantly contemplates his own, from which he has never separated, investigates things, and judges. Once judged, he keeps them for a long time; this ability to retain them is called memory. And we will say with Democritus: lux sicca, anima sapiens, or a dry light makes a wise soul. That is, it came from the heat.
The embryo as the mother’s flesh and blood.
Do not listen to Aristotle’s blatancy about mothers being only uterus. I say that not only woman’s seed is essential, but the embryo is the mother’s flesh and blood mother; here I say as Galenus that children get more from their mother than their father. Children love their mother more, which is what Greeks call sympathy [This is very similar to the alchemical marriage we know that Mercurius, symbolically female, compose almost entirely the embryo (at least in most wet ways)].
Methods for Genius to multiply himself.
The woman has the most tenuous and subtle spirit [ she is the solvent, indeed]. It is no wonder the child resembles his mother more than his father. When they lie with a man other than their husband, many women think intently of their husband and focus on his image and thus give birth to a son like her husband and not her lover. This results from genius. For this reason, animals born children like them because they are focused only on that. Plato said that the mathematical sciences, such as geometry and arithmetic, enhance the spirit [divisions and proportions of Mercurius in Alchemy].
The love between geniuses as remote control and synchrony.
The nurse is also important, as is she who will breastfeed [ in Alchemy, the nurse stands for Mercurius divisions to be used as nourishment]. And essential is love; that’s why often bastard children have more talent because there was attraction and ardor between parents. Titian, the painter, once told me that when painting a real-life human subject, he/she often kept moving according to the figures on the canvas in the frame the painter was painting them. This is called love.
Genius loves smells as they subject him to the same laws of air.
Aristotle said that things that smell are warm because hot is the nature of smell. And indeed, smells do move and tend to go upward. it is because physicians use it to prepare smelled compositions. In short, genius is subjected to the same laws of air. Souls have to return to their primary nature, which is air. Largior hic campos aether et lumine vestit purpureo, solemque suum, his sidera norunt, or a more copious air clothes the fields (the Elysian Fields) with purple light, and they know their sun and their stars – Virgil, Aeneid.
Brunetto Latini, vulgarizing Aristotle, said: “ then use good ointments, because the soul loves to sniff and the sweetest smell is its food. And when it comes to smell, here is Venus, a friend of pleasure. Approaching our spirit, she multiplies and makes them born again and says well they who greeted her in the following way: Aeneadum genetrix, hominum divomque voluptas, alma Venus, caeli subter labentia signa quae mare navigerum, quae terras frugiferentis concelebras, per te quoniam genus omne animantum concipitur visitque exortum lumina solis: te, dea, te fugiunt venti, te nubile caeli adventumque tuum, tibi suavis daedala tellus summittit flores, tibi rident aequora ponti placatumque nitet diffuse lumine caelum….. O mother of the Roman race, the delight of men and gods, Venus, most bountiful, you who beneath the gliding signs of heaven fill with yourself the sea, bedecked with ships and earth, great crop-bearer, since by your power creatures of every kind are brought to birth and rising to behold the light of the sun; From you, sweet goddess, you, and at your coming the winds and clouds of heaven flee all away; For you, the earth well-skilled puts forth sweet flowers the seas’ horizons smile and sky, All peaceful now, shines clear with light outpoured – Lucretius, De rer. nat.
What is the Eden apple for and on the drink described in Plato’s Phaedo?
From that is easy to understand why people of genius are said to love ardently and what the Eden apple is for, which is not very different from the drink described by Plato in his Phaedo, and why Pliny writes about some people who are said to live on odor. That’s why in tropical countries, there is more spirit. And because of this, we understand how genius and love are cause and effect of each other.
To more deeply explain the synchrony of love. The mirror.
As we said, our spirit is of the nature of fire, shiny, moving, simile to the light daughter of the heat, and gently moved by smells, motions, art, and nature. Therefore we are attracted by beauty because beauty is grace. And the same is with love because the thing loved is imprinted so deeply within us that it moves us from ourselves as if we went out by ourselves and we were to put in front of ourselves. Like that guy, that being away from his woman and having all his thoughts on her, took a mirror in his hands one day to look at himself and instead saw the face of his beloved woman and not his. And he began to speak to his image, thinking to talk to her. Nam is ab est, quod ames, Praesto simulacra tamen sunt illius, et nomen dulce observatur ad auris, or if he is the object of your love, even pictures of him are, and his name is sweet to your ears – Lucretius, De rer. nat.
To extol the beauty of turning on the sleeping geniuses.
From a beautiful person depart rays of genius, and they pass through the eyes as through windows and go to hurt the gazer, moving his spirit. The rays of genius make him like them because in habentibus symbolum facilis est transitus, or for those who have the symbol, the passage is easy – Iamblicus – And because of this similarity, the loving spirit wants to embrace the spirit of the lover, in fact, all the natural things like joining as much as they can. And in this way, they can increase their genius. Love turns on the asleep geniuses, said Petrarch.
One should start in time the practice of becoming heavenly.
Might we become heavenly? We might; worthy spirits are called stars, sun, moon, and sky, so we could too. We could become angels, beginning in time the practice to deify us and make us heavenly. All love begins with a looking, aiming phase. A spirit moves another spirit and pierces him. He lights him on. Plato says that beauty generates and multiplies those two divine images, not only to the soul but to the body. He also says that love is by his side once one rises to the sublime. It facilitates the road to heaven by the sun.
Hymn to the Sun.
O clear, unique, and trine Sun, who offers to your worshipers on earth to return to their heavenly home. With the stairs of terrestrial human suns, step by step, allow us to get to the heavenly, intellectual Sun. Towards you, Father of lights, wholesomely divided splendor, the way of beauty shall lead us. Your light pierces everything, as through glass among the various colors and thus with a variation of light, in a circular way. That brings us to another Sun, who was called ‘the world’s eternal eye’, who looks at all things and deserves to be called ‘heavenly light’ or laughing sky rising from the joy of the heavenly spirits, or celestial Sun and legitimate master of all things that are under the lunar circle, as well as those who draw life from the air and are fed by father ocean and mother earth, the soul of the world, propagate rays and make them rain to guide the spirits and infuse life, meaning and motion throughout the universe. The king of the animal represents you well, o Sun. And, like the first Sun, you infuse science and love. First, you turn on the two loves, purging and converting, and then give the intelligence of divine things. In the beginning, you are warm, light, thin, and illuminated to lead to heaven. Your light generates the gold in the earth’s bowels and, in the same way, the spirit within men. The highest Sun promises a reward to those who embark on the wisdom to shine in the image of the stars in the perpetual space of time, similar to the pure and beautiful Lady dressed of the Sun and crowned with stars. You Sun hides your light into her, and now you are raised from corporal Suns, which are only pictures of you, true Sun. With the spirit you have given us, like eagles, we keep staring at you.
The term Sun might traditionally appear to the reader as God. Still, if they mentally replace the term Sun with Mercurius, and here I mean the ineffable substance of the alchemists, a fresh vision might appear before their eyes.
See also Dionysus, Universal Dissolvent and Kykeon , Albrecht Dürer and the Backwards Apollo , Rossetti and the Mystery of Platonic Love. Part 1 Corrected , Pompeii Mysteries Villa: a Gentle Flowing with Mystica Vannus , Arturo Reghini and the last two Pythagoras Golden Verses , Elias Ashmole and the Prophetic Red Stone , Testamentum Fraternitatis Roseae et Aureae Crucis. Part 1 , Rodanius and the Rotation of Elements Part 1 , Stoll, the Lacinius Translator on Male and Female Elements , Cesare Ripa & the Hot Frozen Ouroboros World Machine , Hans Memling’s Altarpiece with Boar and January 17 , Louis de Broglie and the Memory of an Immortal Particle , The Last Lady of Rennes , Fortunio Liceti and the Cranial OMO .