Ben Jonson’s “The Alchemist”: A Retelling — Act 2, Scene 3

— 2.3 —

This was the day the philosopher’s stone was supposed to be completed. Of course, it would not be completed because no such thing as a philosopher’s stone exists or ever will exist. Therefore, Subtle and Face and Doll Common needed to prepare Sir Epicure Mammon for the inevitable failure that would become apparent later. They already knew the excuse they would use, but they had to prepare Sir Epicure Mammon to accept that excuse.

Subtle and Face also needed to keep Sir Epicure Mammon believing in alchemy. They did that by using many alchemical terms as they talked about “creating” the philosopher’s stone. Basically, this was to appear knowledgeable about alchemy and to baffle Sir Epicure Mammon with bullshit.

Much alchemy was about uniting materials, materials often referred to as male and female. In fact, one piece of alchemical equipment — the bolt’s-head flask — was often decorated with illustrations of copulating couples. The alchemist, however, was supposed to be pure and neither greedy nor immorally horny. Purity was important in the production of the philosopher’s stone.

Sir Epicure Mammon said to Subtle the alchemist, “Good morning, father.”

He was addressing Subtle as if he were a priest — a religious father.

Picking up on that, Subtle said, “Gentle son, good morning, and good morning to your friend there. Who is this man who is with you?”

“He is a heretic, whom I brought along with me in hopes, sir, to convert him,” Sir Epicure Mammon said.

Subtle said, “Son, I fear that you are covetous because thus you meet your time in the just point — you are punctual, or actually, more than punctual. This is the day the philosopher’s stone will be completed, but you have come hours before its completion. You anticipate the success that will occur late in the day by appearing here in the morning. This is evidence that makes me fear that you have a burdensome, unrelenting, and carnal appetite.

“Be careful so that you do not cause the blessing of the philosopher’s stone to leave you on account of your ungoverned haste.”

Earlier, Pertinax Surly had stated that the person who got the philosopher’s stone was supposed to be a man of temperance. Such things as greed and lust could cause failure in the attempt to make a philosopher’s stone. Greed could appear in haste to complete the making of the philosopher’s stone.

Subtle continued, “I would be sorry to see my labors, which are now at the point of perfection, got by staying awake and watching long hours during the night and by much patience, not prosper where my love and zeal has placed them.

“My labors in all aims — I call on Heaven along with yourself, to whom I have poured my thoughts, to witness that what I say is true — have looked no way but to the public good, to pious uses, and to dear charity, which men these days regard as an abnormality.

“Regarding my labors in creating the philosopher’s stone, I say that if you, my son, should now prevaricate and wander from the straight and narrow path of virtue, and to your own particular and personal lusts employ so great and catholic, aka universal, a bliss, be sure that a curse will follow, yes, and overtake and strike a blow against your subtle and most secret ways.”

“I know that, sir,” Sir Epicure Mammon said. “You shall not need to fear me. I have come so early only to have you prove this gentleman wrong in his opinion that alchemy is worthless.”

Surly said, “I am, indeed, sir, somewhat constipative when it comes to producing belief in your philosopher’s stone. I am a man who does not want to be gulled.”

Given his choice of words, Surly regarded belief in the philosopher’s stone as shit.

Subtle said to Sir Epicure Mammon, “Well, son, all that I can convince your friend in is this: THE WORK IS DONE. Bright sol is in his robe — the essence of gold is ready to do its work, just as a judge is who has put on his robe. We have a medicine of the triple soul, the glorified spirit. Thanks be to Heaven, and may Heaven make us worthy of it!”

Subtle may have meant the three spirits (vital, a spirit produced in the heart; natural, a spirit produced in the liver; and animal, a spirit produced in the brain) that linked soul to body.

Subtle called for Face, “Ulen Spiegel!”

Till Eulenspiegel is a German trickster figure. By calling Face Ulen Spiegel, Subtle was subtly acknowledging Face as a con man.

Face entered the room and said, “At once, sir!”

Now Subtle and Face began to pile on the alchemical jargon to baffle their visitors with bullshit.

Subtle ordered, “Look well to the register, and let your heat still lessen by degrees, to the aludels.”

Face said, “Yes, sir.”

Subtle and Face began to make it appear that they were running simultaneous operations by using letters to refer to different apparati.

“Did you look at the bolt’s-head yet?”

“On which apparatus? On D, sir?”

Subtle replied, “Yes. What’s the complexion?”

Face said, “Whitish.”

“Infuse vinegar, to draw the volatile substance and the tincture, and let the water in glass E be filtered, and put into the gripe’s egg. Lute it well, and leave it closed in balneo.”

“I will, sir.”

Surly said to himself, “What a brave, splendid language is being used here! It’s next to canting.”

“Canting” is using jargon used by thieves; “cant” is thieves’ jargon. Surly meant that the alchemical terms were at least close to being thieves’ terms.

Subtle said to Sir Epicure Mammon, “I have another work going on, son, that you have never seen. Three days since past the philosopher’s wheel, in the lent heat of Athanor this work has become the Sulphur of Nature.”

The Sulphur of Nature is purified sulphur.

“Is it for me?” Sir Epicure Mammon asked.

“What do you need it for?” Subtle asked. “You have enough in that philosopher’s stone, which is perfect.”

“Oh, but —”

Subtle said, “Why, this is covetousness!”

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “No, I assure you that I shall employ it all in pious uses. I will found colleges and grammar schools. I will marry young virgins. I will build hospitals, and now and then a church.”

He probably meant for Subtle to think that he — Sir Epicure Mammon — would get young virgins married by providing dowries for them, but readers can be forgiven if they thought that Sir Epicure Mammon would “marry” young virgins for one night and discard them the following morning.

Face returned.

“What is it?” Subtle asked.

Face said, “Sir, if it pleases you, shall I not change the filter?”

“By the Virgin Mary, yes. And bring me the complexion of glass B.”

Face exited.

“Have you another?” Sir Epicure Mammon asked.

He was asking if they were making a second philosopher’s stone.

Subtle replied, “Yes, son. If I were sure that your piety is firm, we would not lack the means to glorify it, but I hope the best. I mean to tinct C in a bath of sand to diffuse the heat tomorrow, and give it imbibition.”

Sir Epicure Mammon, who had been around Subtle the alchemist long enough to recognize some of the alchemical terms, asked, “Of white oil?”

“No, sir, of red,” Subtle said. “F is come over the helm, too, I thank my maker, in Saint Mary’s bath, and shows lac virginis. Blessed be Heaven!”

Lac virginis is Latin for “milk of the virgin.” Alchemists used it to refer to mercury.

Subtle continued, “I sent you of his sediment there calcined. Out of that calx, I have won the salt of mercury.”

“By pouring on your rectified water?” Sir Epicure Mammon asked.

“Yes,” Subtle replied, “and reverberating in Athanor.”

Face returned.

“What’s the news?” Subtle asked. “What color is it?”

“The ground is black, sir,” Face said.

Sir Epicure Mammon asked, “That’s your crow’s head?”

Surly said to himself, “Your cockscomb, is it not?”

Some professional Fools wear a hat resembling a cockscomb.

Subtle said to Sir Epicure Mammon, “No, it is not perfect. I wish it were the crow! That work lacks something.”

Surly said to himself, “Oh, I looked for this.”

He knew that Subtle and Face were con men and would not be able to produce the philosopher’s stone. He figured that they would say that something had gone wrong in their attempt to make the philosopher’s stone.

Surly said to himself, “The hay’s a pitching.”

A rabbit’s burrow has two holes, two ways to enter and exit. Trappers would pitch (throw) a hay (net) over one of burrow holes and send a ferret down the other hole. To escape the ferret, the rabbit would come out of the hole and be caught in the net. Surly believed that Subtle and Face were preparing a trap for Sir Epicure Mammon.

Subtle asked Face, “Are you sure you loosed them in their own menstrue!”

Face replied, “Yes, sir, and then married them, and put them in a bolt’s-head nipped to digestion, according as you bade me, when I set the liquor of Mars to circulation in the same heat.”

Bolt’s-head flasks can be connected to other pieces of equipment. Marriage was an important concept in alchemy and referred to union of pieces of equipment or to union of materials in a flask.

Subtle said, “The process then was right.”

Face replied, “Yes, by the token, sir, the retort broke, and what was saved was put into the pelican, and signed with Hermes’ seal.”

The pelican is a distilling flask with a neck that curves down and joins to itself. It is called a pelican because people thought it resembled a pelican biting itself. People at this time thought that pelicans bit themselves to draw blood to feed their young.

Instead of saying “Hermes’ seal,” we now say “hermetically sealed.”

Subtle said, “I think it was right. We should have a new amalgama.”

Surly said to himself, “Oh, this ferret is as rank and stinky as any polecat.”

Subtle added, “But I don’t care. Let it even die; we have enough besides in embrion. H has its white shirt on?”

“In embrion” means “in the early stages.”

“Has its white shirt on” means “has turned white.”

“Yes, sir,” Face said. “It’s ripe for inceration; it stands warm in its ash-fire. I wish that you wouldn’t let any die now, if I might counsel you, sir, for luck’s sake to the rest. Letting some die is not good.”

“He says the right thing,” Sir Epicure Mammon said.

Surly said to himself, “Have you — Sir Epicure Mammon — bolted from your burrow and been caught in the net?”

Face said, “I know it, sir. I have seen the ill fortune that comes from letting some of it die. What we need is some three ounces of fresh materials.”

“No more than that?” Sir Epicure Mammon asked.

“No more, sir,” Face said. “We need three more ounces of gold to amalgame with some six ounces of mercury.”

“Go and get the materials,” Sir Epicure Mammon said. “How much money do you need?”

“Ask him, sir,” Face said.

Sir Epicure Mammon asked Subtle, “How much?”

“Give him nine pounds,” Subtle said. “No, you better give him ten.”

Surly said to himself, “Yes, give him twenty pounds, and you’ll be cheated, if you do.”

“There it is,” Sir Epicure Mammon said, giving Face the money.

“This is not necessary,” Subtle said, “except that you will have it so, so that you can see the conclusions of all of it: You don’t want to see any of it die.”

He paused and then added, “Two of our inferior works are at fixation, but a third is in ascension.”

As Face knew, he was referring to Dapper and Drugger as the inferior works; they were small fish — and suckers — in comparison to Sir Epicure Mammon, who was the man they were making the most money from.

Subtle then said to Face, “Go,” but he added, “Have you set the oil of luna in kemia?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And the philosopher’s vinegar?”

“Yes,” Face said, and then he exited.

Hearing the references to oil and vinegar, Surly said to himself, “We shall have a salad!”

He was punning. He knew something about alchemy, which is why he knew it is a scam, and he knew that “salad” was a real alchemical term referring to a mixture of certain materials.

Sir Epicure Mammon asked, “When do you make projection?”

Subtle replied, “Son, don’t be hasty. I exalt our medicine, by hanging him in balneo vaporoso, and giving him solution, and then congeal him, and then dissolve him, and then again congeal him.”

Balneo vaporoso is a steam bath in which Subtle would suspend a glass flask.

Subtle continued, “For look, as often as I iterate the work, so many times I add to the philosopher stone’s virtue and strength.”

He was referring to multiplication, which is refining the philosopher’s stone to increase its potency so that a little of the philosopher’s stone will turn a vast quantity of base metal into gold. Multiplication involved, in part, what alchemists referred to “solution.”

Subtle continued, “As, if after one solution one ounce of the philosopher’s stone will convert a hundred ounces of base metal into gold or silver, after its second solution one ounce of the philosopher’s stone will convert a thousand ounces of base metal into gold or silver.

“After its third solution, one ounce of the philosopher’s stone will convert ten thousand ounces of base metal into gold or silver.

“After its fourth solution, one ounce of the philosopher’s stone will convert a hundred thousand ounces of base metal into gold or silver.

“After its fifth solution, one ounce of the philosopher’s stone will convert a thousand thousand ounces of base metal into gold or silver.

“This will be pure gold or silver, as will be shown by all examinations; it will be as good as the gold or silver that comes out of a natural mine.

“Bring your metal stuff here in preparation for this afternoon so that it can be turned into precious metals. Bring here your brass, your pewter, and your andirons.”

Andirons hold the burning logs in a fireplace.

Sir Epicure Mammon asked, “Not those of iron?”

“Yes, you may bring them, too,” Subtle said. “We’ll change all kinds of base metals.”

Sir Epicure Mammon thought that Subtle would change all kinds of base metals into gold or silver.

Surly said to himself, “I believe you when you say that.”

Surly believed that Subtle would change possession of all kinds of base metals from Sir Epicure Mammon to Subtle.

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Then may I send my spits?”

Subtle replied, “Yes, and your racks.”

Racks support the spits when they are used for roasting meat.

Surly asked, “And shall he bring dripping-pans, and pot-hangers, and hooks?”

Subtle replied, “If he pleases —”

Surly interrupted, “— to be an ass.”

“What do you mean, sir?” Subtle asked.

Sir Epicure Mammon said to Subtle, “You must bear with this gentleman. I told you he had no faith.”

“And little hope, sir,” Surly said. “But much less charity, if I should gull and deceive myself.”

1 Corinthians 13:13 states, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (King James Bible).

Subtle asked Surly, “Why, what have you observed, sir, in our art of alchemy, that seems so impossible?”

Surly replied, “Only your whole work of alchemy, no more. That you should hatch gold in a furnace, sir, just like they hatch eggs in a furnace in Egypt!”

According to the Roman historian Pliny, eggs were incubated in Egypt.

Subtle asked Surly, “Sir, do you believe that eggs are hatched so?”

“What if I do?” Surly asked.

Subtle replied, “Why, I think that the greater miracle is a chicken being produced from — hatching out of — an egg. The lesser miracle is gold being produced from a base metal. An egg is much more different from a chicken than lead is from gold.”

“That cannot be,” Surly said. “The egg’s ordained by nature to that end; the egg is a chicken in potentia.”

In potentia” is Latin for “potentially.”

Subtle said, “We alchemists say the same thing about lead and other metals: They would become gold, if they had enough time.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “The art of alchemy is to speed that process up; alchemists change lead into gold much more quickly than it happens naturally.”

Subtle said, “That is true. It would be absurd to think that nature bred perfect gold in the earth in an instant. Gold did not come from nothing. Something existed before gold. Remote matter must have existed.”

According to alchemy, remote matter is what came before gold and everything else. Remote matter is the original indeterminate matter and/or essence from which everything else developed.

Surly asked, “What is that?”

Subtle began, “Indeed, we alchemists say —”

Sir Epicure Mammon interrupted, “— now it heats. Stand, father, pound him to dust.”

Subtle continued, using much alchemical jargon, “It is, of the one part, a humid exhalation, which we call materia liquida, or the unctuous water.”

Materia liquida” is Latin for “liquid matter.”

Subtle continued, “On the other part, a certain crass and viscous portion of earth; both which, concorporate, do make the elementary matter of gold, which is not yet propria materia, but is common to all metals and all stones.”

“Concorporate” means “united in one body.”

Propria material” is Latin for “a particular substance.”

Subtle continued, “For, where it is forsaken of that moisture, and has more dryness, it becomes a stone.

“Where it retains more of the humid fatness, it turns to sulphur, or to quicksilver, which are the parents of all other metals.

“Nor can this remote matter suddenly progress so from extreme to extreme as to grow gold immediately and leap over all the intermediate steps.

“Nature first begets the imperfect, and then she proceeds to the perfect.

“From that airy and oily water, mercury is engendered. From the fat and earthy part, sulphur is engendered.

“The latter, sulphur, supplies the place of male, while mercury supplies the place of female, in all metals. The male is active and acts, while the female is passive and suffers.

“Some alchemists believe in hermaphrodeity — that both do act and suffer.

“But these two make the rest ductile, malleable, extensive.

“And they are even in gold, for we alchemists find seeds of them, by our fire, and gold in them. And we alchemists can produce the species of each metal more perfect, by our fire, than nature does in earth.”

Alchemists thought that it was possible to produce the essence of each metal. This included the essence of gold, which would produce more gold. The philosopher’s stone is the essence of gold, and throwing powdered philosopher’s stone on a base metal would turn the base metal to gold.

Subtle continued, “Besides, who does not see in daily practice that art can beget bees, hornets, beetles, and wasps out of the carcasses and dung of creatures.”

This society believed that carcasses and dung could produce living insects. It was unaware that insects lay eggs on carcasses and dung.

We would say that nature begets bees, hornets, beetles, and wasps out of the carcasses and dung of creatures, but Subtle claimed that art — human intervention — “can beget bees, hornets, beetles, and wasps out of the carcasses and dung of creatures.” In fact, some people believed that the carcasses of cattle could be used to produce bees, while the carcasses of horses and donkeys were good only to produce wasps and hornets.

Subtle continued, “Yes, and scorpions can be produced from the herb basil, being ritely and rightly placed.

“And these are living creatures, which are far more perfect and excellent than metals.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Well said, father!”

He then said to Surly, “If he take you in hand, sir, with an argument, he’ll bray — pound and crush — you to powder in a mortar.”

Proverbs 27:22 states, “Though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet will not his foolishness depart from him” (King James Version).

Surly said, “Please, sir, wait a moment. Rather than I’ll be brayed, sir, I’ll believe that alchemy is a pretty kind of game, somewhat like tricks of the cards, to cheat a man with magic.”

“Sir?” Subtle said.

Surly said, “What else are all your terms, whose meaning no one of your writers agrees with another!”

Often, what an alchemist calls mercury is not what we call mercury. We are likely to refer to the element mercury, which is found in nature, but an alchemist may or may not be referring to philosophic or philosophical mercury. Many alchemical terms have more than one meaning or are used differently by different alchemists. Many alchemists don’t even agree on the steps needed to produce the philosopher’s stone. After all, alchemy is false science.

Surly continued, “What else are your elixir, your lac virginis, your philosopher’s stone, your great medicine, and your chrysosperme?

“What else are your sal, your sulphur, and your mercury?

“What else are your oil of height, your tree of life, your blood, your marchesite, your tutie, your magnesia, your toad, your crow, your dragon, and your panther?

“What else are your Sun, your Moon, your firmament, your adrop?

“What else are your lato, azoch, zernich, chibrit, heautarit?

“And then what else are your red man, and your white woman, with all your broths, your menstrues, and materials of piss and eggshells, women’s terms (menses), man’s blood, hair of the head, burnt rags, chalk, merds (turds, aka shit), and clay, powder of bones, scalings of iron, glass, and worlds of other strange ingredients that would burst a man to name?”

All these things Surly had named were used in the production of the philosopher’s stone, which is the essence of gold and is used to produce more gold. Therefore, we can say that if alchemy were true, then gold is literally made of such things as piss, menstrual discharge, and shit. (All of these things are natural and the result of valuable and necessary human biological functions, but they are not the sorts of things we value for themselves.)

Of course, alchemy cannot produce a philosopher’s stone. Instead, con men deal in the greed for gold. The con men are greedy for the gold, aka wealth, of other people, and the people the con men cheat are greedy for the gold that they think possession of the philosopher’s stone will give them. We may want to say that the greed for gold is like piss, menstrual discharge, and shit.

1 Timothy 6:10 (the first of Saint Paul’s letters to Timothy) states, “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (King James Version).

Subtle replied, “All these names and terms were created with one intention: Our alchemical writers used them to obscure their art. They wrote about secret things, and they wrote in such a secret way so that the uninitiated would not understand the alchemical writings.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said to Subtle, “Sir, I told him that. The alchemists wrote that way because the simple idiot should not learn the art of alchemy and make it vulgar and commonplace.”

Subtle asked Surly, “Wasn’t all the knowledge of the Egyptians written in the mystic symbols of the hieroglyphs? Don’t the scriptures often speak in parables? Aren’t the choicest fables of the poets, fables that are the fountains and first springs of wisdom, wrapped in perplexing allegories?”

Sir Epicure Mammon said to Subtle, “I made that argument to him, and I explained to him that Sisyphus was damned to roll the ceaseless stone only because he would have made our stone — the philosopher’s stone — common.”

Sisyphus was condemned in the Land of the Dead to roll a stone eternally up a hill, only to have the stone roll down again before it reached the top. According to Sir Epicure Mammon, this was Sisyphus’ punishment for attempting to reveal the secret of how to make the philosopher’s stone.

Just as Sir Epicure Mammon said the word “common,” a well-dressed Doll Common appeared at the door.

Seeing her, Sir Epicure Mammon asked, “Who is this?”

Pretending to be upset, Subtle cursed, “By God’s precious blood!”

He then said to Doll Common, “What do you mean by coming here? Go inside the other room, good lady — please!”

She exited.

Still pretending to be upset, Subtle then shouted, “Where’s that varlet?”

Face entered the room and said, “Sir.”

Subtle said, “You complete knave! Is this how you treat me!”

“What do you mean, sir?” Face asked.

Pointing at the door where Doll had appeared, Subtle said, “Go in that room and see, you traitor. Go!”

Face exited.

Sir Epicure Mammon asked, “Who is she, sir?”

“No one, sir; no one,” Subtle replied.

“What’s the matter, good sir?” Sir Epicure Mammon asked. “I have not seen you this upset. Who is she?”

Subtle attempted to resume the argument about alchemy: “All arts have always had, sir, their adversaries, but ours are the most ignorant —”

Face returned.

“What now?” Subtle said.

“It was not my fault, sir,” Face said. “She wants to speak with you.”

“She wants to, does she, sir!” Subtle said. “Follow me.”

He exited through the door where had been.

Face started to follow him, but Sir Epicure Mammon said to him, “Stay, Lungs.”

“I dare not stay, sir,” Face replied.

“Stay, man,” Sir Epicure Mammon repeated. “Who is she?”

“She is a lord’s sister, sir,” Face said.

“She is!” Sir Epicure Mammon said.

Face attempted to exit, but Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Please, stay.”

Face said, “She’s mad, insane, sir, and she was sent here — but I need to leave or Subtle will be mad, too.”

“I will protect you from his anger,” Sir Epicure Mammon said, and then he asked, “Why was she sent here?”

“Sir, to be cured,” Face said.

Subtle called from the other room, “Why, where are you, you rascal?”

“Look, you. I said this would happen,” Face said to Sir Epicure Mammon.

He then called, “Coming, sir!”

He exited.

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Before God, I say that she is a Bradamante, a splendid piece.”

Bradamante was a female Christian Knight in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, a popular epic. She possessed a spear that made her invincible.

Knowing Sir Epicure Mammon, he meant that Doll Common was both a splendid masterpiece and a splendid piece of ass.

Surly said, “By God’s heart, this is a bawdy house! I am willing to be burnt as a heretic if that is not the case.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Oh, by this light, no — this is not a bawdy house. Do not wrong Subtle the alchemist by saying that. He’s very scrupulous to avoid such things: It is his vice.

“No, he’s a splendid physician, so do him right. He is an excellent Paracelsian, and he has done remarkable cures with mineral medicine. He deals all with spirits, he; he will not hear a word of Galen, or his tedious recipes.”

A Paracelsian is a follower of Paracelsus, who rejected the teachings of the Greek physician Galen. This was a good thing because many physicians blindly followed Galen, who lived many centuries earlier. Paracelsus advocated finding new knowledge about how to cure patients. He was right to do this, but many of his ideas were incorrect and not scientific. The spirits dealt with could be either distilled spirits or supernatural spirits or both.

Face entered the room.

Seeing him, Sir Epicure Mammon asked, “What’s going on, Lungs?”

Face replied, “Quietly, sir. Speak quietly. I meant to have told your worship everything you want to know about the woman.”

He indicated Surly and said, “This man must not hear.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “No, he can listen. He will not be ‘gulled.’ Let him alone. He can listen.”

“You are very right, sir,” Face said. “The woman is a most splendid scholar, and she has gone mad by studying the works of Hugh Broughton, one of whose challenging and controversial works is about Hebrew genealogy. If you but name a word touching the Hebrew, she falls into her fit, and she will discourse so learnedly of genealogies that you would run mad, too, to hear her, sir.”

Sir Epicure Mammon asked, “What might one do to have conference with her, Lungs?”

“Conference” meant a conversation, but knowing Sir Epicure Mammon, we have to think that he wanted to have “conference” with her in bed.

Face replied, “Oh, many men have run mad upon the conference. I do not know, sir. I have been sent to quickly fetch a vial.”

Surly said, “Don’t be gulled, Sir Mammon. Don’t be a fool.”

“Gulled in what?” Sir Epicure Mammon said. “Please, be calm.”

“Yes, as you are,” Surly said. “Be calm and trust confederate knaves and bawds and whores.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said to Surly, “You are too foul, believe it.”

He added, “Come here, Ulen. One word.”

Face said, “I dare not stay, in good faith.”

He attempted to leave, but Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Stay, knave.”

A knave is a servant who ranks well below a knight. Sir Epicure was a knight.

Face said, “Subtle the alchemist is extremely angry that you saw her, sir.”

Mammon gave him some money and said, “Drink that.”

He then asked Face, “What is she like when she’s out of her fit — when she’s sane?”

Face replied, “Oh, she is the most affable woman, sir! So merry! So pleasant! She’ll mount you up, like quicksilver, over the helm, and she will circulate like oil, a true stimulant.”

Face’s words had a double meaning. He was using alchemical terms that stated that Doll Common was a volatile substance. His words also had a bawdy interpretation. Doll would mount a man and be on top over the helmet-shaped tip of his penis, and she would be slippery like oil and circulate and move and be a stimulant to the man.

Face added, “She will discourse about politics, about mathematics, about bawdry, about anything.”

This interested Sir Epicure Mammon: She was willing to talk about bawdry and to perform it.

He asked Face, “Is she in any way accessible? Can I meet her? Is there any means, any trick to give a man a taste of her … intelligence … or so?”

Subtle called from the other room, “Ulen!”

Face said to Sir Epicure Mammon, “I’ll come back to you again, sir.”

Face exited.

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Surly, I did not think one of your breeding would speak badly about personages of worth.”

Surly replied, “Sir Epicure, I am your friend and I am at your service, yet always I am loath to be gulled: I do not want to be cheated. I do not like your philosophical bawds. Their philosopher’s stone is lechery enough to pay for without this bait.”

At this time, “lechery” meant “luxurious pleasure” in addition to “lewd indulgence.” The philosopher’s stone would give many people luxurious pleasure. The bait — sexual, of course — was Doll Common.

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “You abuse yourself; you are wrong.”

He then lied, “I know the lady, and her friends, and her means. I know the origin of this disaster. Her brother has told me everything.”

Surly, who knew that Sir Epicure Mammon had not recognized Doll Common, said, “And yet you never saw her until just now!”

Sir Epicure Mammon lied, “Oh, yes, I have seen her before, but I forgot. I have, believe it, one of the most treacherous memories, I think, of all Mankind.”

Surly asked, “What is her brother’s name?”

“My lord —” Sir Epicure Mammon began.

He thought for a moment and then said, “He will not have his name known, now I think about it.”

Surly said, “You certainly do have a very treacherous memory!”

Sir Epicure Mammon began, “By my faith —”

Surly interrupted, “Tut, if you have it not about you, forget it, until we next meet.”

The “it” could mean “faith” or “the brother’s name.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “I swear by this hand of mine that it is true. Her brother is a man whom I honor, and he is my noble friend, and I respect his family.”

Surly said, “Can it be that a grave sir, a rich man, who has no need, a wise sir, too, at other times, should thus with his own oaths and arguments work so hard to gull himself? I am talking about you.

“If this is your elixir, your lapis mineralis, and your lunary, give me your honest trick yet at primero, or gleek — and you can have your lutum sapiensis, your menstruum simplex! I’ll have gold before you, and with less danger of the quicksilver or the hot sulphur.”

Surly used many alchemical terms, but his meaning was that if this is alchemy, then he would prefer to take his chances gambling at the card games primero or gleek. A trick is a hand of cards, but Surly’s use of it included the meaning of cheating. Card sharping, to Surly, was a more honest way of being cheated than paying money for the creation of the philosopher’s stone. In a card game with a card sharp, there is still a chance of being lucky with cards and walking away a winner. Therefore, Surly would have gold before Sir Epicure Mammon would. (And Surly himself might be the card sharp.) Also, considering the absence of Doll Common, Surly would have less chance of contracting a venereal disease that would need to be treated with quicksilver or a contagious skin disease that would need to be treated with hot sulphur.

Face returned.

Face said to Surly, “A messenger has come from Captain Face, sir, to tell you that Captain Face wants you to meet him in the Temple Church, approximately a half hour from now, upon earnest business.”

Face handed Surly a note, and as Surly read it, Face whispered to Sir Epicure Mammon, “If you please to leave us for now, and come back again in approximately two hours, my master Subtle will be busy examining the alchemical works, and I will steal you in, in private, to the woman, so that you may see her converse.”

He then said out loud to Surly, “Sir, shall I say that you’ll meet Captain Face?”

“Yes, sir, I will meet him,” Surly replied.

Surly thought to himself, I will meet him, but by attorney, and for a second, different purpose than his.

“By attorney” meant “not in his own person.” Surly was already forming a plan to expose the con men.

Surly thought to himself, Now I am sure it is a bawdy house. I’d swear to it if the Marshal were here to thank me. The naming of this commander confirms it. Don Face! Captain Face! Why, he’s the most authentic dealer in these commodities, the superintendent to all the quainter traffickers in town!

In this society, the word “quaint” also meant “cunt.” The “commodities” Captain Face was known to deal in were prostitutes. “Quainter traffickers” are bawds and pimps.

Surly thought to himself, Captain Face is the Visitor, and he appoints who lies with whom, and at what hour, at what price, and which gown and smock and other clothing.

A Visitor in this context is an inspector or superintendent who makes sure that everything is running smoothly.

Surly thought to himself, I will test him, by a third person — myself in disguise — in order to find the subtleties, by which I mean tricks and deceits, of this dark labyrinth.

Alchemists often described the search for the philosopher’s stone as a kind of labyrinth.

Surly thought to himself, If I do discover these subtleties, dear Sir Mammon, you’ll give me, your poor friend, permission, although I am no philosopher, to laugh, for you who are a philosopher, it is thought, shall weep.

Democritus was known as the laughing philosopher, and Heraclitus was known as the crying philosopher. Democritus laughed at human follies, while Heraclitus cried over human follies.

Face said to Surly, “Sir, he asks you to please not forget to meet him.”

Surly replied, “I will not forget, sir.”

He then said, “Sir Epicure, I shall leave you.”

As Surly exited, Sir Epicure Mammon said, “I will follow you quickly.”

“Do so, good sir, to avoid suspicion that you will meet with the woman later,” Face said. “This gentleman Surly has a parlous head.”

Surly’s mind was dangerous because it was sharp.

Sir Epicure Mammon asked, “But will you, Ulen, keep your promise?”

“I will be as careful to keep my promise as I am careful to keep my life, sir.”

“And will you insinuate what I am, and praise me, and say that I am a noble fellow?”

“Oh, what else, sir?” Face said. “And I’ll tell her that you’ll make her royal, an Empress, with the philosopher’s stone, and that you’ll make yourself the King of Bantam, capital of the very wealthy island Java.”

“Stone” meant the philosopher’s stone, but the word was also slang for “testicle.” Sir Epicure Mammon would use the wealth that he got from the philosopher’s stone to make her royal, and he would use his stones to treat her another way.

Sir Epicure Mammon asked. “Will you do that?”

“I will, sir,” Face replied.

“Lungs, my Lungs! I love and respect you.”

Face said, “Send your metal stuff, sir, so that my master may busy himself about projection and turning them into gold.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said affectionately, “You have bewitched me, rogue. Take this money, and go.”

He gave Face some money.

Face said, “Bring your jack, and all your other metal, sir.”

A jack was an iron mechanism using metal weights on chains to turn the spit in a fireplace.

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “You are a villain. I will send my jack, and the weights, too. Slave, I could affectionately bite your ear. Go away, you do not care for me.”

“Don’t I, sir?” Face asked.

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Come, I was born to make you, my good weasel, sit on a bench, and have you twirl a chain with the best lord’s vermin of them all.”

The chain was an insignia of office; the steward of a wealthy household had a chain. Lords wore ermine trimming on their robes; the ermine trimming was jokingly called vermin. Sir Epicure Mammon was saying that he was born to make Face rise in the world. (Earlier he had said that he would castrate Face and put him in charge of Sir Epicure’s harem.)

“Leave now, sir,” Face said.

Sir Epicure Mammon began, “A Count — no, a Count Palatine —”

A Count Palatine had more power and status than a mere Count.

Face interrupted, “Good sir, go.”

Sir Epicure Mammon finished, “— shall not advance you in life better, nor faster, than I will.”

He exited.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce

All Rights Reserved

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Ben Jonson’s “The Alchemist”: A Retelling — Act 2, Scene 2

— 2.2 —

Face, wearing the clothing of an alchemist’s assistant, entered the room. His face was bearded and sooty.

“What is it?” Sir Epicure Mammon asked. “Do we succeed? Has our day come? How is it going?”

Face said, “The evening will set red upon you, sir. You have color for it: crimson. The red ferment has done its work. Three hours from now you will see projection — the final part of the process. You will see the philosopher’s stone.”

People believed that the philosopher’s stone was red.

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Pertinax, my Surly, again I say to you, out loud, BE RICH. This day, you shall have ingots of precious metal, and, tomorrow, you shall insult proud lords by looking them directly in the face rather than being obsequious to them.”

He said to Face, “Is it, my Zephyrus, right? Does the bolt’s-head flask blush red?”

Zephyrus is the west wind; Sir Epicure Mammon used the word as a new nickname for Face, aka Lungs, who used bellows to keep the fire at the right temperature.

Face replied, “It blushes like a wench, sir, whose pregnancy was just now revealed to her master.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Excellent, witty Lungs!”

He added, “My only care is where to get enough base metal now to project on and turn to gold. This town will not half serve me.”

“It won’t, sir?” Face said. “Then buy the covering off of churches. Their roofs are made of lead.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “That’s true.”

“Yes,” Face said. “Let the churches stand bare-headed, as do their congregations, or cap them — give them a new roof — with wooden shingles.”

“No, good thatch,” Sir Epicure Mammon said. “Thatch will lie light upon the rafters, Lungs.”

With all his wealth, he wanted to re-roof the church with inexpensive thatch — a fire hazard. In 1613, the Globe Theater burned down after its thatch roof caught on fire.

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Lungs, I will free you from the furnace, I will restore your complexion to you, Puff — your complexion that you lost in the embers — and I will repair this brain of yours that has been hurt by the fumes of the metals.”

Alchemists’ assistants tended to have wan complexions.

Face said, “I have blown the bellows, sir, hard for your worship. I have thrown to the side many a coal when it was not beech wood, which is needed to create a steady temperature. I have exactly weighed those I put in, in order to keep the heat of the fire always even.

“These bleared eyes of mine have waked to read the several colors, sir, of the creation of the philosopher’s stone.

“These bleared eyes of mine have seen the pale citron: yellow.

“These bleared eyes of mine have seen the green lion: green.

“These bleared eyes of mine have seen the crow: black.

“These bleared eyes of mine have seen the peacock’s tail: multi-colored.

“These bleared eyes of mine have seen the plumed swan: white.”

Sir Epicure Mammon asked, “And, finally, you have descried the flower, the sanguis agni: red?”

Sanguis agni” is Latin for “blood of the lamb.” Red is the color seen in the last stage of creating the philosopher’s stone.

“Yes, sir,” Face said.

“Where’s your master?” Sir Epicure Mammon asked.

“He’s at his prayers, sir,” Face replied. “Good man that he is, he’s doing his devotions for the success of this project.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Lungs, I will set an end to all your current labors. You shall be the master of my seraglio — my harem.”

“Good, sir,” Face said.

“But do you hear? I’ll geld you, Lungs,” Sir Epicure Mammon said.

In order to prevent Face, aka Lungs, from having sex with any of the women in Sir Epicure Mammon’s harem, Sir Epicure Mammon would castrate him.

He added, “For I intend to have a list of wives and concubines equal with those of Solomon, who had the philosopher’s stone as will I.”

1 Kings 11:1-3 states this:

1 But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites:

2 Of the nations concerning which the Lord said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love.

3 And he had seven hundred wives, Princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “And with the use of the elixir of life, I will make my back as tough as the back of Hercules, in order to sleep with fifty women a night.”

According to mythology, Hercules had sex with and impregnated the fifty daughters of King Thespius in a single night. (Some sources say only forty-nine of the fifty daughters.)

Sir Epicure Mammon then asked, “You are sure you saw the color of blood?”

“Both blood and spirit, sir,” Face said. “I saw both the correct color and the correct quality.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “I will have all my beds blown up with air, not stuffed. Down is too hard. And I will then have my room filled with such pictures as Tiberius took from Elephantis, and dull Aretine only coldly imitated.”

The Roman Emperor Tiberius had paintings illustrating passages from Elephantis’ pornographic books, and Aretine wrote erotic poems imitating such passages and pictures. Sir Epicure Mammon believed that Aretine’s erotic poetry was dull; it could not compete with his own erotic daydreams.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “Then I will have my mirrors cut in more subtle angles to disperse and multiply the figures, as I walk naked between my succubae.”

Succubae are demons who take the form of women and have sex with men. The word is also used for sluts and prostitutes, but Sir Epicure Mammon may very well have wanted to have sex with female demons.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “I’ll have built a mechanism that will spray perfume into the air of the room so that we can lose ourselves in it, and my baths will be big like pits to fall into. From these my succubae and I will come forth and roll ourselves dry in gossamer and roses.”

He asked Face, “Is it arrived at ruby-red?”

Without waiting for a reply, he continued, “Where I spy a wealthy citizen, or a rich lawyer who has a sublime, pure wife, to that fellow I’ll send a thousand pounds for him to be my cuckold.”

Face, who was interested in money, asked, “And shall I carry it to him?”

Sir Epicure Mammon replied, “No. I’ll have no bawds except fathers and mothers. They will do it best, better than all others.”

He wanted fathers and mothers to be bawds and sell their daughters to satisfy his lust.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “And my flatterers shall be the purest and gravest of divines that I can get for money. My mere Fools shall be eloquent Members of Parliament, and then my poets will be the same who wrote so subtly of the fart — I will employ them to write about that subject.”

In 1607, Sir Henry Ludlow, Member of Parliament, loudly and famously farted during a session of the House of Commons: It was his commentary on a message from the House of Lords.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “There are a few men who would give out themselves to be studs at court and in town and everywhere. These men tell lies about ladies who are known to be very innocent of any sexual contact with these braggarts. These men I will hire and I will make them eunuchs. And they shall fan me with ten ostrich tails apiece — tails gathered in a plume to create wind when waved.”

Using another nickname for Face, he continued, “We will be brave, Puff, once we have the medicine, the Philosopher’s Stone.

“My food shall all come in, in Indian shells, dishes of agate set in gold, and studded with emeralds, sapphires, the precious stones known as hyacinths, and rubies.

“I will eat the tongues of carps, dormice, and camels’ heels, boiled in a distillate of gold, and dissolved pearl — Apicius’ diet, against the epilepsy.”

Apicius was a Roman glutton who spent his fortune on food and then committed suicide. As protection against the plague (not epilepsy, as Sir Epicure Mammon had stated), he ate such foods as camels’ heels.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “And I will eat these broths with spoons of amber that are decorated with diamond and carbuncle.

“My footboy shall eat pheasants, calvered salmons, knots, godwits, and lamprey eels.”

Calvered salmons are salmon that have been sliced up while still alive. Sir Epicure Mammon was willing for this to happen if it would make a good dish for him to eat.

Knots and godwits are species of birds.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “I myself will eat the beards of barbels served, instead of salads.”

The “beards of barbels” are fleshy filiaments of a species of fish. They hang from the fish’s mouth and look like beards.

He continued, “I will eat oiled mushrooms, and I will eat the swelling unctuous paps of a fat pregnant sow, newly cut off and dressed with an exquisite and poignant sauce.”

According to the Roman historian Pliny, a sow’s paps tasted best when cooked after the sow had given birth but before it had suckled its piglets. Sir Epicure Mammon was willing for this to happen if it would make a good dish for him to eat.

He continued, “For which, I’ll say to my cook, ‘There’s gold for you; go forth, and be a Knight.’”

In the reign of King James I, people could purchase Knighthoods.

Face said, “Sir, I’ll go look a little, and see how the alchemical process is going and how the color heightens.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Do.”

Face exited.

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “My shirts I’ll have made of the fine silk cloth known as taffeta-sarsnet, which is as soft and light as cobwebs, and as for all my other raiment, it shall be such as might provoke the Persian, if he were to teach the world about riotous and dissipated behavior again.”

The Persian is Sardanapalus, a King of Ninevah who was renowned for luxurious living.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “My gloves will be made of fishes’ and birds’ skins, perfumed with gums of paradise, and eastern air —”

“Gums of paradise” are perfumes from the Middle East, where people believed the Garden of Eden was located.

Surly asked, “And do you think to have the philosopher’s stone with all this?”

Sir Epicure Mammon replied, “No, but I do think to have all this with the philosopher’s stone.”

Surly said, “Why, I have heard, the man who gets the philosopher’s stone must be homo frugi — a frugal man, an honest and temperate man, a pious and holy and religious man, a man free from mortal sin, and a man who is a complete virgin.”

Sir Epicure Mammon replied, “The man who makes the philosopher’s stone must be such a man, sir, but I am buying, not making, it. My investment brings it to me. Subtle the alchemist is an honest wretch; he is a notable, superstitious-in-the-sense-of-believing-religion, good soul. He has worn his knees bare and his slippers bald by praying and fasting for the philosopher’s stone, and, sir, let him do it alone, for me, always.”

Seeing Subtle entering the room, Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Here he comes. Don’t say a profane word in front of him; it is poison.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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Lize Bard: Drifter — Haiku out of africa

I drift in and out ~ of your mercurial mind ~ but wish I could stay ©Lize Bard @ Haiku out of Africa

via Drifter — Haiku out of africa

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Ben Jonson’s “The Alchemist”: Cast of Characters, Argument, and Prologue

CAST OF CHARACTERS

THE CON ARTISTS

Subtle: The alchemist. The word “subtle” used to mean cunning in a crafty and/or deceitful way. It also meant devious and underhand. Subtle is an older man.

Face: The housekeeper, Lovewit’s Jeremy the butler. The housekeeper is the person in charge of taking care of the house. While the owner of the house is away, Face takes care of it; he is a house-sitter. During most of the play, he is known as Captain Face because he often wears a Captain’s uniform in order to con people. He is also known as Lungs because he supposedly manages the bellows in the alchemical laboratory. As you can tell, he wears many faces; he is also double-faced. Face is bearded for most of the play.

Doll Common: The co-conspirator of Subtle and Face. She is a prostitute, a doll who is common to all and who will sleep with men for money or other materialistic advantage. “Doll” is a nickname for “Dorothy.”

THE MASTER

Lovewit: The owner of the house in which Subtle sets up his work. He appreciates the wit, aka intelligence, of his servant Jeremy the butler, who is intelligent enough to get himself out of trouble by enriching his employer. In this society, bosses are called “Master.” Lovewit is an older man.

THE VICTIMS

Dapper: A lawyer’s clerk. He wants Subtle to help him win in gambling by giving him a familiar spirit. (Witches have familiar spirits; usually, they take the form of an animal or a fly.) Apparently, Dapper wears dapper clothing and is a clean, neat person.

Abel Drugger: A tobacco merchant. He wants Subtle to assist him through magic in setting up a new, successful tobacco shop. “Nab” is a nickname for Abel.

Sir Epicure Mammon: A Knight. He wants Subtle’s help to become very wealthy. “Mammon” is a negative word for money and wealth, which can have an evil influence on human beings and can be an object of worship — the word “worship” means “adoration.” An Epicurean is a person who devotes himself to sensual pleasure. The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus was an atheist and a materialist.

Tribulation Wholesome: A pastor of Amsterdam. Both Tribulation Wholesome and Ananias, who are called the brethren in the play, are Anabaptists. Anabaptists were commonly regarded as members of an extremist sect of Puritanism.

Ananias: A deacon, colleague of Tribulation Wholesome. These religious brothers want Subtle’s help in getting money to help establish Anabaptism in Britain.

Kastril: The angry boy, recently come into an inheritance. He wants Subtle to teach him the protocol for quarreling. A kestrel is a small falcon. While hunting, it hovers in the air with rapidly beating wings. Kastril wants to be a roaring boy, a well-born boy who quarrels with other well-born boys. “Coistrel” is an archaic word for a troublemaker.

Dame Pliant: A widow, sister of Kastril. She wants to know her fortune in marriage. Dame Pliant is compliant.

A CLEAR-SIGHTED MAN

Pertinax Surly: A gamester, aka gambler. He sees through the deceptions. The Latin word pertinax means stubborn, obstinate, resisting, unyielding, firm. By the way, Pertinax (1 August 126 – 28 March 193) was a Roman Emperor who unsuccessfully tried to implement many reforms.

MINOR CHARACTERS

Neighbors, Police Officers, Attendants.

SCENE

The action takes place in Lovewit’s house in London and on the street outside, while he is mostly away in the country.

UNITY OF ACTION, TIME, AND PLACE

Ben Jonson’s play has one main plot, with no subplots.

Ben Jonson’s play takes place within one day.

Ben Jonson’s play takes place in one location.

FIRST PERFORMED

Ben Jonson’s play was first performed in 1610. The years 1609 and 1610 were plague years in London.

A NOTE ON SUBTLE

The serpent of the Garden of Eden was subtle.

Genesis 3:1 — King James Version (KJV)

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

Relevant Bible Quotations

1 Timothy 6:10 — King James Version (KJV)

10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

Matthew 6:21 — King James Version (KJV)

21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Ecclesiastes 5:10 — King James Version (KJV)

10 He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.

Matthew 6:41 — King James Version (KJV)

 41 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

 ARGUMENT

The sickness hot, a master quit, for fear,

His house in town, and left one servant there;

Ease him corrupted, and gave means to know

 

A cheater, and his punk; who now brought low,

Leaving their narrow practice, were become


Cozeners at large; and only wanting some


House to set up, with him they here contract,

Each for a share, and all begin to act.

Much company they draw, and much abuse,


In casting figures, telling fortunes, news,


Selling of flies, flat bawdry with the stone,

Till it, and they, and all in fume are gone.

 

In fume” is Latin for “in smoke.”

The “argument” is the plot in brief of a play or other work of art. Ben Jonson, clever man whom he was, made the argument of his play The Alchemist an acrostic: The first letter of each line spells out “THE ALCHEMIST.”

In modern English, this is the “argument” of The Alchemist:

When the plague was raging in London, the master of a house left London out of fear of catching the plague. He left behind one servant; this servant, left on his own, became corrupted through lack of an overseer, and he became acquainted with a con man and his prostitute. These two were at a low position on the Wheel of Fortune, and so they were branching away from their small-scale illegal activities and were becoming swindlers on a greater scale. To help them engage in their illegal activities, they needed a house to set up shop in, and so they made an agreement with the servant: They would act in concert to cheat suckers and then share equally in the spoils — one third to each of the three. They were able to draw many suckers to the house, and they were able to cheat and abuse them by doing such things as making and selling horoscopes, telling fortunes and gossip, selling familiar spirits of the kind that are aides to witches, and selling immorality such as prostitution, along with pretending to create a philosopher’s stone, which believers supposed to be able to turn base metals such as iron and lead into silver and gold. The three con artists engaged in such swindling until their supposed philosopher’s stone, and they themselves, and everything else went up in smoke.

PROLOGUE

For the few short hours it takes to read this book, the authors — Ben Jonson and David Bruce — wish away Lady Fortune, who favors fools, both for the sakes of you judging readers and for our sakes. We desire, in the place of the dumb luck of non-deserving celebrities who are rich and famous simply because they are rich and famous without having done anything (other than perhaps a sex tape) to deserve such wealth and fame, to find that you believe that the authors deserve the justice of a careful reading of this book and to find that you will show grace to this book.

The scene of our book is London because we would make known to all of you that no country causes mirth and is laughed at more than our own — Ben Jonson was born, lived, and died in London, while David Bruce is an Anglophile.

No region breeds better material for writing. London provides whores, bawds, pimps, impostors, and many more types of persons, whose chief characteristics, which were once called humors, feed the actors on the stage and the ink on the pages between book covers and the electrons on computer screens and eBook readers, and which have always been subject to the rage or the spite of comic writers.

We, the wielders of a pen and of a computer keyboard, have never aimed to afflict men, both those with and without wombs, but instead we have always aimed to better and improve men and womb-men.

However, the ages we lived or live in endure the vices that those ages — and all ages — breed, rather than to endure their cure.

But when the wholesome remedies are sweet, and in their working gain and profit meet, we authors hope to find no spirit so much diseased,
 but that it will with such fair corrective medicine be pleased. In other words, satire is funny medicine that can make a belly laugh and a brain think and a character reform.

We authors are not afraid that you will get to know our characters and think, Hey, I know people just like that! In fact, that’s what we want to happen. It would be even better if you were to think, Hey, I’m just like that!

Are any of you readers willing to sit so near to the stream that you can see what’s in it? (These days, sewage no longer runs in the streets, but how many sewage treatment plants dump sewage into a river near you?)

If you are willing to look carefully, you shall find things that you would think or wish were finished and over and done. Those things are very natural follies, but we will show them to you in the pages of this book, which is a safe place where even if you recognize that you do the same foolish things, yet you need not admit that to anyone else — or to yourself.

People may no longer believe in the philosopher’s stone or the Queen of Fairy, but the love of money is still very much with us.

By the way, although it is true that no region other than London and England breeds better material for writing, it has at least two close runners-up: Ireland and the United States of America.

When Jonathan Swift died, he left £10,000 to be used for the founding of an Irish Hospital for Idiots and Lunatics. That was his final joke. As he had written earlier:

He gave the little wealth he had

To build a house for fools and mad [insane],

And shew’d [showed] by one satiric touch,

No nation wanted [needed] it so much.

And as everyone knows, the United States of America is so arrogant that it ignores the existence of Canada, Mexico, Central America, and South America and calls itself “America” instead of “USAmerica.”

But let us be fair to USAmericans: Many of them don’t know that such places as Central America and South America exist.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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Ben Jonson’s “The Alchemist”: A Retelling — Act 2, Scene 1

— 2.2 —

Face, wearing the clothing of an alchemist’s assistant, entered the room. His face was bearded and sooty.

“What is it?” Sir Epicure Mammon asked. “Do we succeed? Has our day come? How is it going?”

Face said, “The evening will set red upon you, sir. You have color for it: crimson. The red ferment has done its work. Three hours from now you will see projection — the final part of the process. You will see the philosopher’s stone.”

People believed that the philosopher’s stone was red.

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Pertinax, my Surly, again I say to you, out loud, BE RICH. This day, you shall have ingots of precious metal, and, tomorrow, you shall insult proud lords by looking them directly in the face rather than being obsequious to them.”

He said to Face, “Is it, my Zephyrus, right? Does the bolt’s-head flask blush red?”

Zephyrus is the west wind; Sir Epicure Mammon used the word as a new nickname for Face, aka Lungs, who used bellows to keep the fire at the right temperature.

Face replied, “It blushes like a wench, sir, whose pregnancy was just now revealed to her master.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Excellent, witty Lungs!”

He added, “My only care is where to get enough base metal now to project on and turn to gold. This town will not half serve me.”

“It won’t, sir?” Face said. “Then buy the covering off of churches. Their roofs are made of lead.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “That’s true.”

“Yes,” Face said. “Let the churches stand bare-headed, as do their congregations, or cap them — give them a new roof — with wooden shingles.”

“No, good thatch,” Sir Epicure Mammon said. “Thatch will lie light upon the rafters, Lungs.”

With all his wealth, he wanted to re-roof the church with inexpensive thatch — a fire hazard. In 1613, the Globe Theater burned down after its thatch roof caught on fire.

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Lungs, I will free you from the furnace, I will restore your complexion to you, Puff — your complexion that you lost in the embers — and I will repair this brain of yours that has been hurt by the fumes of the metals.”

Alchemists’ assistants tended to have wan complexions.

Face said, “I have blown the bellows, sir, hard for your worship. I have thrown to the side many a coal when it was not beech wood, which is needed to create a steady temperature. I have exactly weighed those I put in, in order to keep the heat of the fire always even.

“These bleared eyes of mine have waked to read the several colors, sir, of the creation of the philosopher’s stone.

“These bleared eyes of mine have seen the pale citron: yellow.

“These bleared eyes of mine have seen the green lion: green.

“These bleared eyes of mine have seen the crow: black.

“These bleared eyes of mine have seen the peacock’s tail: multi-colored.

“These bleared eyes of mine have seen the plumed swan: white.”

Sir Epicure Mammon asked, “And, finally, you have descried the flower, the sanguis agni: red?”

Sanguis agni” is Latin for “blood of the lamb.” Red is the color seen in the last stage of creating the philosopher’s stone.

“Yes, sir,” Face said.

“Where’s your master?” Sir Epicure Mammon asked.

“He’s at his prayers, sir,” Face replied. “Good man that he is, he’s doing his devotions for the success of this project.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Lungs, I will set an end to all your current labors. You shall be the master of my seraglio — my harem.”

“Good, sir,” Face said.

“But do you hear? I’ll geld you, Lungs,” Sir Epicure Mammon said.

In order to prevent Face, aka Lungs, from having sex with any of the women in Sir Epicure Mammon’s harem, Sir Epicure Mammon would castrate him.

He added, “For I intend to have a list of wives and concubines equal with those of Solomon, who had the philosopher’s stone as will I.”

1 Kings 11:1-3 states this:

1 But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites:

2 Of the nations concerning which the Lord said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love.

3 And he had seven hundred wives, Princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “And with the use of the elixir of life, I will make my back as tough as the back of Hercules, in order to sleep with fifty women a night.”

According to mythology, Hercules had sex with and impregnated the fifty daughters of King Thespius in a single night. (Some sources say only forty-nine of the fifty daughters.)

Sir Epicure Mammon then asked, “You are sure you saw the color of blood?”

“Both blood and spirit, sir,” Face said. “I saw both the correct color and the correct quality.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “I will have all my beds blown up with air, not stuffed. Down is too hard. And I will then have my room filled with such pictures as Tiberius took from Elephantis, and dull Aretine only coldly imitated.”

The Roman Emperor Tiberius had paintings illustrating passages from Elephantis’ pornographic books, and Aretine wrote erotic poems imitating such passages and pictures. Sir Epicure Mammon believed that Aretine’s erotic poetry was dull; it could not compete with his own erotic daydreams.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “Then I will have my mirrors cut in more subtle angles to disperse and multiply the figures, as I walk naked between my succubae.”

Succubae are demons who take the form of women and have sex with men. The word is also used for sluts and prostitutes, but Sir Epicure Mammon may very well have wanted to have sex with female demons.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “I’ll have built a mechanism that will spray perfume into the air of the room so that we can lose ourselves in it, and my baths will be big like pits to fall into. From these my succubae and I will come forth and roll ourselves dry in gossamer and roses.”

He asked Face, “Is it arrived at ruby-red?”

Without waiting for a reply, he continued, “Where I spy a wealthy citizen, or a rich lawyer who has a sublime, pure wife, to that fellow I’ll send a thousand pounds for him to be my cuckold.”

Face, who was interested in money, asked, “And shall I carry it to him?”

Sir Epicure Mammon replied, “No. I’ll have no bawds except fathers and mothers. They will do it best, better than all others.”

He wanted fathers and mothers to be bawds and sell their daughters to satisfy his lust.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “And my flatterers shall be the purest and gravest of divines that I can get for money. My mere Fools shall be eloquent Members of Parliament, and then my poets will be the same who wrote so subtly of the fart — I will employ them to write about that subject.”

In 1607, Sir Henry Ludlow, Member of Parliament, loudly and famously farted during a session of the House of Commons: It was his commentary on a message from the House of Lords.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “There are a few men who would give out themselves to be studs at court and in town and everywhere. These men tell lies about ladies who are known to be very innocent of any sexual contact with these braggarts. These men I will hire and I will make them eunuchs. And they shall fan me with ten ostrich tails apiece — tails gathered in a plume to create wind when waved.”

Using another nickname for Face, he continued, “We will be brave, Puff, once we have the medicine, the Philosopher’s Stone.

“My food shall all come in, in Indian shells, dishes of agate set in gold, and studded with emeralds, sapphires, the precious stones known as hyacinths, and rubies.

“I will eat the tongues of carps, dormice, and camels’ heels, boiled in a distillate of gold, and dissolved pearl — Apicius’ diet, against the epilepsy.”

Apicius was a Roman glutton who spent his fortune on food and then committed suicide. As protection against the plague (not epilepsy, as Sir Epicure Mammon had stated), he ate such foods as camels’ heels.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “And I will eat these broths with spoons of amber that are decorated with diamond and carbuncle.

“My footboy shall eat pheasants, calvered salmons, knots, godwits, and lamprey eels.”

Calvered salmons are salmon that have been sliced up while still alive. Sir Epicure Mammon was willing for this to happen if it would make a good dish for him to eat.

Knots and godwits are species of birds.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “I myself will eat the beards of barbels served, instead of salads.”

The “beards of barbels” are fleshy filiaments of a species of fish. They hang from the fish’s mouth and look like beards.

He continued, “I will eat oiled mushrooms, and I will eat the swelling unctuous paps of a fat pregnant sow, newly cut off and dressed with an exquisite and poignant sauce.”

According to the Roman historian Pliny, a sow’s paps tasted best when cooked after the sow had given birth but before it had suckled its piglets. Sir Epicure Mammon was willing for this to happen if it would make a good dish for him to eat.

He continued, “For which, I’ll say to my cook, ‘There’s gold for you; go forth, and be a Knight.’”

In the reign of King James I, people could purchase Knighthoods.

Face said, “Sir, I’ll go look a little, and see how the alchemical process is going and how the color heightens.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Do.”

Face exited.

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “My shirts I’ll have made of the fine silk cloth known as taffeta-sarsnet, which is as soft and light as cobwebs, and as for all my other raiment, it shall be such as might provoke the Persian, if he were to teach the world about riotous and dissipated behavior again.”

The Persian is Sardanapalus, a King of Ninevah who was renowned for luxurious living.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “My gloves will be made of fishes’ and birds’ skins, perfumed with gums of paradise, and eastern air —”

“Gums of paradise” are perfumes from the Middle East, where people believed the Garden of Eden was located.

Surly asked, “And do you think to have the philosopher’s stone with all this?”

Sir Epicure Mammon replied, “No, but I do think to have all this with the philosopher’s stone.”

Surly said, “Why, I have heard, the man who gets the philosopher’s stone must be homo frugi — a frugal man, an honest and temperate man, a pious and holy and religious man, a man free from mortal sin, and a man who is a complete virgin.”

Sir Epicure Mammon replied, “The man who makes the philosopher’s stone must be such a man, sir, but I am buying, not making, it. My investment brings it to me. Subtle the alchemist is an honest wretch; he is a notable, superstitious-in-the-sense-of-believing-religion, good soul. He has worn his knees bare and his slippers bald by praying and fasting for the philosopher’s stone, and, sir, let him do it alone, for me, always.”

Seeing Subtle entering the room, Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Here he comes. Don’t say a profane word in front of him; it is poison.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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Simpledimple: My Photo of the Day – A beautiful sunset and a glamorous sunrise.

via Photo Of The Day! — Giggles

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Ben Jonson’s “The Alchemist”: A Retelling — Act 2, Scene 1

— 2.1 —

Sir Epicure Mammon and Pertinax Surly were talking together in a room in Lovewit’s house.

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Come on, sir. Now, you set your foot on shore in Novo Orbe, the rich New World. This room is the rich Peru. And there within, sir, are the golden mines, Great Solomon’s Ophir! He was sailing to it, three years, but we have reached it in ten months.”

To Sir Epicure Mammon, Lovewit’s house was the New World, source of riches. He believed that he would soon have the philosopher’s stone and he would be very rich. He believed, along with many others, that Solomon, son of King David, got his vast wealth from possession of the philosopher’s stone. The gold was made in Ophir, and every three years a fleet of ships brought gold to him.

1 Kings 10:22 states, “For the king had at sea a navy of Tharshish with the navy of Hiram: once in three years came the navy of Tharshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks” (King James Bible).

Apparently, for ten months, Sir Epicure Mammon had been giving money to Subtle the alchemist to create a philosopher’s stone for him.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “This is the day, wherein, to all my friends, I will pronounce these happy words: BE RICH; THIS DAY YOU SHALL BE SPECTATISSIMI.”

The Latin word “SPECTATISSIMI” means “regarded as very special, very much looked up to.”

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, as if he were speaking to all his friends, “You shall no more deal with the hollow die, or the frail card.”

A hollow die is a loaded die; “die” is the singular of dice. The die would be hollowed out and then filled with lead so that a certain number would be more likely to come up. A frail card is a card that is easily broken. Here it is a playing card that can be easily marked. Sir Epicure Mammon was saying that his friends would no longer have to cheat at gambling in order to make money.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “You shall no more be in charge of keeping the livery-punk for the young heir, who must sign and seal a contract, at all hours, in his shirt. No more, if he denies having signed and sealed the contract, will you have to have him beaten until he admits having signed and sealed the contract — just as the young heir shall be sure to beat the person who brings him the commodity.”

This was another unethical way to make money. A livery-punk is a prostitute kept under contract. The prostitute would find a young heir to sleep with, the couple would be interrupted in their lovemaking, and the young heir would be induced to sign a contract before he could go back to his lovemaking. The contract could be a form of blackmail so that his indiscretion would not be revealed. The contract would be for a loan, but only part of the loan was given to the young heir in cash money. The rest was given to the young heir in much-overvalued commodities. For example, the contract might be for a loan of one hundred pounds: thirty pounds in money and seventy pounds in a commodity such as lute-strings, but the lute-springs would be worth much less than seventy pounds. Such a scam was highly profitable.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “No more shall the thirst for satin or the covetous hunger for a velvet lining for a rude-spun cloak, which would be displayed at Madam Augusta’s brothel, either make the sons of sword and hazard fall before the golden calf, and on their knees, whole nights, commit idolatry with wine and trumpets, or go a-feasting after drum and ensign.”

In other words, no more shall greed for fancy clothing and visits to brothels make gambling soldiers (“the sons of sword and hazard”) worship the golden calf, aka commit the idolatry of worshipping money. They won’t be tempted to drink and carouse and gamble — perhaps by playing craps while kneeling — in gambling places all night, and they won’t have to get their feasts by following the drum and battle flag. Instead, they will already have the money for prostitutes and feasts.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “There shall be no more of this. You shall beget young viceroys, and have your punks, and punketees, my Surly.”

A viceroy rules a province on behalf of a King. Punks are prostitutes, and punketees are young prostitutes.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “And unto you I speak it first, BE RICH.”

He then said, “Where is my Subtle, there! Within, ho!”

Face, from inside the door, said, “Sir, he’ll come to you soon.”

Recognizing Face’s voice, Sir Epicure Mammon said, “That is Subtle’s fire-drake, his Lungs, his Zephyrus, his servant who puffs his coals until he firk nature up, in her own center.”

A fire-drake is literally a fiery dragon, which was thought to be able to live in fire; metaphorically, it is the alchemist’s assistant who uses bellows to make fires burn. “Lungs” is a nickname for an alchemist’s assistant. Zephyrus is the west wind. To “firk” is to stir up.

Sir Epicure Mammon said to Surly, “You have no belief in alchemy, sir. But tonight, I’ll change all that is metal in my house to gold, and early in the morning, I will send people to all the plumbers and the pewterers and buy up their tin and lead, and I will send people to Lothbury to buy up all the copper there.”

Surly said, “What, and turn that into gold, too?”

“Yes, and I’ll purchase the tin and copper mines in Devonshire and Cornwall and make them perfect Indies! I will make them gold mines!”

The Indies were thought to be rich in gold.

Sir Epicure Mammon asked Surly, “Do you marvel now?”

“No, truly I do not.”

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “But when you see the effects of the great medicine, aka philosopher’s stone, of which one part projected on a hundred parts of Mercury (aka quicksilver), or Venus (aka copper), or the Moon (aka silver), shall turn them to as many of the Sun (aka gold). Nay, to a thousand, and so on ad infinitum (aka to infinity), then you will believe me.”

A small amount of the philosopher’s stone was believed to change much base metal into gold.

Surly said, “Yes, when I see it, I will believe it. But if my eyes con me into seeing that without me giving them a good reason to do so — such as drinking way too much — I will be sure to have a whore piss on them the following day and put them out.”

Urine is acidic and can damage the eyes. By the way, piss is one kind of golden shower.

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Do you think I am telling fables to you? I assure you that a man who has once the flower of the Sun, the perfect ruby, which we call elixir — all of these are synonyms for the philosopher’s stone — not only can do that, but by the stone’s virtue and strength, can confer honor, love, respect, and long life and can give safety, valor, yes, and victory, to whomever he will. In just twenty-eight days, I’ll make an old man of eighty a child again.”

“No doubt; he’s that already,” Surly said. “A man of that age is in his second childhood.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “No, I don’t mean senility. I mean that I will restore his years and renew him, like an eagle, to the fifth age.”

This is part of Psalms 103:5: “thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (King James Version).

Some people believed that eagles renewed their youth by flying high up into the fiery region, plunging into the ocean, and then molting their feathers.

The fifth age is mature manhood.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “Drinking the elixir of life will make the once-old man beget sons and daughters — young giants — as our philosophers the ancient patriarchs have done before the great flood.”

Many of the patriarchs were long-lived, according to the Bible. This is Genesis 5:1-8 (King James Bible)

1 This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him;

Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.

And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, and after his image; and called his name Seth:

And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters:

And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died.

And Seth lived an hundred and five years, and begat Enos:

And Seth lived after he begat Enos eight hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters:

And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years: and he died.

According to the alchemists, Adam and the other patriarchs had possession of the philosopher’s stone.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “Just by taking, once a week, on a knife’s point, the quantity of a grain of mustard of the philosopher’s stone, they became as magnificent as Mars, god of war, and like Mars, they begot young Cupids.”

Cupid was the result of an adulterous affair between Mars and Venus.

Surly said, “The decayed vestals of Pict Hatch would thank you. They keep the fire alive, there.”

Pict Hatch was a neighborhood of thieves and prostitutes. In classical antiquity, vestal virgins would tend the fire of a temple. The “decayed vestals of Pict Hatch” are shagged-out prostitutes who tend the fire of syphilis and keep it alive. Syphilis causes a burning sensation during urination.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “The elixir of life is the secret of nature naturized against all infections. It cures all diseases that come from all causes. It can cure a month’s suffering in a day, a year’s suffering in twelve days, and an even longer suffering, no matter how much longer, in a month. It surpasses all the medicinal doses of your drugging doctors. Once I have possession of the philosopher’s stone, I’ll undertake, moreover, to frighten the plague out of the Kingdom of England in three months.”

Surly said, “And I’ll be bound that the players shall sing your praises, then, without their poets.”

The players are theatrical actors. Whenever deaths from the plague exceeded forty per week, the theaters were forced to shut down. The actors would praise Sir Epicure Mammon for making it possible for them to keep the theaters open, and they would do it ex tempore without the need for playwrights to write the words for them.

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Sir, I’ll do it. In the meantime, I’ll give so much preservative to my servant that it shall serve the whole city. Each week, each house shall receive a dose, and at the rate —”

Surly interrupted, “As he who built the waterworks does with water!”

In 1582, Peter Moris built a pump-house to deliver, for a fee, water from the Thames River to private houses, and in 1594, Bevis Bulmer built a second pump-house for the same purpose. In 1610, a new aqueduct was under construction.

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “You are incredulous. You don’t believe me.”

Surly said, “Indeed, my character is such that I would not willingly be gulled, aka cheated. Your stone cannot transmute me. It cannot change my character.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Pertinax Surly, will you believe antiquity? Will you believe records? I’ll show you a book where Moses and his sister and Solomon have written of the alchemical art. Yes, and I will show you a treatise penned by Adam.”

“Pertinax” means “stubborn.

Some people believed that Adam, the first man, was also the first alchemist. Some people mistakenly conflated Miriam, the sister of the Biblical Moses, with Mary the Jewess, an alchemist who lived in the third century C.E. Some people thought that the Song of Solomon was a coded alchemical text.

“What!” Surly said.

“Adam wrote a treatise on the philosopher’s stone, and in High Dutch.”

Today, we call High Dutch High German.

Surly asked, “Did Adam write, sir, in High Dutch?”

“He did, which proves it was the primitive tongue.”

In 1569, Johannes Goropius Becanus wrote Origines Antwerpianae. In it, he stated that Adam and Eve spoke High Dutch in the Garden of Eden.

Surly asked, “What paper did Adam write on?”

“He wrote on cedar board.”

Surly asked, “Oh, that, indeed, they say, will last against worms.”

Cedar is a long-lasting wood that is resistant to rotting.

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “It is like your Irish wood is against cobwebs.”

Saint Patrick was said to have blessed Irish wood by giving it protection against spiders.

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “I have a piece of Jason’s fleece, too, which was no other than a book of alchemy, written on a large sheepskin, a good fat ram-vellum.”

Jason and the Argonauts sailed to acquire the Golden Fleece, which alchemists believed to have a book of alchemy written on the skin side.

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Such was Pythagoras’ thigh and Pandora’s tub, or box.”

Some people thought that Pythagoras, best known today for his Pythagorean theorem (the square of the hypotenuse — which is the side opposite the right angle — is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides), had a thigh made of gold.

Some people thought that Pandora’s box, in which were the evils that afflict Humankind, was either made of gold or contained the secret of creating the philosopher’s stone.

The alchemists believed that much ancient history contained references to alchemy. For example, Sir Epicure Mammon will now tell Surly that Jason’s quest for the golden fleece is an allegory for an alchemist’s quest for the philosopher’s stone.

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Such was all that fable of Medea’s charms; it explained the manner of our work.”

Jason and the Argonauts sailed to Colchis, which was on the shore of the Black Sea. There, the young witch Medea fell in love with Jason and helped him acquire the golden fleece. Jason first used fire-breathing oxen to plow a field, and then he sowed it with dragon’s teeth. Armed warriors grew from the dragon’s teeth. Medea had told Jason to throw a stone into the midst of the warriors. Not knowing where the stone had come from, the warriors fought and killed each other. Jason then went to the tree on which hung the golden fleece. A dragon guarded the golden fleece, but Medea gave Jason a potion that put the dragon to sleep.

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “In the allegorical fable the fire-breathing bulls represent the alchemical furnace, which continually breathes fire.

“The dragon represents the alchemical argent vive, which is quicksilver and which is symbolized by a dragon in alchemical texts.”

Argent vive is Latin for “living silver.”

He continued, “The dragon’s teeth represent mercury sublimate, aka chloride of mercury, that keeps the whiteness, hardness, and the biting.

“And the dragon’s teeth are gathered into Jason’s helm, aka helmet, which represents the alchemical piece of equipment known as the alembic (the upper part of the distilling apparatus), and then sowed in Mars’ field (another piece of alchemical equipment: an iron vessel; Mars was the god of iron) and thence sublimed (refined) so often until they’re fixed (solid and stabilized).

“The story of Jason’s quest for the golden fleece, the Hesperian garden, Cadmus’ story, Jove’s shower, the boon of Midas, Argus’ eyes, Giovanni Boccacio’s Demogorgon, and thousands more stories are all abstract allegories about the philosopher’s stone.”

The Hesperides, who are nymphs of the evening, had a garden in which golden apples, guarded by a dragon, grew. One of Hercules’ famous labors was to get possession of these golden apples.

Cadmus sowed a field with dragon’s teeth. Armed warriors grew from the teeth, and then Cadmus fought them until only five were left alive. Cadmus and those five warriors founded the city of Thebes.

King Midas of Crete asked for and received a gift from the god Bacchus: Anything he touched would turn to gold.

Jove appeared before the mortal Danaë in a shower of gold in order to have sex with her.

Argus was a giant with one hundred eyes.

The Italian writer Giovanni Boccacio wrote in his De Genealogia Deorum (On the Geneology of the Gods) that Demogorgon was the origin of all things.

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