Emerald Tablet

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
An imaginative 17th-century depiction of the Emerald Tablet from the work of Heinrich Khunrath, 1606.

The Emerald Tablet, also known as the Smaragdine Tablet or the Tabula Smaragdina (Latin, from the Arabic: لَوْح الزُّمُرُّذ, Lawḥ al-zumurrudh), is a compact and cryptic Hermetic text. It was highly regarded by Islamic and European alchemists as the foundation of their art.[1] Though attributed to the legendary Hellenistic figure Hermes Trismegistus, the text of the Emerald Tablet first appears in a number of early medieval Arabic sources, the oldest of which dates to the late eighth or early ninth century. It was translated into Latin several times in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Numerous interpretations and commentaries followed.

Medieval and early modern alchemists associated the Emerald Tablet with the creation of the philosophers' stone and the artificial production of gold.[2]

It has also been popular with nineteenth and twentieth century occultists and esotericists, among whom the expression "as above, so below" (a modern paraphrase of the second verse of the Tablet) has become an often cited motto.


From the 3rd or 2nd century BC, Greek texts attributed to the mythical character Hermes Trismegistus, holder of all knowledge, began to appear in Hellenistic Egypt. These texts, known as the Hermetica, are a heterogeneous collection of works that encompass alchemical, magical, astrological, and medicinal elements. They culminate in the mystical-philosophical treatises of the Corpus Hermeticum from the 2nd or 3rd century. In one of these works, the Koré Kosmou (the "Pupil of the World"), Hermes engraves and conceals his teachings before ascending to the heavens "so that every generation born after the world should seek them".[3]

In 640, Egypt, which had become Christian and Byzantine, was conquered by the Arabs, who perpetuated the Hermetic and alchemical tradition in which the Emerald Tablet is situated.

Until the early 20th century, only Latin versions of the Emerald Tablet were known, with the oldest dating back to the 12th century. The first Arabic versions were rediscovered by the English historian of science E.J. Holmyard (1891-1959) and the German orientalist Julius Ruska (1867-1949).[4]

Arabic versions[edit]

A page from the Secret of Secrets (Kitâb Sirr al-asrâr), with two charts to determine whether a patient will live or die based on the numerical value of their name.

The Emerald Tablet has been found in various ancient Arabic works in different versions. The oldest version is found as an appendix in a treatise believed to have been composed in the 9th century,[5] known as the Book of the Secret of Creation, Kitâb sirr al-Halîka in Arabic. This text presents itself as a translation of Apollonius of Tyana, under his Arabic name Balînûs.[6] Although no Greek manuscript has been found, it is plausible that an original Greek text existed.[7] The attribution to Apollonius, though false (pseudonymous), is common in medieval Arabic texts on magic, astrology, and alchemy.

The introduction to the Book of the Secret of Creation is a narrative that explains, among other things, that "all things are composed of four elemental principles: heat, cold, moisture, and dryness" (the four qualities of Aristotle), and their combinations account for the "relations of sympathy and antipathy between beings." Balînûs, "master of talismans and wonders," enters a crypt beneath the statue of Hermes Trismegistus and finds the emerald tablet in the hands of a seated old man, along with a book. The core of the work is primarily an alchemical treatise that introduces for the first time the idea that all metals are formed from sulfur and mercury, a fundamental theory of alchemy in the Middle Ages.[8] The text of the Emerald Tablet appears last, as an appendix.[9] It has long been debated whether it is an extraneous piece, solely cosmogonic in nature, or if it is an integral part of the rest of the work, in which case it has an alchemical significance from the outset.[10] Recently, it has been suggested that it is actually a text of talismanic magic and that the confusion arises from a mistranslation from Arabic to Latin.[11]

Emerald is the stone traditionally associated with Hermes, while mercury is his metal. Mars is associated with red stones and iron, and Saturn is associated with black stones and lead.[12] In antiquity, Greeks and Egyptians referred to various green-colored minerals (green jasper and even green granite) as emerald, and in the Middle Ages, this also applied to objects made of colored glass, such as the "Emerald Tablet" of the Visigothic kings [13] or the Sacro Catino of Genoa (a dish seized by the Crusaders during the sack of Caesarea in 1011, which was believed to have been offered by the Queen of Sheba to Solomon and used during the Last Supper).[14]

This version of the Emerald Tablet is also found in the Kitab Ustuqus al-Uss al-Thani (Elementary Book of the Foundation) attributed to the 8th-century alchemist Jâbir ibn Hayyân, known in Europe as Geber.

Another version is found in an eclectic book from the 10th century, the Secretum Secretorum (Secret of Secrets, Sirr al-asrâr), which presents itself as a pseudo-letter from Aristotle to Alexander the Great during the conquest of Persia. It discusses politics, morality, physiognomy, astrology, alchemy, medicine, and more. The text is also attributed to Hermes but lacks the narrative of the tablet's discovery.

The literary theme of the discovery of Hermes' hidden wisdom can be found in other Arabic texts from around the 10th century. For example, in the Book of Crates, while praying in the temple of Serapis, Crates, a Greek philosopher, has a vision of "an old man, the most beautiful of men, seated in a chair. He was dressed in white garments and held a tablet on the chair, upon which was placed a book [...]. When I asked who this old man was, I was told, 'He is Hermes Trismegistus, and the book before him is one of those that contain the explanation of the secrets he has hidden from men.'".[15] A similar account can be found in the Latin text known as Tabula Chemica by Senior Zadith, the Arabic alchemist Ibn Umail, in which a stone table rests on the knees of Hermes Trismegistus in the secret chamber of a pyramid.[16] Here, the table is not inscribed with text but with "hieroglyphic" symbols.

Early Latin versions and medieval commentaries[edit]

Latin versions[edit]

The Book of the Secret of Creation was translated into Latin (Liber de secretis naturae) in the early 12th century by Hugh of Santalla, but this version of the Emerald Tablet was not widely known.[17]

The Secretum Secretorum was translated into Latin in a shortened version by Johannes Hispalensis or Hispaniensis (John of Seville) around 1140, and then in a longer version by Philip of Tripoli around 1220. It became one of the most famous books of the Middle Ages.[18]

A third Latin version can be found in an alchemical treatise dating probably from the 12th century (although no manuscripts are known before the 13th or 14th century), the Liber Hermetis de alchimia (Book of Alchemy of Hermes). This version, known as the "vulgate," is the most widespread.[19] The translator of this version did not understand the Arabic word tilasm, which means talisman, and transcribed it into Latin as telesmus or telesmum (which became télesme in French), and it was variously interpreted by commentators, becoming "one of the most characteristic - and most vague - terms in alchemy".[20]

Latin and French texts[edit]

Tabula smaragdina Hermetis Trismegisti

"Verum, sine mendacio, certum et verissimum : quod est inferius est sicut quod est superius; et quod est superius est sicut quod est inferius, ad perpetranda miracula rei unius. Et sicut omnes res fuerunt ab uno, mediatione unius, sic omnes res natae fuerunt ab hac una re, adaptatione. Pater ejus est Sol, mater ejus Luna; portavit illud Ventus in ventre suo; nutrix ejus Terra est. Pater omnis telesmi totius mundi est hic. Vis ejus integra est si versa fuerit in terram. Separabis terram ab igne, subtile a spisso, suaviter, cum magno ingenio. Ascendit a terra in caelum, iterumque descendit in terram, et recipit vim superiorum et inferiorum. Sic habebis gloriam totius mundi. Ideo fugiet a te omnis obscuritas. Haec est totius fortitudinis fortitudo fortis; quia vincet omnem rem subtilem, omnemque solidam penetrabit. Sic mundus creatus est. Hinc erunt adaptationes mirabiles, quarum modus est hic. Itaque vocatus sum Hermes Trismegistus, habens tres partes philosophiae totius mundi. Completum est quod dixi de operatione Solis."

The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, Father of Philosophers (translated by L'Hortulain)

"True, without falsehood, certain, and most true: What is below is like what is above, and what is above is like what is below, to accomplish the miracles of one thing. And as all things were derived from one by the meditation of one, so all things are born from this one thing by adaptation. The Sun is its father, the Moon is its mother, the Wind has carried it in its belly, its nurse is the Earth. The father of all telesms of the whole world is here. Its power is whole if it is converted into Earth. You will separate the Earth from the Fire, the subtle from the dense, gently and with great skill. It ascends from Earth to Heaven, and then it descends again to Earth, and receives the power of the superiors and the inferiors. Thus, you will have the glory of the whole world; and all darkness will flee from you. This is the strong force of all forces, overcoming every subtle thing and penetrating every solid thing. Thus, the world was created. From this, marvelous adaptations will arise, of which the manner is here. Therefore, I am called Hermes Trismegistus, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world. What I have said about the operation of the Sun is accomplished and ended."


The discovery of the Emerald Tablet in Aurora consurgens.

The Table of Emerald and its legendary discovery are mentioned for the first time in De essentiis (1143) by Herman of Carinthia, a friend of Robert of Chester, who translated in 1144 the Liber de compositione alchimiae, considered the first treatise on alchemy in the West.[21]

An anonymous commentator from the 12th century explains that "the father of all telesma" means "of all secrets." Indeed, divination among the Arabs is called "telesma"; thus, this divination is superior to all others. Later, only the meaning of secret was retained.[20]

It is found in Albertus Magnus' De mineralibus around 1256.[22]

Around 1275-1280, Roger Bacon translated and commented on the Secret of Secrets,[23] and through a completely alchemical interpretation of the Emerald Tablet, made it an allegorical summary of the Great Work.[24]

The most well-known commentary is that of Hortulanus, an alchemist about whom very little is known, in the first half of the 14th century:

I, Hortulanus, that is to say, gardener... I have wanted to write a clear explanation and certain explanation of the words of Hermes, father of philosophers, although they are obscure, and to sincerely explain the entire practice of the true work. And certainly, it is of no use for philosophers to want to hide the science in their writings when the doctrine of the Holy Spirit operates.

This text is in line with the symbolic alchemy that developed in the 14th century, particularly with the texts attributed to the Catalan physician Arnau de Vilanova, which establish an allegorical comparison between Christian mysteries and alchemical operations. In Hortulanus' commentary, devoid of practical considerations, the Great Work is an imitation of the divine creation of the world from chaos: "And as all things have been and arose from one by the mediation of one: so all things have their birth from this one thing by adaptation."

The sun and the moon represent alchemical gold and silver.[25] Hortulanus interprets "telesma" as "secret" or "treasure": "It is written afterward: 'The father of all telesma of the world is here,' that is to say: in the work of the stone is found the final path. And note that the philosopher calls the operation 'father of all telesma,' that is to say, of all the secret or all the treasure of the entire world, that is to say, of every stone discovered in this world.".[20]

The Tabula Chemica by Ibn Umail, in which the table is engraved with symbols, is translated as early as the 12th or 13th century.[26] Starting from 1420, extensive excerpts are included in an illuminated text, the Aurora consurgens, which is one of the earliest cycles of alchemical symbols. One of the illustrations shows the discovery of Hermes' table in a temple surmounted by Sagittarius eagles (representing the volatile elements). This motif is frequently used in Renaissance prints and is the visual expression of the myth of the rediscovery of ancient knowledge—the transmission of this knowledge, in the form of hieroglyphic pictograms, allows it to escape the distortions of human and verbal interpretation.[27]

From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment[edit]

1st emblem of Atalanta Fugiens: the wind has carried it in its belly.
2nd emblem of Atalanta Fugiens: the earth is its nurse.

During the Renaissance, the idea that Hermes Trismegistus was the founder of alchemy gained prominence, and at the same time, the legend of the discovery evolved and intertwined with biblical accounts. This is particularly the case in the late 15th century in the Livre de la philosophie naturelle des métaux by the pseudo-Bernard of Treviso:[28] "The first inventor of this Art was Hermes Trismegistus, for he knew all three natural philosophies, namely Mineral, Vegetable, and Animal." After the flood, he found in the valley of Hebron, where Adam lived after being expelled from the earthly paradise, seven marble tablets on which the principles of the seven liberal arts are engraved. He wrote a brief work (which reproduces the beginning of the Emerald Tablet), which passed to his disciple Pythagoras, then to Plato, Aristotle, and finally to Alexander the Great. Thus, the ante-diluvian wisdom was transmitted, independently of the revelation made to Moses at Sinai.[29]

It further evolves with Jérôme Torella in his book on astrology, Opus Praeclarum de imaginibus astrologicis (Valence, 1496), in which it is Alexander the Great who discovers a Tabula Zaradi in Hermes' tomb while traveling to the Oracle of Amun in Egypt. This story is repeated by Michael Maier, physician and counselor to the "alchemical emperor" Rudolf II, in his symbola aureae mensae (Frankfurt, 1617), referring to a Liber de Secretis chymicis attributed to Albertus Magnus.[30] In the same year, he publishes the famous Atalanta Fugiens (Fleeing Atalanta), illustrated by Theodor de Bry with fifty alchemical emblems, each accompanied by a poem, a musical fugue, and alchemical and mythological explanations. The first two emblems depict a passage from the Emerald Tablet: "the wind has carried it in its belly; the earth is its nurse," and the explanatory text begins with "Hermes, the most diligent explorer of all natural secrets, describes in his Emerald Tablet the work of nature, albeit briefly and accurately."[31]

The Emerald Tablet - Latin version, edition princeps - Excerpt from De Alchimia, Nuremberg 1541 - The Latin and Greek introduction says: "The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus on alchemy, by an unknown translator. Secrets of Hermes that were written on the emerald table found in his hands in a dark cave where his buried body was discovered"

The first printed edition appears in 1541 in the De alchemia published by Johann Petreius and edited by a certain Chrysogonus Polydorus, who is likely a pseudonym for the Lutheran theologian Andreas Osiander (Osiander also edited Copernicus' On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres in 1543, published by the same printer). This version is known as the "vulgate" version and includes the commentary by Hortulanus.

In 1583, a commentary by Gerard Dorn is published in Frankfurt by Christoph Corvinus. In De Luce naturae physica, this disciple of Paracelsus makes a detailed parallel between the Table and the first chapter of the Genesis attributed to Moses.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, verse versions appear, including an anonymous sonnet revised by the alchemical poet Clovis Hesteau de Nuysement [fr] in his work Traittez de l'harmonie, et constitution generalle du vray sel, secret des Philosophes, & de l'esprit universel du monde (1621):

It is a certain point full of admiration,
That the high and the low are but one same thing:
To make from a single thing enclosed in the whole world,
Marvelous effects through adaptation.

From one thing, all things have been made by meditation,
And for parents, womb, and nourisher, it is established:
Phoebus, Diana, air, and earth, where it rests,
This thing in which all perfection lies.

If you change it into earth, it retains its full power:
Separating by great art, but an easy manner,
The subtle from the dense, and the earth from the fire.

From earth it ascends to heaven, and then back to earth,
From heaven it descends, gradually receiving,
The virtues of both that it encloses in its belly.

However, from the beginning of the 17th century onward, a number of authors challenge the attribution of the Emerald Tablet to Hermes Trismegistus and, through it, attack antiquity and the validity of alchemy. First among them is a "repentant" alchemist, the Lorraine physician Nicolas Guibert, in 1603. But it is the Jesuit scholar and linguist Athanasius Kircher who launches the strongest attack in his monumental work Oedipus Aegyptiacus (Rome, 1652-1653). He notes that no texts speak of the Emerald Tablet before the Middle Ages and that its discovery by Alexander the Great is not mentioned in any ancient testimonies. By comparing the vocabulary used with that of the Corpus Hermeticum (which had been proven by Isaac Casaubon in 1614 to date only from the 2nd or 3rd century AD), he affirms that the Emerald Tablet is a forgery by a medieval alchemist. As for the alchemical teaching of the Emerald Tablet, it is not limited to the philosopher's stone and the transmutation of metals but concerns "the deepest substance of each thing," the alchemists' quintessence. From another perspective, Wilhelm Christoph Kriegsmann [de] publishes in 1657 a commentary in which he tries to demonstrate, using the linguistic methods of the time, that the Emerald Tablet was not originally written in Egyptian but in Phoenician. He continues his studies of ancient texts and in 1684 argues that Hermes Trismegistus is not the Egyptian Thoth but the Taaut of the Phoenicians, who is also the founder of the Germanic people under the name of the god Tuisto, mentioned by Tacitus.[32]

In the meantime, Kircher's conclusions are debated by the Danish alchemist Ole Borch in his De ortu et progressu Chemiae (1668), in which he attempts to separate the hermetic texts between the late writings and those truly attributable to the ancient Egyptian Hermes, among which he inclines to classify the Emerald Tablet. The discussions continue, and the treatises of Ole Borch and Kriegsmann are reprinted in the compilation Bibliotheca Chemica Curiosa (1702) by the Swiss physician Jean-Jacques Manget. Although the Emerald Tablet is still translated and commented upon by Isaac Newton,[33] alchemy gradually loses all scientific credibility during the 18th century with the advent of modern chemistry and the work of Lavoisier.

The Hermetic Emblem of the Tabula Smaragdina Hermetis[edit]

The Tabula Smaragdina Hermetis.

From the late 16th century onwards, the Emerald Tablet is often accompanied by a symbolic figure called the Tabula Smaragdina Hermetis.

This figure is surrounded by an acrostic in Latin "Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem" (“visit the interior of the earth and by rectifying you will find the hidden stone”), whose seven initials form the word VITRIOL (the ancient name for sulfuric acid). At the top, the sun and moon pour into a cup above the symbol of mercury. Around the mercurial cup are the four other planets, representing the classic association between the seven planets and the seven metals: Sun/Gold, Moon/Silver, Mercury/Mercury, Jupiter/Tin, Mars/Iron, Venus/Copper, Saturn/Lead, which were also connected by traditional colors (gold, silver, gray, blue, red, green, black) to the seven words of the acrostic in the early versions of the symbol. In the center, there are a ring and an imperial globe, and at the bottom, there are the spheres of the sky and the earth (alluding to the macrocosm and microcosm). Three escutcheons represent, according to the poem, the three principles (tria prima) of the alchemical theory of Paracelsus: Eagle/Mercury/Spirit, Lion/Sulfur/Soul, and Star/Salt/Body.[34] Finally, two prophetic hands frame the image and "swear to the true foundation and true doctrine."

The emblem of the Tabula Smaragdina Hermetis on the frontispiece of the alchemical treatise La Toyson d'or (1613)

The oldest known reproduction is a copy dated 1588-89 of a manuscript that was circulating anonymously at the time and was likely written in the second half of the 16th century by a German Paracelsian. The image was accompanied by a didactic alchemical poem in German titled Du secret des sages,[35] probably by the same author. The poem explains the symbolism in relation to the Great Work and the classical goals of alchemy: wealth, health, and long life.[36] Initially, it was only accompanied by the text of the Emerald Tablet as a secondary element. However, in printed reproductions during the 17th century, the accompanying poem disappeared, and the emblem became known as the Tabula Smaragdina Hermetis, the symbol or graphical representation of the Emerald Tablet, as ancient as the tablet itself.

For example, in 1733, according to the alchemist Ehrd de Naxagoras (Supplementum Aurei Velleris), a "precious emerald plate" engraved with inscriptions and the symbol was made upon Hermes' death and found in the valley of Ebron by a woman named Zora.[30] This emblem is placed within the mysterious tradition of Egyptian hieroglyphs and the idea of Platonists and alchemists during the Renaissance that the "deepest secrets of nature could only be expressed appropriately through an obscure and veiled mode of representation".[37]

19th-20th Century: From Occultism to Esotericism and Surrealism[edit]

Alchemy and its alleged "foundational text" continue to interest occultists. This is the case with the mage Éliphas Lévi: "Nothing surpasses and nothing equals as a summary of all the doctrines of the old world the few sentences engraved on a precious stone by Hermes and known as the 'emerald tablet'... it is all of magic on a single page."[38]. It also applies to the "curious figure"[39] of the German Gottlieb Latz, who self-published a monumental work Die Alchemie in 1869,[40] as well as the theosophist Helena Blavatsky[41] and the perennialist Titus Burckhardt.[42]

At the beginning of the 20th century, alchemical thought resonated with the surrealists,[43] and André Breton incorporated the main axiom of the Emerald Tablet into the Second Manifesto of Surrealism (1930): "Everything leads us to believe that there exists a certain point of the spirit from which life and death, the real and the imaginary, the past and the future, the communicable and the incommunicable, the high and the low, cease to be perceived as contradictory. However, in vain would one seek any motive other than the hope for the determination of this point in surrealist activity."[44]. Although some commentators mainly see the influence of the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in this statement,[45] Hegel's philosophy itself was influenced by Jakob Böhme.[46]

Textual history[edit]

The tablet states its author as Hermes Trismegistus ("Hermes the Thrice-Greatest"), a legendary Hellenistic combination of the Greek god Hermes and the ancient Egyptian god Thoth.[47] Like most other works attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, the Emerald Tablet is very hard to date with any precision, but generally belongs to the late antique period (between c. 200 and c. 800).[48] The oldest known source of the text is the Sirr al-khalīqa wa-ṣanʿat al-ṭabīʿa (The Secret of Creation and the Art of Nature, also known as the Kitāb al-ʿilal or The Book of Causes), an encyclopedic work on natural philosophy falsely attributed to Apollonius of Tyana (c. 15–100, Arabic: Balīnūs or Balīnās).[49] This book was compiled in Arabic in the late eighth or early ninth century,[50] but it was most likely based on (much) older Greek and/or Syriac sources.[51] In the frame story of the Sirr al-khalīqa, Balīnūs tells his readers that he discovered the text in a vault below a statue of Hermes in Tyana, and that, inside the vault, an old corpse on a golden throne held the emerald tablet.[52]

Slightly different versions of the Emerald Tablet also appear in the Kitāb Usṭuqus al-uss al-thānī (The Second Book of the Element of the Foundation, c. 850–950) attributed to Jabir ibn Hayyan,[53] in the longer version of the Sirr al-asrār (The Secret of Secrets, a tenth century compilation of earlier works that was falsely attributed to Aristotle),[54] and in the Egyptian alchemist Muhammed ibn Umail al-Tamimi's (ca. 900 – 960) Kitāb al-māʾ al-waraqī wa-l-arḍ al-najmiyya (Book of the Silvery Water and the Starry Earth).[55]

The Emerald Tablet was translated into Latin in the twelfth century by Hugo of Santalla as part of his translation of the Sirr al-khalīqa.[56] It was again translated into Latin along with the thirteenth century translation of the longer version of the pseudo-Aristotelian Sirr al-asrār (Latin: Secretum secretorum).[57] However, the Latin translation which formed the basis for all later versions (the so-called 'Vulgate') was originally part of an anonymous compilation of alchemical commentaries on the Emerald Tablet variously called Liber Hermetis de alchimia, Liber dabessi, or Liber rebis (first half of the twelfth century).[58]

Arabic versions of the tablet text[edit]

From pseudo-Apollonius of Tyana's Sirr al-khalīqa (c. 750–850)[edit]

The earliest known version of the Emerald Tablet on which all later versions were based is found in pseudo-Apollonius of Tyana's Sirr al-khalīqa wa-ṣanʿat al-ṭabīʿa (The Secret of Creation and the Art of Nature).[59]

حق لا شك فيه صحيح
إن الأعلى من الأسفل والأسفل من الأعلى
عمل العجائب من واحد كما كانت الأشياء كلها من واحد بتدبير واحد
أبوه الشمس ، أمه القمر
حملته الريح في بطنها، غذته الأرض
أبو الطلسمات، خازن العجائب، كامل القوى
نار صارت أرضا اعزل الأرض من النار
اللطيف أكرم من الغليظ
برفق وحكم يصعد من الأرض إلى السماء وينزل إلى الأرض من السماء
وفيه قوة الأعلى والأسفل
لأن معه نور الأنوار فلذلك تهرب منه الظلمة
قوة القوى
يغلب كل شيء لطيف، يدخل في كل شيء غليظ
على تكوين العالم الأكبر تكوّن العمل
فهذا فخري ولذلك سمّيت هرمس المثلّث بالحكمة[60]

From the Kitāb Usṭuqus al-uss al-thānī (ca. 850–950) attributed to Jabir ibn Hayyan[edit]

A somewhat shorter version is quoted in the Kitāb Usṭuqus al-uss al-thānī (The Second Book of the Element of the Foundation) attributed to Jabir ibn Hayyan.[53] Lines 6, 8, and 11–15 from the version in the Sirr al-khalīqa are missing, while other parts seem to be corrupt.[61] Jabir's version was translated by Eric J. Holmyard:

From the pseudo-Aristotelian Sirr al-asrār (tenth century)[edit]

A still later version is found in the pseudo-Aristotelian Sirr al-asrār (Secret of Secrets, tenth century).[62]

حقا يقينا لا شك فيه
أن الأسفل من الأعلى والأعلى من الأسفل
عمل العجائب من واحد بتدبير واحد كما نشأت الأشياء من جوهر واحد
أبوه الشمس وأمه القمر
حملته الريح في بطنها، وغذته الأرض بلبانها
أبو الطلسمات، خازن العجائب، كامل القوى
فان صارت أرضا اعزل الأرض من النار اللطيف
أكرم من الغليظ
برفق وحكمة تصعد من الأرض إلى السماء وتهبط إلى الأرض
فتقبل قوة الأعلى والأسفل
لأن معك نور الأنوار فلهذا تهرب عنك الظلمة
قوة القوى
تغلب كل شيء لطيف يدخل على كل شيء كثيف
على تقدير العالم الأكبر
هذا فخري ولهذا سمّيت هرمس المثلّث بالحكمة اللدنية[63]

Medieval Latin versions of the tablet text[edit]

From the Latin translation of pseudo-Apollonius of Tyana's Sirr al-khalīqa (De secretis nature)[edit]

The tablet was translated into Latin in c. 1145–1151 by Hugo of Santalla as part of his translation of the Sirr al-khalīqa (The Secret of Creation, original Arabic above).[64]

Superiora de inferioribus, inferiora de superioribus,
prodigiorum operatio ex uno, quemadmodum omnia ex uno eodemque ducunt originem, una eademque consilii administratione.
Cuius pater Sol, mater vero Luna,
eam ventus in corpore suo extollit: Terra fit dulcior.
Vos ergo, prestigiorum filii, prodigiorum opifices, discretione perfecti,
si terra fiat, eam ex igne subtili, qui omnem grossitudinem et quod hebes est antecellit, spatiosibus, et prudenter et sapientie industria, educite.
A terra ad celum conscendet, a celo ad terram dilabetur,
superiorum et inferiorum vim continens atque potentiam.
Unde omnis ex eodem illuminatur obscuritas,
cuius videlicet potentia quicquid subtile est transcendit et rem grossam, totum, ingreditur.
Que quidem operatio secundum maioris mundi compositionem habet subsistere.
Quod videlicet Hermes philosophus triplicem sapientiam vel triplicem scientiam appellat.[65]

From the Latin translation of the pseudo-Aristotelian Sirr al-asrār (Secretum secretorum)[edit]

The tablet was also translated into Latin as part of the longer version of the pseudo-Aristotelian Sirr al-asrār (Latin: Secretum Secretorum, original Arabic above). It differs significantly both from the translation by Hugo of Santalla (see above) and the Vulgate translation (see below).

Veritas ita se habet et non est dubium,
quod inferiora superioribus et superiora inferioribus respondent.
Operator miraculorum unus solus est Deus, a quo descendit omnis operacio mirabilis.
Sic omnes res generantur ab una sola substancia, una sua sola disposicione.
Quarum pater est Sol, quarum mater est Luna.
Que portavit ipsam naturam per auram in utero, terra impregnata est ab ea.
Hinc dicitur Sol causatorum pater, thesaurus miraculorum, largitor virtutum.
Ex igne facta est terra.
Separa terrenum ab igneo, quia subtile dignius est grosso, et rarum spisso.
Hoc fit sapienter et discrete. Ascendit enim de terra in celum, et ruit de celo in terram.
Et inde interficit superiorem et inferiorem virtutem.
Sic ergo dominatur inferioribus et superioribus et tu dominaberis sursum et deorsum,
tecum enim est lux luminum, et propter hoc fugient a te omnes tenebre.
Virtus superior vincit omnia.
Omne enim rarum agit in omne densum.
Et secundum disposicionem majoris mundi currit hec operacio,
et propter hoc vocatur Hermogenes triplex in philosophia.[57]

Vulgate (from the Liber Hermetis de alchimia or Liber dabessi)[edit]

Latin text of the Vulgate Emerald Tablet, from MS Arundel 164, folio 155r., 15th century, British Library[66]

The most widely distributed Latin translation (the so-called 'Vulgate') is found in an anonymous compilation of commentaries on the Emerald Tablet that was translated from a lost Arabic original. This alchemical compilation was variously called Liber Hermetis de alchimia, Liber dabessi, or Liber rebis.[67] Its translator has been tentatively identified as Plato of Tivoli, who was active in c. 1134–1145.[68] However, this is merely a conjecture, and although it can be deduced from other indices that the text dates to the first half of the twelfth century, its translator remains unknown.[69]

The Vulgate version also differs significantly from the other two early Latin versions. A critical edition based on eight manuscripts was prepared by Robert Steele and Dorothea W. Singer in 1928:[70]

Early modern versions of the tablet text[edit]

Latin (Nuremberg, 1541)[edit]

Latin text of the Emerald Tablet, from Johannes Petreius, De alchemia, Nuremberg, 1541.

Despite some small differences, the 16th-century Nuremberg edition of the Latin text remains largely similar to the vulgate (see above). A translation by Isaac Newton is found among his alchemical papers that are currently housed in King's College Library, Cambridge University:


A 17th-century edition

In its several Western recensions, the Tablet became a mainstay of medieval and Renaissance alchemy. Commentaries and/or translations were published by, among others, Trithemius, Roger Bacon, Michael Maier, Albertus Magnus, and Isaac Newton. The concise text was a popular summary of alchemical principles, wherein the secrets of the philosophers' stone were thought to have been described.[72]

The fourteenth century alchemist Ortolanus (or Hortulanus) wrote a substantial exegesis on The Secret of Hermes, which was influential on the subsequent development of alchemy. Many manuscripts of this copy of the Emerald Tablet and the commentary of Ortolanus survive, dating at least as far back as the fifteenth century. Ortolanus, like Albertus Magnus before him saw the tablet as a cryptic recipe that described laboratory processes using deck names (or code words). This was the dominant view held by Europeans until the fifteenth century.[73]

By the early sixteenth century, the writings of Johannes Trithemius (1462–1516) marked a shift away from a laboratory interpretation of the Emerald Tablet, to a metaphysical approach. Trithemius equated Hermes' one thing with the monad of pythagorean philosophy and the anima mundi. This interpretation of the Hermetic text was adopted by alchemists such as John Dee, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, and Gerhard Dorn.[73]

In popular culture[edit]

In the time travel television series Dark, the mysterious priest Noah has a large image of the Emerald Tablet tattooed on his back. The image, which is from Heinrich Khunrath’s Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom (1609), also appears on a metal door in the caves that are central to the plot. Several characters are shown looking at copies of the text.[74] A line from the Latin version, "Sic mundus creatus est" (So was the world created), plays a prominent thematic role in the series and is the title of the sixth episode of the first season.[75]

In 1974, Brazilian singer Jorge Ben Jor recorded a studio album under the name A Tábua de Esmeralda ("The Emerald Tablet"), quoting from the Tablet's text and from alchemy in general in several songs. The album has been defined as an exercise in "musical alchemy" and celebrated as Ben Jor's greatest musical achievement, blending together samba, jazz, and rock rhythms. [76]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Principe 2013, p. 31.
  2. ^ Principe 2013, p. 32.
  3. ^ (Faivre 1988, p. 34)
  4. ^ Holmyard, E.J. The Emerald Table Nature, No. 2814, vol. 112, 1923, p. 525-6. - Julius Ruska Tabula Smaragdina. Ein Betrag zur Geschichte der hermetischen Literatur (1926)
  5. ^ Kraus, Paul 1942-1943. Jâbir ibn Hayyân: Contribution à l'histoire des idées scientifiques dans l'Islam. I. Le corpus des écrits jâbiriens. II. Jâbir et la science grecque. Cairo: Institut français d'archéologie orientale, vol. II, pp. 274-275; Weisser, Ursula 1980. Das Buch über das Geheimnis der Schöpfung von Pseudo-Apollonios von Tyana. Berlin: De Gruyter, p. 46.
  6. ^ (Kahn 1994, p. XII-XV)
  7. ^ (Kahn 1994, p. XV) citing Ursula Weisser's work Das Buch über das Geheimnis der Schöpfung (1980)
  8. ^ (Kahn 1994, p. XIV)
  9. ^ "This is the book of the wise Bélinous [Apollonius of Tyana], who possesses the art of talismans: this is what Bélinous says... In the place where I lived [Tyana], there was a stone statue raised on a wooden column; on the column, these words were written: 'I am Hermes, to whom knowledge has been given...'. While I slept uneasily and restlessly, preoccupied with my sorrow, an old man whose face resembled mine appeared before me and said, 'Rise, Bélinous, and enter this underground road; it will lead you to the knowledge of the secrets of Creation...'. I entered this underground passage. I saw an old man sitting on a golden throne, holding an emerald tablet in one hand... I learned what was written in this book of the 'Secret of the Creation of Beings'... [Emerald Tablet:] True, true, certain, indisputable, and authentic! Behold, the highest comes from the lowest, and the lowest from the highest; a work of wonders by a single thing..."
  10. ^ (Kahn 1994, p. XVI-XVII)
  11. ^ Didier Kahn, Le Fixe et le volatil, CNRS Éditions, 2016, pp. 23-23, citing Mandosio 2003, p. 682–683.
  12. ^ (Kahn 1994, p. XVII) citing Julius Ruska's op. cit.
  13. ^ See Rachel Arié Études sur la civilisation de l'Espagne musulmane, Brill Archive, 1990 p. 159 [1]
  14. ^ Jack Lindsay, Les origines de l'alchimie dans l'Égypte gréco-romaine (1986) p. 202
  15. ^ Le livre de Cratès, Octave Houdas' French translation of the Arabic manuscript 440 from the University Library of Leiden, in Marcellin Berthelot, Histoire des sciences. La chimie au Moyen Âge, vol. III: L'alchimie arabe (1893)
  16. ^ H.E. Stapleton, 1933, Three Arabic Treatises on Alchemy by Muhammad bin Umail (10th Century A.D.). Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, XII, Calcutta: "I saw on the roof of the galleries a picture of nine eagles with out-spread wings [...] On the left side were pictures of people standing ... having their hands stretched out towards a figure seated inside the Pyramid, near the pillar of the gate of the hall. The image was seated in a chair, like those used by the physicians. In his lab was a stone slab. The fingers behind the slab were bent as if holding it, an open book. On the side viz. in the Hall where the image was situated were different pictures, and inscriptions in hieroglyphic writing [birbawi]
  17. ^ Le Liber De secretis naturae du Ps. Apollonius de Tyane, traduction latine par Hugues de Santalla du Kitæb sirr al-halîqa. Édition et présentation par Françoise Hudry, in: Chrysopoeia, 6, p. 1-154
  18. ^ exemplaire de la bibliothèque nationale (Manuscrits occidentaux, inv. Latin 11118 vers 1220)
  19. ^ (Kahn 1994, p. XIX)
  20. ^ a b c Mandosio 2005
  21. ^ Antoine Calvet, L’alchimie médiévale est-elle une science chrétienne ? Dossiers du GRIHL
  22. ^ Alchemical sources - presentation by Didier Kahn of digitized alchemical texts from BIUM.
  23. ^ Roger Bacon, Opera hactenus inedita, fasc V: Secretum Secretorum cum glossis et notulis, edited by Robert Stelle, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1920.
  24. ^ (Kahn 1994, pp. 23–29).
  25. ^ Antoine Calvet, Alchimie - Occident médiéval in Dictionnaire critique de l'ésotérisme edited by Jean Servier, p.35
  26. ^ (Faivre 1988, p. 49)
  27. ^ Barbara Obrist, Visualization in Medieval Alchemy International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry, Vol. 9, No. 2 (2003), p. 131-170 online
  28. ^ Printed in Opuscule tres-excellent de la vraye philosophie naturelle des métaulx, traictant de l’augmentation et perfection d’iceux... par Maistre D. Zacaire,... Avec le traicté de vénérable docteur allemant Messire Bernard, conte de la Marche Trevisane, sur le mesme subject. (Benoist Rigaud, Lyon 1574). scanned copy
  29. ^ Joachim Telle, L’art symbolique paracelsien: remarques concernant une pseudo-Tabula smaragdina du 16e siècle in (Faivre 1988, p. 186)
  30. ^ a b (Faivre 1988, p. 38)
  31. ^ (Kahn 1994, pp. 59–74)
  32. ^ Conjectures sur l'origine du peuple germanique et son fondateur Hermès Trismégiste, qui pour Moïse est Chanaan, Tuitus pour Tacite, et Mercure pour les Gentils Tübingen 1684, cited by (Faivre 1988, p. 42)
  33. ^ B.J.T. Dobbs, Newton's Commentary on the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus - Its Scientific and Theological Significance in Merkel, I and Debus A.G. Hermeticism and the Renaissance. Folger, Washington 1988.
  34. ^ ' Joachim Telle L’art symbolique paracelsien : remarques concernant une pseudo-Tabula smaragdine du XVIe siècle in (Faivre 1988, p. 189)
  35. ^ This poem is reproduced in Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer, aus dem 16. und 17. Jahrhundert emblem, poemEnglish translation on levity.com
  36. ^ Joachim Telle L’art symbolique paracelsien : remarques concernant une pseudo-Tabula smaragdine du XVIe siècle in (Faivre 1988, p. 184-235)
  37. ^ Joachim Telle L’art symbolique paracelsien : remarques concernant une pseudo-Tabula smaragdine du XVIe siècle in (Faivre 1988, p. 187)
  38. ^ Éliphas Lévi, Histoire de la Magie, Germer Bailliere, 1860, p. 78-79 [2]
  39. ^ (Kahn 1994, p. XXI)
  40. ^ secret of the emerald tablet excerpt translated into English from Die Alchemie (1869)
  41. ^ H.P. Blavatsky Isis Unveiled Theosophical University Press, 1972. p. 507-14.
  42. ^ Titus Burckhardt, Alchemy Stuart and Watkins, London, 1967 p. 196 -201
  43. ^ See, for example, the comments by Jean-Marc Mandosio on the relationship between André Breton and alchemy in his writings in Dans le chaudron du négatif, op. cit., p. 22-25.
  44. ^ André Breton, Œuvres complètes – I, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1988, p. 781. Quoted in (Kahn 1994, p. XXII)
  45. ^ Regarding this point, see Mark Polizzotti, André Breton, Gallimard, 1999, p. 368-369, and note 3 p. 1594-1595 in Œuvres complètes – I of Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. Henri Béhar, on the other hand, speaks of this sentence as a "quest [...] akin, proportionately, to that of the alchemist" in André Breton. Le grand indésirable, Calmann-Lévy, 1990, p. 220.
  46. ^ Jean-Marc Mandosio, op. cit., p. 103-104.
  47. ^ Bull 2018, pp. 33–96.
  48. ^ It was perhaps written between the sixth and eighth centuries, as conjectured by Ruska 1926, p. 166.
  49. ^ Weisser 1980, p. 46.
  50. ^ Kraus 1942–1943, vol. II, pp. 274–275 (c. 813–833); Weisser 1980, p. 54 (c. 750–800).
  51. ^ Kraus 1942–1943, vol. II, pp. 270–303; Weisser 1980, pp. 52–53.
  52. ^ Ebeling 2007, pp. 46–47, 96.
  53. ^ a b Zirnis 1979, pp. 64–65, 90. On the dating of the texts attributed to Jābir, see Kraus 1942–1943, vol. I, pp. xvii–lxv.
  54. ^ Manzalaoui 1974, p. 167; edited by Badawi 1954, pp. 166–167.
  55. ^ Stapleton, Lewis & Taylor 1949, p. 81.
  56. ^ Hudry 1997–1999. Hudry's edition of the Tablet itself is reproduced in Mandosio 2004b, pp. 690–691. An English translation may be found in Litwa 2018, p. 316.
  57. ^ a b Steele 1920, pp. 115–117. Steele's edition is reproduced in Mandosio 2004b, pp. 692–693.
  58. ^ Mandosio 2004b, p. 683. For an edition and a short description of the contents of this text, see Steele & Singer 1928 (Steele & Singer's edition of the Tablet itself is reproduced in Mandosio 2004b, pp. 691–692). See further Colinet 1995; Caiazzo 2004, pp. 700–703.
  59. ^ Weisser 1980, p. 46. On the dating of this text, see Kraus 1942–1943, vol. II, pp. 274–275 (c. 813–833); Weisser 1980, p. 54 (c. 750–800).
  60. ^ Weisser 1979, pp. 524–525. A translation based on the superseded edition of Ruska 1926, pp. 158–159 may be found in Rosenthal 1975, pp. 247–248.
  61. ^ Holmyard 1923; cf. Ruska 1926, p. 121.
  62. ^ On the dating of this work, see Manzalaoui 1974.
  63. ^ Badawi 1954, pp. 166–167.
  64. ^ Litwa 2018, p. 314.
  65. ^ Hudry 1997–1999, p. 152. Hudry's edition is reproduced in Mandosio 2004b, pp. 690–691. An English translation may be found in Litwa 2018, p. 316.
  66. ^ "Detailed record for Arundel 164". British Library, Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. A transcription is given by Selwood 2023.
  67. ^ Mandosio 2004b, p. 683. On this text, see further Colinet 1995; Caiazzo 2004, pp. 700–703.
  68. ^ Steele & Singer 1928, p. 45/489.
  69. ^ Mandosio 2004b, p. 683.
  70. ^ The manuscripts are listed in Steele & Singer 1928, p. 46/490. Steele & Singer's edition of the Tablet itself is reproduced in Mandosio 2004b, pp. 691–692. A transcription of the Tablet in one manuscript, MS Arundel 164, is given by Selwood 2023 (Selwood mistakes Steele & Singer 1928's edition for a mere transcript of one manuscript; his attribution of the text's origin to the Secretum secretorum is also mistaken).
  71. ^ Word of Greek origin, from τελεσμός (itself from τελέω, having meanings such as "to perform, accomplish" and "to consecrate, initiate"); "th"-initial spellings represent a corruption. The obscurity of this word's meaning brought forth many interpretations. An anonymous commentary from the 12th century explains telesmus as meaning "secret", mentioning that "divination among the Arabs" was "referred to as telesmus", and that it was "superior to all others"; of this later only the meaning of "a secret" would remain in the word. The word corresponds to طلسم (ṭilasm) in the Arabic text, which does indeed mean "enigma", but also "talisman" in Arabic. It has been asserted that the original meaning was in fact in reference to talismanic magic, and that this was lost in translation from Arabic to Latin (source: Mandosio 2005). Otherwise, the word telesmus was also understood to mean "perfection", as can be seen in Isaac Newton's translation, or "treasure", or other things.
  72. ^ Linden 2003, p. 27.
  73. ^ a b Debus 2004, p. 415.
  74. ^ "'Dark' Theories and Burning Questions: Jonas' Fate, the Wallpapered Room, and That Massive Back Tattoo". 8 December 2017. Retrieved December 10, 2017.
  75. ^ "Dark – Season 1, Episode 6: "Sic Mundus Creatus Est"". Father Son Holy Gore. 2017-12-04. Retrieved 2018-02-17.
  76. ^ Philip Jandovský. "A Tábua de Esmeralda – Jorge Ben". AllMusic. Retrieved 2018-10-13.

Sources used[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Davis, Tenney L. (1926). "The Emerald Table of Hermes Trismegistus. Three Latin Versions Which Were Current among Later Alchemists". Journal of Chemical Education. 3 (8): 863–875. doi:10.1021/ed003p863.
  • Dobbs, Betty J. T. (1988). "Newton's Commentary on The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus: Its Scientific and Theological Significance". In Merkel, Ingrid; Debus, Allen G. (eds.). Hermeticism and the Renaissance: Intellectual History and the Occult in Early Modern Europe. Washington, D.C.: The Folger Shakespeare Library. pp. 182–191. ISBN 9780918016850.
  • Forshaw, Peter (2007). "Alchemical Exegesis: Fractious Distillations of the Essence of Hermes". In Principe, Lawrence M. (ed.). Chymists and Chymistry: Studies in the History of Alchemy and Early Modern Chemistry. Sagamore Beach, MA: Science History Publications. pp. 25–38. ISBN 9780881353969.
  • Holmyard, E.J., Alchemy, Pelican, Harmondsworth, 1957. pp 95–98.
  • Kahn, Didier (1994). La table d'émeraude et sa tradition alchimique. Paris: Les Belles Lettres. ISBN 9782251470054.
  • Needham, J., Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 5, part 4: Spagyrical discovery and invention: Apparatus, Theories and gifts. CUP, 1980.
  • Plessner, Martin (1927). "Neue Materialien zur Geschichte der Tabula Smaragdina". Der Islam. 16 (1): 77–113.
  • Ruska, Julius (1925). "Der Urtext der Tabula Smaragdina". Orientalistische Literaturzeitung. 28: 349–351.
  • Ruska, Julius. Quelques problemes de literature alchimiste. n.p., 1931.
  • Ruska, Julius. Die Alchimie ar-Razi's. n.p., 1935.
  • M. Robinson. The History and Myths surrounding Johannes Hispalensis, in Bulletin of Hispanic Studies vol. 80, no. 4, October 2003, pp. 443–470, abstract.

External links[edit]