The True Book of the learned Greek Abbot Synesius
Taken out of the Emperor's Library

Synesius of Cyrene was the Bishop of Ptolomais, a neo-Platonist, active during the fourth century A.D. (died about 414). Synesius pursued his higher studies at Alexandria, where he became a devoted disciple of the famous Hypatia, to whom several of his letters are addressed and for whom he entertained a life-long devotion. After serving some time in the army he settled in his native land, studying philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy. He was thus a respected ancient figure and a fine candidate for having an alchemical work attached to his name.
The True Book of the learned Greek Abbot Synesius was probably created some time in the late 16th. There are a number of manuscript copies most of which are from the 17th century probably copying from the printed books. There is a 16th century manuscript in Leiden (MS. Vossianus Chym. F. 3.)
The work appears to have been first published in 1612 in Paris.
Trois traitez de la philosophie naturelle non encore imprimez. Scavoir le secret livre du tres-ancien philosophe Artephius, traitant de l'art occulte et transmutation metallique latin-françois. Plus, les figures hierogliphiques de Nicolas Flamel... au cimetiere des Innocens à Paris... avec l'explication d'icelles par iceluy Flamel. Ensemble, le vray livre du docte Synesius... sur le mesme subiect, le tout traduit par P. Arnauld.
This book contained three works purporting to have been written in an earlier age, the Artephius supposedly in the 12th century, the Flamel supposedly recording alchemical writings from the late 14th and early 15th century, and the Synesius supposed as from the fourth century Greco-Egyptian period. The Synesius also turns up attached to the 1678 English edition of Basil Valentine's Triumphant Chariot of Antimony.

Though the ancient Philosophers have written diversely of this science, concealing under a multitude of names the true principles of the Art; yet have they not done it but upon important considerations, as we shall hereafter make appear. And though they are different in their expressions, yet are they not any way discordant one from another, but all aiming at one end, and speaking of the same thing, they have thought fit (above all the rest) to name the proper Agent, by a term, strange, nay sometimes contrary to its nature and qualities.

Know then, my Son, that almighty God together with this Universe, created two stones, that is to say, the White and the Red, both which are under one and the same subject, and afterwards multiplied in such abundance, that everyone may take as much as he please thereof. The matter of them is of such a kind, that it seems to be a mean between a metal and Mercury, and is partly fixed and partly not fixed, otherwise it could not be a mean between metals and Mercury; and this matter is the instrument whereby our desire is accomplished, if we do but prepare it. Hence, it comes that those who bestow their endeavors in this art without the said medium, lose their labour, but if they are acquainted with the Medium, they shall find all things feasible and fortunate.

Know then, that this Medium, being aerial, is found among the celestial bodies, and that it is only there are found the Masculine and Feminine gender, (to speak properly) having a constant, strong, fixed and permanent virtue, of the essence whereof Philosophers have expressed themselves only by similitudes and figures, as I have told you. This they did, so that the science might not be discovered by the ignorant, which if it should once happen, all were lost: but that it might be comprehended only by those patient souls, and subtilised understandings, which being sequestered from the soilness of this world, are cleansed from the filth of that terrene dunghill of avarice, whereby the ignorant are chained to the earthiness of this world, which is (without this admirable quintessence) the receptacle of poverty; it being certain, that those divine souls, when they have dived into Democritus' Fountain, that is to say, into the truth of Nature, would soon discover what confusion might happen in all estates and conditions, if everyone could make as much gold as he would himself. Upon this ground was it that they were pleased to speak by figures, types, and analogies, that so they might not be understood except by such as are discreet, religious, and enlightened by (divine) Wisdom. All which notwithstanding, they have left in their writings a certain method, way and rule, by the assistance whereof, the wise man may comprehend whatever they have written most obscurely and in time arrive at the knowledge of it, though happily wading through some error, as I have done, praised be God for it. And whereas the vulgar ignorant person ought to submit to these reasons, and consequently adore, what is too great, to enter into his brain, he on the contrary accuses the philosophers of imposture and impiety, by which means and the scarcity of wise men, the art falls into contempt.

But for my part, I tell you, they have always expressed themselves according to certain truth, though very obscurely, and sometimes fabulously, all which I have deciphered in this little treatise, and after such a manner that the earnest desirer of science shall understand what has been mystically delivered by the Philosophers. And yet if he pretend to understand me and know not the nature of the Elements and things created, as also our rich Metal, he does but lose his labour: but if he understand the concord and discord of natures, he will by God's assistance arrive to the rest. It is therefore my suit to God, that he who shall understand the present secret may work to the glory and praise of the sacred Divinity.

Know then, my dear Son, that the ignorant man cannot comprehend the secret of the Art, because it depends upon the knowledge of the true body, which is hidden from him. Know then, my Son, pure and impure, the clean and unclean natures, for there cannot come from any thing that which it has not. For things, that are not or have not, cannot give but their own Nature. Make use then of that which is most perfect and nearest in kind, you shall meet with, and it shall suffice. Avoid then that which is mixed, and take the simple, for that proceeds from the Quintessence.

Note that we have two bodies of very great perfection, full of Mercury: Out of these extract your Mercury, and of that you shall make the Medicine, called by some Quintessence, which is a virtue or power that is imperishable, permanent, and perpetually victorious, nay it is a clear light, which sheds true goodness into every Soul that once has tasted of it. It is the knot and link of all the Elements, which it contains in itself, as being also the Spirit which nourishes all things, and by the assistance whereof Nature works in the Universe. It is the force, the beginning and end of the whole work, and to lay all open to you in a word, know, that the Quintessence and the hidden things of our Stone is nothing else than our viscous, celestial and glorious Soul drawn by our magistery out of its mine, which engenders itself, and that it is not possible for us to make that water by Art, but Nature alone begets it, and that water is the most sharp Vinegar, which makes Gold to be a pure spirit, nay it is that blessed Nature which engenders all things, which through its putrefaction is become a Tri-unity, and by reason of its viridity causes an appearance of diverse colours.

And I advise you, my Son, make no account of any other things, as being vain, labour only for that water, which burns to blackness, whitens, dissolves and congeals. It is that which putrifies, and causes germination, and therefore I advise you, that you wholly employ yourself in the decoction of this water, and quarrel not at the expense of time, otherwise you shall have no advantage. Decoct it, gently by little and little, until it have changed its false colour into a perfect, and have a great care at the beginning that you burn not its flowers and its vivacity, and make not too much haste to come to an end of your work. Shut your vessel well, that what is within may not breathe out, and so you may bring it to some effect. And note, that to dissolve, to calcine, to tinge, to whiten, to renew, to bath, to wash, to coagulate, to imbibe, to decoct, to fix, to grind, to dry, and to distil, are all one, and signify no more than to concoct Nature, until such time as it be perfect. Note further that to extract the soul, or the spirit, or the body, is nothing else than the above said Calcinations, in regard they signify the operation of Venus. It is therefore through the fire of the extraction of the soul that the spirit comes forth gently, understand me.

The same may also be said of the extraction of the Soul out of the Body, and the reduction of it afterwards upon the same Body, until the whole be drawn to a commixtion of all the four Elements. And so that which is below, is like that which is above, and consequently there are made therein two luminaries, the one fixed the other not, whereof the fixed remains below, and the volatile above, moving itself perpetually, until that which is below, which is the male, get upon the female, and all be fixed, and then issues out an incomparable luminary. And as in the beginning, there was only one, so in this matter, all proceeds from one and returns to one, which is called a conversion of the Elements, and to convert the Elements, is as much as to make the humid dry, and the volatile fixed, that so that which is thick may be made thin, and weaken the thing that fixes the rest, the fixative part of the thing remaining entire. Thus happens the life and death of the Elements, which composed, germinate and produce, and so one thing perfects another, and assists it to oppose the Fire.

The True Book


My Son, it is necessary that you work with the Mercury of the Philosophers and the wise, which is not the Vulgar, nor has anything of the Vulgar, but, according to them, is the first Matter, the Soul of the World, the cold Element, the blessed Water, the Water of the Wise, the Venomous Water, the most sharp Vinegar, the Mineral Water, the Water of celestial grace, the Virgin Milk, our Mineral and corporeal Mercury. For this alone perfects both the stones, the White and the Red. Consider what Geber says, "that our Art consists not in the multitude of several things, because the Mercury is but one only thing", that is to say, one only Stone wherein consists the whole Magistery; to which you shall not add any strange thing, save that in the preparation thereof you shall take away from it whatsoever is superfluous, by reason that in this matter, all things requisite to this Art are contained. And therefore it is very observable that he says, "we must add nothing that is strange, save the Sun and Moon for the red and white Tincture, which are not strange (to it) but are its Ferment by which the work is accomplished". Lastly, mark my Son, that these Suns and Moons are not the same with the vulgar Gold and Silver, for that our Suns and Moons are better in their nature than the Vulgar Suns and Moons. For our Suns and Moons are in their nature living, and those of the vulgar are dead in comparison of ours, which are existent and permanent in our Stone.

Whence you may observe that the Mercury drawn out of our bodies, is like the aqueous and common Mercury, and for that reason enjoys itself and takes pleasure in its like, and is more glad of its company, as it happens in the simple and compound, which thing has not been discovered by the Philosophers in their books. And the advantage therefore which is in this Art, lies in the Mercury, Sun and Moon. Diomedes says, make use of such a matter as to which you must not introduce any strange thing, neither powder nor water, for that several things do not improve our Stone, and thereby he sufficiently instructs him, who understands him, that the tincture of our Stone is not drawn from any thing but the Mercury of the Philosophers; which is their principle, their root, and their great tree, sprouting forth into boughs and branches.

The First Operation


It is not vulgar but Philosophical, whereby we take away from the Stone whatever is superfluous, which, in effect is nothing else but the elevation of the non-fixed part by fume and vapor, for the fixed part should remain in the bottom, nor would we that one should be separated from the other, but that they remain and be fixed together. Know also that he, who shall sublime our Philosophical Mercury (wherein is all the vertue of our Stone) as it ought to be done, shall perfect the Magistery. This gave Geber reason to say that all perfection consists in Sublimation, and in this Sublimation all other operations, that is to say, Distillation, Assation, Destruction, Coagulation, Putrefaction, Calcination, Fixation, Reduction of the White and Red Tinctures, procreated and engendered in one furnace and in one vessel, and this is the ready way to the final consummation, whereof the Philosophers have made divers chapters, purposely to amuse the ignorant.

Take then in the name of the great God, the venerable matter of the Philosophers, called the first Hyle of the Sages, which contains the above named Philosophical Mercury, termed, the first matter of the perfect Body, put it into its Vessel, which must be clear, diaphanous and round, and closely stopped by the Seal of Seals, and make it hot in its place, well-prepared, with temperate heat, for the space of a Philosophical Month, keeping it six weeks and two days in the sweat of Sublimation until it begins to be putrefied, to ferment, to be coloured and to be congealed with its metallic humidity, and be fixed so far, that it do no more ascend in aery fumous substance, but remain fixed in the bottom, turned from what it was, and divested of all viscous humidity, putrefied and black, which is called the sable robe, Night, or the Head of the Crow.

Thus when our stone is in the vessel, and that it mounts up on high in fume, this is called Sublimation, and when it falls down from on high, Distillation, and Descension. When it begins to participate of the fumous substance, and to be putrefied, and that by reason of the frequent ascent and descent it begins to coagulate, then it is Putrefaction and devouring Sulphur, and lastly through the want or privation of the humidity of the radical water is wrought Calcination and Fixation both at the same time, by decoction alone, in only one vessel, as I have already said. Moreover in this sublimation is wrought the true separation of the Elements, for in our Sublimation the Elixir is turned from Water into a terrestrial Element dry and hot, by which operation it is manifest, that the separation of the four Elements in our Stone is not vulgar but Philosophical. Hence also is it, that in our Stone there are but two formal Elements, that is to say, Earth and Water; but the Earth has in its grossness, the virtue and drought of Fire; and the Water contains in itself the air with its humidity. Thus we have in our Stone visibly but two elements, but effectually there are four. And by this you may judge, that the separation of the four Elements is absolutely physical not vulgar and real, such as the ignorant daily employ themselves in.

Continue therefore its decoction with a gentle fire, until all the black matter appearing in the superficies be quite dissipated by the Magistery, which blackness is by the Philosophers called the dark mantle of the Stone, which afterwards becoming clear is termed the cleansing water of the earth, or rather the Elixir. And note, that the blackness which appears is a sign of putrefaction. And the beginning of the dissolution is a sign of the conjunction of both natures. And this blackness appears sometimes in forty days, more or less, according to the quantity of the matter, and the industry of the operator, which contributes much to the separation of the said blackness.

Now my Son, by the grace of God you are acquainted with one Element of our Stone, which is the black earth, the Raven's head, by some called the obscure shadow, upon which earth, as upon a base, all the rest is grounded. This terrestrial and dry Element, is called, Laton, the Bull, black dregs, our Metal, our Mercury. And thus by the privation of the adust [dry] humidity, which is taken away by Philosophical sublimation, the volatile is fixed, and the moist is made dry and earth; nay, according to Geber, there is wrought a change of the complexion, as of a cold and humid Nature, into dry choler; and according to Alphidius, of a liquid into a thick. Whence is apprehended what the Philosophers mean when they say, that the operation of our Stone is only a transmutation of Nature and a revolution of Elements. You see then how that by this incorporation the humid becomes dry, the volatile fixed, the Spiritual corporeal, the liquid thick, water fire, air earth, and that there happens an infallible change in their true nature, and a certain circulation of the four Elements.

The Second Operation

DEALBATION: To make White.

It converts our Mercury into the white Stone, and that by decoction only. When the earth is separated from its water, then must the vessel be set on the ashes, as is usual in a distilling furnace, and the water be distilled by a gentle fire at the beginning, so that the water come so gently that you may distinctly number as far as forty names, or pronounce fifty six words, and let this order be observed in all the distillations of the black earth, and that which is in the bottom of the vessel, that is, the faeces remaining to be imbibed, with the new water, will be dissolved, which water will contain three or four parts more than those faeces, that so all may be dissolved and converted into Mercury and Argent vive. I tell you that this must be done so often, that there shall remain nothing but the Mercury. For this distillation there is no time limited, but it is done sooner or later according to the greater or lesser quantity of the water, proportionably to the quantity of the fire.

Then take the earth which you shall have reserved in a vessel of glass, with its distilled water, and with a soft and gentle fire, such as was that of Distillation, or purification, or rather one somewhat stronger, continue it, till such time as the earth be dry and white, and by reason of its drought, drunk up all its water. This done, put to it some of the abovesaid water, and so, as at the beginning, continue on the same decoction, until that earth is become absolutely white, cleansed and clear, and have drunk all its water. And note that the said earth will be washed from its blackness by the decoction, as I have said, because it is easily putrefied by its own water, and is cleansed, which is the end of the Magistery, and then be sure to keep that white earth very carefully. For that is the White Mercury, White Magnesia, Foliated earth.

Then take this white earth rectified as abovesaid, and put it into its vessel upon the ashes, to a fire of Sublimation, and let it have a very strong fire until all the coagulated water which is within, come into the alembic, and the earth remain in the bottom well calcined. Then you have the earth, the water, and the air, and though the earth have in it the nature of the fire, yet is it not apparent in effect, as you shall see, when by a greater decoction you shall make it become red. So that then you shall manifestly see the fire in appearance, and such must be the proceeding in order to Fermentation of the white earth, that the dead body may be animated and enlivened, and its virtue be multiplyed to infinity. But note, that the Ferment cannot enter into the dead body, but by the means of the water, which has made a contract and a marriage between the Ferment and the white earth.

And know that in all fermentation the weight is to be considered, that so the quantity of the volatile exceed not the fixed, and that the marriage pass away in fume. For, as Senior says, if you convert not the earth into water, and the water into fire, there cannot be a conjunction of the spirit and body. To do this take a red hot lamen or plate and cast on it a drop of our Medicine, which penetrating, it shall be of a perfect colour, and will be a sign of perfection. If it happen it does not tinge, reiterate the dissolution and coagulation, until it does tinge and penetrate. And note, that seven imbibitions, at the most, are sufficient, and five at the least, that so the matter may be liquified, and without smoke, and then the matter is perfect as to whiteness, for as much as the matter sometimes requires a longer time to be fixed, and sometimes is done in a shorter, according to the quantity of the Medicine. And note that our Medicine from the creation of our Mercury requires the term of seven months to compass the whiteness, and, to arrive at the redness, five; which put together make twelve.

Of the Third Operation.


Take of the white Medicine, as much as you will, and put it with its glass upon the hot ashes, till it becomes as dry as the ashes. Then put to it some water of the Sun, which you have kept purposely for that end, and continue the fire to the second degree, until it becomes dry, then put to it again some of the abovesaid water, and so successively imbibe and dry, until the matter be rubified, and fluxible as wax, and cover with it the red lamen, as has been said, and the matter shall be perfect as to redness. But note that at every time, you need put no more of the water of the Sun than is barely necessary to cover the body, and this is done that the Elixir sink not and be drowned, and so the fire must be continued unto dessication, and then must there be made a second imbibition, and so proceed in order to the perfection of the Medicine, that is to say, until the force of the digestion of the fire convert it into a very red powder, which is the true Hyle of the Philosophers, the bloody Stone, the purple red Coral, the precious Ruby, red Mercury and the red Tincture.


The oftner you shall dissolve and coagulate it, the more will the virtue of it be multiplied to infinity. But note that the medicine is multiplied later by Solution, then by Fermentation. Wherefore the thing dissolved operates not well, if it be not before fixed in its ferment. Nevertheless the multiplication of the Medicine by solution is more abundant than that of the Ferment, by reason there is more subtilization. Yet I advise you that in the multiplication you put one part of the work upon four of the other, and in a short time there will be made a powder, all Ferment.


Thus "you are to separate the earth from the fire, the gross from the subtle gently, with great judgement", that is to say, separate the parts that are united to the furnace, by the dissolution and separation of the parts, as "the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross", that is to say, the more pure substance of the Stone, until you have got it clean, and free from all spots or filth. And when he says, "it ascends from the earth up into Heaven and returns again into the earth", there is no more to be understood by it than the Sublimation of the bodies. Further, to explain what distillation is, he says "the Wind carries it in its belly", that is, when the water is distilled by the alembic, where it first ascends by a wind full of fume and vapour, and afterwards returns to the bottom of the vessel in water again. When he would also express the congelation of the matter, he says, "its force is absolute, if it be turned into earth", that is to say, be converted by decoction. And to make a general demonstration of all halt been said, he says, "It shall receive both the inferior and Superior force", that is to say that of the Elements, for as much as, if the Medicine receive the force of the lighter parts, that is to say, air and fire, it shall also receive that of the more grave and weighty parts, changing itself into water and earth, to the end, that the Matters being thus perpetually joined together, may have permanence, durance, constancy, and stability. Glory be to God.

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