The Poem of the Philosopher Theophrastos upon the Sacred Art
The four poems, which appear in the different collections under the names of Heliodoros, Theophrastos, Hierotheos and Archelaos, have been seen as the work of a single author and based on writings of the seventh century Stephanos. The earliest collection of the poems, is in the Library of St. Mark in Venice, Codex 299 (eleventh century). It is likely that the poem of Theophrastos was composed by a Byzantine sophist between t700 and 900 A.D.
The Poem of the Philosopher Theophrastos Upon the Sacred Art
We sophists, and the rhetoricians too,
Are fortunate and lead a life most wise;
We know the nature of created things,
The kinds of elements, and understand
How, by close union each to each, they tend
To one new form, most fair and wholly strange,
With brilliant splendor filled, its make-up such
That it bestoweth wealth and great reward.
But most of all we wish with one accord
All mortals to be taught and disciplined
And trained in wisdom of the sophist school,
That they may shape themselves to perfect men,
That they may know the bounds of Nature's realm,
(How all things thrive and mix and interweave)
And last that they may nothing speak except
What words the wise old masters used to say.
Those masters urge all mortals who are wise
To be instructed in the mystic lore
Of sacred rites, whose meaning they proclaim
By actions rather than by words of mouth.
We, who foretell just where the stars shall be,
Who know their natures, heights and intervals,
Their occultations, when they rise and set,
Their measured bounds and what their orbs portend,
Do not misread their signs, though far away,
For when assisted by a knowing mind
Our sense of vision sees them as they are.
We know the truth of what is in the sky
Above and are not ignorant of what
Is there performed, for we perceive it all
And make it evident to mortal minds,
As their experience can testify.
Yet more than this, the causes we reveal
Of each affliction in the body's frame;
Experimentally our school explores
The science, art and ends of medicine,
With such success that our prognosis shows
What sicknesses are destined to appear
And what is best to cure or ward them off;
Its findings also lead us to foretell
An end of life from sickness far from home.
Not only has our wisdom known the ways
By which to check each illness and disease,
- Prodigious wonders even though they be -
But with exactness we describe the flowers,
(Their qualities, their mixtures and their kinds),
And taste of juice and substances of plants.
Each class of growing herbs has been portrayed
For our prognosis and with words exact,
We also know the hues and kinds of stones,
The places where the metals are produced
And all their properties both good and bad.
The many kinds' of creatures in the sea
Are known to us and all their many forms;
We teach mankind their natures, good and bad,
How some to use and others to avoid.
Nor do we slight the race of gay-hued birds,
Those strange in form and those who kill their kind,
Those who by nature are of use to man,
And so contribute to the joy of life.
Each class and race of reptiles we describe,
And so all living things find place within
Our catalogue. Nor have we falsified
In anything, for every word is true.
All we have said or shown to mortal men
Is for their use and happiness in life.
How then can those vile critics censure us,
They who in secret learning are inept,
And who in sophic wisdom have no share?
How can they say we sophists speak untruths
With their own minds so pitifully maimed
They give no thought or care to things divine?
They ask how gold is ever to be made,
How that can change which has a nature fixed,
Placed there of old by God the demiurge,
Who formed its substance never to be moved
From that position which from early time
Was its abode and destined resting place;
They say gold thus abides, nor suffers change,
For naught can be transmuted from the class
Or species where its origin took place.
They who speak thus but trifle with their minds
And nothing say that bears the stamp of truth.
But we will show the end of this our art,
An end most useful and most quickly learned,
For nothing strange it needs save that one stock
From which all things by Nature are produced.
From Time's four transformations learn the way
By which the work most skilfully completes
The transformations of sophistic art.
The winter, cold and moist, controls the frost;
By him the fleeting clouds are borne on high
To drench the earth and quicken seeds to life;
Three months elapse before his time expires.
Next Spring, a season moist and warm comes in;
By her the earth is made to bloom with flowers
Of every kind; her course is also run
When three more months their transformation bring.
Next Summer, warm and very dry, appears;
By her Earth's bosom is released from damp
And, warmed from chilliness, is made to bear;
Her period in three more months is run.
The Autumn quickly comes upon his way,
A season dry and cold in which alas
The beauty of the flowers is all destroyed;
His rapid course in three more months is passed.
Through these four transformations runs the sun;
He makes his circuit in the dozen months
Which form the year and sheds his light on all
Beneath the sky. The splendor of his beams
Fills all the earth with mild increasing warmth;
With rapid course he summons things to life
And makes with gentle heat all trees to bud.
From him the moon receives her gleaming light
And all the wandering stars, the planets seven,
And likewise those whose shining orbs are fixed.
So understand the work, how to refer
The four mutations to one simple form
And from the four to make the work complete,
Seven coloured, even as the planets seven,
Whence Nature gets her species, kinds and forms,
Whence Luna's metal takes a whitened hue
And whence proceeds the yellow principle
(That gives a second splendid purple tint)
Which brightening all bodies tinges them
The brilliant golden colour of the sun.
The white, augmented thrice within a fire,
In three day's time is altogether changed
To lasting yellow and this yellow then
Will give its hue to every whitened form.
This power to tinge and shape produces gold
And thus a wondrous marvel is revealed.
Though not a stone, it yet is made a stone
From metal, having three hypostases,
For which the stone is prized and widely known;
Yet all the ignorant search everywhere
As though the prize were not close by at hand.
Deprived of honor yet the stone is found
To have within a sacred mystery,
A treasure hidden and yet free to all.
A dragon springs therefrom which, when exposed
In horse's excrement for twenty days,
Devours his tail till naught thereof remains.
This dragon, whom they Ouroboros call,
Is white in looks and spotted in his skin,
And has a form and shape most strange to see.
When he was born he sprang from out the warm
And humid substance of united things.
The close embrace of male and female kind,
-A union which occurred within the sea-
Brought forth this dragon, as already said;
A monster scorching all the earth with fire,
With all his might and panoply displayed,
He swims and comes unto a place within
The currents of the Nile; his gleaming skin
And all the bands which girdle him around
Are bright as gold and shine with points of light,
This dragon seize and slay with skillful art
Within the sea, and wield with speed thy knife
With double edges hot and moist, and then,
His carcass having cleft in twain, lift out
The gall and bear away its blackened form,
All heavy with the weight of earthy bile;
Great clouds of steaming mist ascend therefrom
And these become on rising dense enough
To bear away the dragon from the sea
And lift him upward to a station warm,
The moisture of the air his lightened shape
And form sustaining; be most careful then
All burning of his substance to avoid
And change its nature to a stream divine
With quenching draughts; then pour the mercury
Into a gaping urn and when its stream
Of sacred fluid stops to flow, then wash
Away with care the blackened dross of earth.
Thus having brightened what the darkness hid
Within the dragon's entrails thou wilt bring
A mystery unspeakable to light;
For it will shine exceeding bright and clear,
And, being tinged a perfect white throughout,
Will be revealed with wondrous brilliancy,
Its blackness having all been changed to white;
For when the cloud-sent water flows thereon
It cleanses every dark and earthy stain.
Thus he doth easily release himself
By drinking nectar, though completely dead;
He poureth out to mortals all his wealth
And by his help the Earth-born are sustained
Abundantly in life, when they have found
The wondrous mystery, which, being fixed
Will turn to silver, dazzling bright in kind,
A metal having naught of earthy taint,
So brilliant, clear and wonderfully white.
Then seize again this dragon changed to white
(A change divinely wrought, as I have said,
By means of albifaction twice performed)
And slaying him again with knife of fire
Draw all his blood which gushes blazing hot
And red as shining flame when it ignites.
Then dip the dragon's skin into the blood
Which issued from his belly's gory wound
(As thou wouldst dip a whitened robe in dye
Of murex purple); so wilt thou obtain
A brilliant glory, shining as the sun,
Of goodly form and gladdening the heart
Of mortals who behold its excellence.
They praise the gift with wise and joyous words
As one divinely sent and great in worth;
And thus they speak and voice their thankfulness.
O work divine, well-pleasing and concise!
O beauty brilliant with an aspect clear!
O marriage and conjunction most renowned!
O husband in a single union joined!
O wife united by affection deep!
O offspring famous and with glory filled!
O progeny of splendor, light and worth!
O robe with gold and silver overlaid!
O double-folded mantle bright as snow!
O metal which with gleaming silver teems!
O clear refreshing river of the sea!
O water than the loosened earth more free!
O ether rising far above the earth!
O clouds transformed from blackness into white!
O brilliant coloured glory of the heaven!
O light which shines to all beneath the sky!
O system and bright circuit of the stars!
O lunar light reflected from the sun!
O sun whose darting beams engender gold!
From these the work of every sage begins
To reap in practise some deserving end;
In thee appears the object of our search;
Thou shinest scattering thy wondrous light,
A treasure most desired, all filled with pearls;
And bringing gain and wealth to mortal men.
Who, then, beholding the great universe
Which Thou hast wisely wrought, -a well-designed
Production, made with singleness of art,
And faith inspiring in its glorious works-
Entranced with wonder would not be amazed?
He would extoll the boundless providence
Of reason's God and praise the sympathy
Which He, in ways both wise and manifold,
To us declares. As Lord beneficent
He wishes all mankind a happy life
And wealth by their activities to gain.
Then let us shape life's course with reverence
And cherish piety's clear beacon light,
Our pathways brightening with godly deeds,
Our neighbor loving and the foreign guest;
And day and night with supplicating prayers
Our adoration pay, as servants wise,
To God the Lord, all-seeing King of all,
Forgiveness asking for our trespasses
And that all kin from danger may be spared
And from temptations freed, as they arise;
And let us never undertake a work
Unless we give the praise therefore to God,
The Father, who begot the only Son,
The Son, the holy Word from God produced,
The Holy Ghost, proceeding too from Him,
Both now and always evermore. Amen.