There’s a famous alchemical work called the Rosary of the Philosopher’s, or Rosarium Philosophorum, which features 20 woodcut illustrations. They are very famous, having been printed and reprinted a number of times.
An English translation of the version printed in 1550 can be found here:
It contains a number of quotes, real and otherwise, from earlier alchemists such as Geber, (pseudo-) Arnald of Villanova, Senior etc.
One of the illustrations is of a green lion eating the sun, which could be taken as meaning it is a substance which absorbs gold, indeed the translation says as much,
“Of Our Mercury which is the Green Lion Devouring the Sun”
There is also the text:
“I am the true green and Golden Lion without cares,
In me all the secrets of the Philosophers are hidden.”
associated with the picture.
Now, this text is often taken as being one about spiritual alchemy. The problem with that is that that general approach (espeically with regards to claims by Jung and other esotericists) has been discredited as regarding the actual position of alchemy in Europe in the16th century and earlier.
Which leaves us with an interesting question – how can the green lion eat gold?
And one obvious assumption – that the text maps onto physical operations. I should point out straight away that a lot of medieval alchemy is simply the author re-writing previous authors, changing the emphasis of the words and concepts used and inventing or bringing to prominence different names which may or may not cover the same substance or concept. Which makes finding the way through the texts rather difficult.
In some medieval alchemical texts, gold is certainly consumed by mercury to form an amalgam on which further work is carried out. So if the green lion is a mercury compound then it can surely consume gold. If it is sulphuric acid, it cannot, but what it could do is react with other metals present and form strange compounds. And if the sun referred to is not specifically gold, but sulphur or suchlike, then you can still get some odd reactions taking place. Continue reading