“The Destruction of one thing is the birth of another.” – Aristotle
This time we look at plate seven as we continue our analysis of the illustrated plates of the alchemical text of the Splendor Solis. The third parable shows us a scene where an elderly king is drowning in the background, his arms raised, flailing, as he calls for help. The accompanying text describes how the drowning king begged and offered his kingdom to anyone that could save him from his death: “Whoever saves me shall live and reign with me forever in my brightness on my royal throne”.
A younger king stands in the foreground, paying no heed to the older king. The younger king is dressed in the same golden robe of his drowning counterpart. In his hands he holds a golden scepter adorned with seven stars, and a golden disc upon which a dove has perched. The reason for the young man’s inattention to the older king is because he does not exist in the same time space. The text describes to us how the old king was taken under, but then reborn the next day from the earth as the new king; the old king must die before the new king is born.
Within the stages of physical alchemy there is a set referred to as the drowning king; this is the dissolution step of the Nigredo process. This is when the alchemists would take their chemically calcified ashes and dissolve them into water. The water itself would absorb the ashes, the word we use to describe this solution, an elixir, comes from the Arabic:
Al-iksir translates to “from the ashes”.
We see this old king/ new king story in many of the old myths: Zeus was swallowed by his father Kronos because he feared that Zeus would grow-up and usurp his throne. Zeus attempted to do the same with Metis, which resulted in the birth of Athena.
Horus could not exist until his father Osiris was drowned and then dismembered. Basic Freudian psychology tells us that every son wishes the death of his father (and we won’t comment on daughters; forget Oedipus, Electra had a real grudge)
The golden scepter the young king holds means that it is his turn to reign, and the seven stars could mean that he has been given divine sanction to walk the path. The idea of ‘the king’ is immortal, but immortality is given within the circle of life and death, not within the single cycle of the individual.
The golden disc the young man holds resembles an apple.
Perhaps it is one of the mythical apples of Hera’s Garden of Hesperides where the golden apples of immortality grew – think of the golden bough. Or perhaps it is the fruit of tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which likewise could yield immortality (or permanent exile from the Garden).
This panel is also a move away from the overly ornate frames and back to the standard flora and fauna golden frames that surround most of the plates in this collection. It still retains two additional panels in the bottom of the frame, both of which are as ambiguous as they are intriguing:
The left panel shows a human female and a satyr embracing sheltered under a tree as a man with a club moves to attack them. The right shows almost the same scene, but the tree has been transformed into a man who seems to be attempting to shelter the couple from the attack.
Is this an analog to the Tarot card known as the Lovers? Or is there some other deeper, alchemical meaning hidden in the symbolism?
Questions, images, and archetypes worth meditating on.
Until plate eight, keep meditating. We will be – until then…
Sweet alchemical dreams…