Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Net ... and the Alkahest

From yesterday's post about Diana's Tree, I learned about The Net, another alchemical notion that resonates with classical mythology. The Wikipedia article focuses on Newton's recipe for the Net, which is an alloy of copper (Venus) and iron (Mars), as "caught" by Vulcan, the fiery god of metallurgy, using a net.

That article leads me in two directions, one alchemical... and one Indian (Indra's Net!). I'll save the Indian one for tomorrow, and follow the alchemical trail today which leads to George Starkey, an alchemist in colonial America! Born in Bermuda, he later moved to New England and attended Harvard College. He moved from New England to London in 1650, and he died in London's Great Plague of 1655.

He wrote under the pseudonym Eirenaeus Philalethes. Apparently Newton was much indebted to Starkey in his alchemical research. Starkey/Eirenaeus was a prolific writer; there is a long list of works here. One of his quests was to obtain the alkahest, a universal solvent. I will read about that one later too! Starkey even prepared an alkahest that he thought could counteract the Plague... but he succumbed to the Plague nevertheless.

Hathi Trust has a nice copy that has both the English and Latin texts of Starkey's Alkahest:


  1. Robert Boyle, sometimes credited as the father of chemistry and the destroyer of alchemy, worked closely with Starkey. Boyle wanted to study the teachings of Philalethes, whom Boyle thought was a different, much older, and more powerful alchemist. When Starkey died, Newton wrote to Boyle asking Boyle to share Starkey's notes.

  2. Thank you, John! I need to start paying attention to Boyle too! I see his name coming up, although he's not someone who was on my radar before as some of these other fellows were I'm coming at this from a literary direction rather than a scientific one. :-)