Saturday, January 7, 2017

Latin Reader (8): Appone mulieri super mammas bufonem

Today, it's Emblem V from Michael Maier's Atalanta fugiens: Appone mulieri super mammas bufonem. This emblem goes in a very weird direction, as you can see:

Appone mulieri super mammas bufonem, ut ablactet eum, et moriatur mulier, sitque bufo grossus de lacte.

Apply a toad (appone bufonem) to a woman's breasts (mulieri super mammas) so that she might nurse him (ut ablactet eum), and let the woman die (et moriatur mulier), and let the toad grow thick (sitque bufo grossus) with milk (de lacte).

For a hand-colored version, see Adam McLean's website: Emblem V.

And a detail of the toad:

Here's the poem:

Foemineo gelidus ponatur pectore Bufo,
Instar ut infantis lactea pocla bibat.
Crescat et in magnum vacuata per ubera tuber,
Et mulier vitam liquerit aegra suam.
Inde tibi facies medicamen nobile, virus
Quod fuget humano corde, levetque luem.

Let a cold Toad be placed (gelidus ponatur Bufo) upon a woman's chest (foemineo pectore), like a baby (instar infantis) so that it might drink (ut bibat) cups of milk (lactea pocla). And let it grow (crescat et) through the emptied teats (vacuata per ubera) into a great swelling (in magnum tuber), and the woman, sickened (et mulier aegra) will abandon her life (vitam liquerit suam). In that way (inde) you will make for yourself (tibi facies) a noble medicine (medicamen nobile) which can drive out poison (virus quod fuget) from the human heart ( humano corde) and can remove plague (levetque luem).

This is a gruesome business, and Maier even seems rather appalled himself, as he notes in the commentary:

Miserum hoc et horrendum spectaculum est, imo et impium, quod lac infanti destinatum bufoni, bestiae venenosae et naturae humanae adversanti praebendum sit.

This is a wretched spectacle (miserum hoc spectaculum est) and horrifying (et horrendum), even wicked (imo et impium) that milk for a baby (quod lac infanti destinatum) be offered to a toad (bufoni praebendum sit), a poisonous beast (bestiae venenosae) and hostile to human nature (et naturae humanae adversanti).

The death of the woman in the emblem reminds him of Cleopatra who placed serpents at her breasts (viperas mammis admovit) so that she would not be taken alive by her conquerors.

It turns out, though, that what this emblem is supposed to signify is the Toadstone, which you can read about at Wikipedia: Toadstone. Maier describes the Toadstone as a type of gold (hence the alchemical connection), a stone inside the Toad which exceeds the power of mineral gold:

[lapis], quem alii Boracem, Chelonitin, Batrachiten, Crapaudinam aut garatronium vocant. Hic enim auro longe praevalet virtute contra venena quaecumque animalium.

A stone (lapis) which others call (quem alii vocant), Borax, Chelonitis, Batrachitis, Crapaudine or garatronium. For this stone (hic enim) far exceeds gold (auro longe praevalet) in its power against any kind of animal poison (virtute contra venena quaecumque animalium).

So, this is the first bit of "animal medicine" that has made an appearance so far in Maier's book. I wonder if there will be more of this to come! I'm very interested in things like this, especially the Shamir. Given that the Shamir was connected by legend to King Solomon, perhaps it will make an appearance in the alchemical world too.

As for the toad sucking at the woman's breasts, this sounds more diabolical than alchemical, as the toad was one of the animals notorious as a familiar of witches.

And now for your listening pleasure — a choral performance or just the musical fugue:

And the following is a list of the emblems I have completed so far:

Emblem I: Portavit eum ventus in ventre suo.
Emblem II: Nutrius ejus terra est.
Emblem III: Vade ad mulierem
Emblem IV: Conjunge fratrem cum sorore
Emblem V: Appone mulieri super mammas bufonem
Emblem XXXVI: Lapis projectus

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