What is the philosopher’s stone?

May 3, 2017 | Author: | Posted in General Knowledge

A person looking for a short-cut to riches is said to be searching for the philosopher’s stone. In Poor Richard’s Almanac Benjamin Franklin said: “If you know how to spend less than you get, you have the philosopher’s stone.”

The ancient alchemists believed that somewhere in nature there existed a substance that would transmute all ordinary metals into gold. This imaginary substance was called the philosopher’s stone because it was supposed to have a philosophic basis and was linked with the theories of matter advanced by the philosophers.

The idea of transmuting base metals into noble ones seems to have originated among the Greeks of Alexandria in the early centuries of the Christian Era. In medieval times the philosopher’s stone was reputed not only to have the property of transmuting the baser metals into gold but also the power of prolonging life indefinitely and curing most of the ills that the body is heir to. Accordingly it became synonymous with elixir vitae (“the elixir of life”).

Elixir is believed to be derived either from an Arabic root signifying “powder” or a Greek root signifying “dry.” The elixir of life was conceived as some substance, such as a drug, essence or tincture, that was supposed to be capable of transmuting base metals into gold and prolonging life indefinitely. In Shakespeare‘s Antony and Cleopatra the Egyptian queen says to Alexas:

How much unlike art thou Mark Antony!

Yet, coming from him, that great medicine hath

With, his tinct gilded thee.

Hence the term became synonymous with philosopher’s stone and was applied to any alleged panacea or “cure-all.” Some of the medieval alchemists supposed the philosopher’s stone to be “a perfect ruby.”

The dual function of the magic substance is referred to in Shakespeare’s II King Henry IV, where Sir John Falstaff, who has monetary designs on Master Shallow, says: “I will make him a philosopher’s two stones to me.”

The Fool, in Timon of Athens, says: ” ‘Tis a spirit: sometime ‘t appears . . . like a philosopher, with two stones moe than’s artificial one.”

According to one version of the legend, the philosopher’s stone was buried at the foot of the rainbow. Another version had it that if one were to dig at the spot where the rainbow touches the ground he would find a pot of gold. Visionaries and dreamers who try to achieve the impossible are sometimes called “rainbow chasers,” because they are said to be seeking the philosopher’s stone or the pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow.


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