First and most important thing – the legendary Emerald Tablet is SAID TO HOLD the secret of universe. Coming back to point, we have all heard about alchemy and many western scientists spent countless days and nights just to figure out how to convert a base metal into gold. Even Sir Isaac Newton was one of them. But, when the roots of western alchemy are traced, they lead us directly to the city of Alexandria in Hellenistic Egypt. Hermes Trismegistus of the Hellenistic era perhaps remains the most important figure in alchemy mythology.
So, who was Hermes Trismegistus? Hermes Trismegistus or Hermes the Thrice-Great was a name derived from Thoth and Hermes. Thoth was the god of wisdom for the Egyptians while Hermes was the same for the Greeks. It is being said that Hermes Trismegistus wrote what is known as The Hermetica. The Hermetica formed the roots of the philosophy for western alchemy. It is the same Hermes Trismegistus who is thought to be the author of the legendary Emerald Tablet.
Made of a green or emerald stone, the Emerald Tablet and is said to hold the secrets of the Universe but the true source of this tablet has not yet been discovered. This tablet thus remains shrouded by a number of legends, some of which are listed below:
- Some say that the tablet was recovered from a caved tomb in Tyana right from underneath the statue of Hermes (referring to the man and not the Greek god) and that it was clutched in hands of Hermes Trismegistus’ corpse.
- Some say that it was written by Seth – the third son of Adam and Eve.
- Some say that once the tablet’s location was within the Ark of the Covenant.
- Some say that the fabled Atlantis is the source of the tablet.
With no verifiable record available, the first legend remains the most widely accepted one. Book of the Secret of Creation and the Art of Nature (original name being: Kitab sirr al-haliqi) has the earliest known mentions of the Emerald Tablet.. This book, which is actually an outcome of earlier works was written in 8th century CE in Arabia by Pseudo-Apollonius or Balinas of Tyana. It was Balinas who tells how he retrieved the tablet from the caved tomb. Since the story of Balinas can be found in Kitab sirr al-haliqi, some people consider that the Emerald Tablet was originally an Arabic work belonging to the period between 6th and 8th century CE.
According to Balinas’ claim the Emerald Tablet originally had Greek origins but the original tablet that he supposedly possessed no longer existed and thus it cannot be said for sure whether it even existed or not. Despite the non-existance of the real tablet, Balinas’ work soon became popular and over the next few centuries, it went through a series of translation works alongside numerous commentaries. Second Book of the Elements of the Foundation (originally, Kitab Ustuqus al-Uss al-Thani) is yet another work which contains the early versions of Emerald Tablet. This book was written by Jabir ibn Hayyan.
The Europeans can across the text of the Emerald Tablet several centuries after Kitab sirr al-haliqi was written. Hugo von Santalla was the person to provide the first Latin translation of the tablet in 12th century. Once the western people came in contact with the text of the tablet, it soon turned into the foundation stone for western alchemy. The Emerald Tablet became extremely influential in both Renaissance and Medieval alchemy. Even Sir Isaac Netwon translated the text and his work is currently kept safe in Cambridge University’s King’s College Library.
The problem with the legendary tablet is that the text has layered meanings which is why, none of the translators hold a complete knowledge of the text. Different people come up with different interpretations. For instance, one interpretation says that the tablet sums up the 7 steps of alchemy which include (in order) calcination, dissolution, separation, conjunction, fermentation, distillation and finally coagulation. Many scientists who believed in this interpretation actually tried out chemical reactions in that order so that base metals could be transformed into gold but they failed.
To this date, people are actually encouraged to read the text and figure out the meaning on their own hoping that someone will come along who will finally manage to crack the hidden knowledge of the Emerald Tablet. However, the most stifling of all challenges is that no one ever saw the original text and all that exists today is an outcome of the Kitab sirr al-haliqi. So assuming that the tablet existed in the first place and that Balinas did manage to grab it before losing it and translated it, the question that must be asked is, ‘did Balinas translate it properly?’
The green tablet that we see today is actually a reconstruction by International Alchemy Guild. The problem with the reconstruction is that it is based on assumptions of how the tablet would have looked like in reality.