Theophilus Presbyter was the pen name of a Germanic polymath, active during the early 12th century. Sometime around 1120 Presbyter published a Latin volume entitled De Diversis Artibus (‘The Diverse Arts’), in which he shared his knowledge of science, metalworking and alchemy. In this extract, contemporised but otherwise unchanged, Theophilus takes us through some comprehensive instructions for making gold:
1. Locate or prepare an underground house, with “all sides of stone” and “two openings so small that scarcely any [sunlight] is visible”.
2. Into this house place “two cocks of 12 to 15 years old and give them sufficient food”. When the cocks have “become fatted”, allow them to mate with hens until the hens lay eggs.
3. Expel the chickens and replace them with large toads, which are to “keep the eggs warm”.
4. “From the hatched eggs there [shall hatch] male chickens, like hen’s chickens, which after seven days [will] grow serpents’ tails.” These must be kept in a room or cellar lined with stone or they will burrow into the earth.
5. After six months, burn these creatures alive until they are “completely consumed” and burnt to ashes.
6. Gather up the ashes and “pulverise them, adding a third part of the blood of a red-haired man”, mixed with some “sharp vinegar”.
7. Spread this mixture over “the thinnest plates of purest red copper… and place them in the fire”. When they become red hot, take from the fire and cool, then repeat this step until “the preparation penetrates through the copper and takes on the weight and colour of gold.”
Philip Dormer Stanhope (1694-1773) was an English Whig politician and, from his father’s death in 1726, the fourth Earl of Chesterfield. Stanhope was born in Westminster and educated by tutors before studying at Cambridge. After completing a grand tour of Europe he returned to London and, in 1715, won a seat in the House of Commons. Stanhope’s maiden speech was a fiery attack on the Tories; according to an apocryphal legend they responded by threatening to fine him £500 for speaking in the Commons before his 21st birthday, which was still six weeks away. Stanhope survived this early hiccup to serve more than 50 years as a parliamentarian. He also spent several years on the continent as a diplomat and ambassador. Stanhope’s best known literacy legacy was a collection of letters he wrote to his son, also named Philip, during the 1740s and 1750s. Most of Stanhope’s letters are informative, educational and advisory, an attempt to prepare his son for the earldom – however he occasionally lapsed into whimsy.
In October 1753 Stanhope penned a long missive to Philip Junior that explored Jewish culture, Turkish history and how to conduct oneself around women. Stanhope interrupted this lecture to tell his son he had purchased a new dog:
“I have had a barbet [water dog] brought me from France, so exactly like [your dog] Sultan that he has been mistaken for him several times, only his snout is shorter and his ears longer than Sultan’s. [I] have acquired him the name of Loyola… My Loyola, I pretend, is superior to your Sultan… I must not omit too that when he breaks wind, he smells exactly like Sultan.”
The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (now Bodrum, on the south-west coast of Turkey) was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was built in the 4th century BC to house the remains of the powerful Persian governor Mausolus and Artemisia, his sister and wife. The site of the mausoleum was excavated in the mid-1850s by British archeologist Charles Thomas Newton. Among Newton’s discoveries were remnants of gigantic stone horses that sat atop the mausoleum roof. These horses were originally more than five metres tall and exquisitely carved from local marble. According to Newton, they were also well endowed. Writing several years later, he recalled having to tow the back half of a Halicarnassus horse through local streets – causing women to swoon at the sight of its enormous genitals:
“After being duly hauled out, he was placed on a sledge and dragged to the shore by 80 Turkish workmen. On the walls and house-tops as we went along sat the veiled ladies of Bodrum. They had never seen anything so big before, and the sight overcame the reserve imposed upon them by Turkish etiquette. The ladies of Troy gazing at the wooden horse as he entered the breach, could not have been more astonished.”
Fragments of the horses are held by the British Museum – though as with other foreign artefacts there is pressure to return them to their place of origin.