Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Wilkins, Lib II, Cap X "Of subterranean lamps"...

Note: this article has now moved to wilkins-lib-ii-cap-x-of-subterranean-lamps on Cipher Mysteries

Having just bought a print-on-demand copy of John Wilkins' book "Mathematical Magick: Or The Wonders That may be Performed by Mechanical Geometry", I found that it was (mostly) placed online in 2006 as part of "The Mathematical and Philosophical Works of the Right Rev. John Wilkins", (re-)published in 1802 - there's a free version on Google Books, available for free download here. If you go to page 247, you can also see his 1668 essay on a philosophical language which D'Imperio mentions in her section 9.3 "Pasigraphy: Universal and Synthetic Languages".
All the same, because I was interested in the "perpetual lamp" section of Wilkins' "Mathematical Magick", and the online text version was somewhat flawed, I thought I'd post a more usable/readable version here of Book 2 Chapter 10 (page numbers as per "Mathematical Magick"). PS: I like the animated statue story on p.237: it has a proper Indiana Jones feel to it! :-)
C A P. X.

Of subterraneous lamps : divers historical relations concerning their duration for many hundred years together.

Unto this kind of Chymical experiments, we may most probably reduce those perpetual lamps, which for many hundred years together have continued burning without any new supply in the sepulchres of the Ancients, and might (for ought we know) have remained so for ever. All fire, and especially flame, being of an active and stirring nature, it cannot therefore subsist without motion; whence it may seem, that this great enquiry hath been this way accomplished: And therefore it will be worth our examination to search further into the particulars that concern this experiment. Though it be not so proper to the chief purpose of this discourse, which concerns Mechanical Geometry; yet the subtility


and curiosity of it, may abundantly requite the impertinency.
There are sundry Authors who treat of this Subjection by the by, and in some particular passages, but none that I know of (except Fortunius Licetus) [margin: Lib. de reconaitis antiquarum Lucernis] that hath writ purposely any set and large discourse concerning it: out of whom I shall borrow many of those relations and opinions, which may most naturally conduce to the present enquiry.
For our fuller understanding of this, there are these particulars to be explained:
1. οτι, or quod sit.
2. δίοτι, / cur sit. / quomodo sit.

1. First then, for the οτι, or that there have been such lamps, it may be evident from sundry plain and undeniable testimonies: Saint Austin [margin: De Civit. Dei. l. 21 cap.6] mentions one of them in a Temple dedicated to Venus, which was always exposed to the open weather, and could never be consumed or extinguished. To him assents the judicious


Zanchy. Pancyrollus mentions a Lamp found in his time [margin: De deperd. Tit. 35. De operibus Dei, part 1. l. 4. c. 12.], in the sepulcher of Tullia, Cicero's daughter, which had continued there for about 1550 years, but was presently extinguished upon the admission of new air. And it is commonly related of Cedrenus, that in Justinian's time there was another burning lamp found in an old wall at Edessa [margin: Or Antioch. Licetus de Lucernis, l. 1. c. 7.], which had remained so for above 500 years, there being a crucifix placed by it, whence it should seem, that they were in use also amongst some Christians.
But more especially remarkable is that relation celebrated by so many Authors, concerning Olybius his lamp, which had continued burning for 1500 years. The story is thus: as a rustic was digging the ground by Padua, he found an Urn or earthen pot, in which there was another Urn, and in this lesser, a lamp clearly burning; on each side of it there were two other vessels, each of them full of a pure liquor; the one of gold, the other of silver. Ego chymice artis,


(simodo vera potest esse ars Chymia) jurare ausim elementa & materiam omnium, (saith Maturantius, who had the possession of these things after they were taken up.) On the bigger of these Urns there was this inscription:

Plutoni sacrum munus ne attingite fures.
Ignotum est vobis hoc quod in orbe latet,
Namque elementa gravi clausit digesta labore.
Vase sub hoc modico,
Maximus Olybius.
Adsit faecundo custos sibi copia cornu,
Ne tanti pretium depereat laticis.

The lesser urn was thus inscribed:

Abite hinc pessimi fures,
Vos quid vultis, vestris cum oculis emissitiis?
Abite hinc vestro cum Mercurio
Petaesato Caduceatoque,
Donum hoc maximum,
Maximus Olybius
Plutoni sacrum facit.

Whence we may probably conjecture that it was some Chymical secret,


by which this was contrived.
Baptista Porta [margin: Mag. Natural. l.12. c.ult.] tells us of another lamp burning in an old marble sepulcher, belonging to some of the ancient Romans, inclosed in a glass vial, found in his time, about the year 1550, in the Isle Nesis, which had been buried there before our Saviour's coming.
In the tomb of Pallas, the Arcadian who was slain by Turnus in the Trojan war, there was found another burning lamp, in the year of our Lord 1401. [margin: Chron. Martin Fort. licet. de lucern. l.1 c.11] Whence it should seem, that it had continued there for above two thousand and six hundred years: and being taken out, it did remain burning, notwithstanding either wind or water, with which some did strive to quench it ; nor could it be extinguished till they had spilt the liquor that was in it.
Ludovicus Vives tells us of another lamp, that did continue burning for 1050 years, which was found a little before his time. [margin: Not. ad August. de.Civit.Dei, l.21.c.6]
Such a lamp is likewise related to


be seen in the sepulchre of Francis Rosicross, as is more largely expressed in the confession of that fraternity.
There is another relation of a certain man, who upon occasion digging somewhat deep in the ground did meet with something like a door, having a wall on each hand of it; from which having cleared the earth, he forced opon this door, upon this there was discovered a fair Vault, and towards the farther side of it, the statue of a man in Armour, sitting by a table, leaning upon his left arm, and holding a scepter in his right hand, with a lamp burning before him; the floor of this Vault being so contrived, that upon the first step into it, the statue would erect itself from its leaning posture ; upon the second step it did lift up the scepter to strike, and before a man could approach near enough to take hold of the lamp, the statue did strike and break it to pieces. Such care was there taken that it might not be stolen away, or discovered.
Our learned Cambden in his description [margin: pag. 572]


of Yorkshire, speaking of the tomb of Constantius Chlorus, broken up in these later years, mentions such a lamp to be found within it.
There are sundry other relations to this purpose. Quod ad lucernas attinet, illae in omnibus fere monumentis inveniuntur, (saith Jutherius). In most of the ancient Monuments there is some kind of lamp, (though of the ordinary sort): But those persons who were of greatest note and wisdom, did procure such as might last without supply, for so many ages together. Pancirollus tells us, [margin: De perdit. Ti o2] that it was usual for the nobles amongst the Romans, to take special care in their last wills, that they might have a lamp in their Monuments. And to this purpose they did usually give liberty unto some of their slaves on this condition, that they should be watchful in maintaining and preserving it. From all which relations, the first particular of this enquiry, concerning the being or existence of such lamps, may sufficiently appear.

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