Insolent vaunt of Paracelsus, that he would restore the original rose or violet out of the ashes settling from its combustion…
—De Quincey: Writings, XIII, 345.
Down in his laboratory, to which the two rooms of the cellar had been given over, Paracelsus prayed to his God, his indeterminate God—any God—to send him a disciple.
Night was coming on. The guttering fire in the hearth threw irregular shadows into the room. Getting up to light the iron lamp was too much trouble. Paracelsus, weary from the day, grew absent, and the prayer was forgotten. Night had expunged the dusty retorts and the furnace when there came a knock at his door. Sleepily he got up, climbed the short spiral staircase, and opened one side of the double door. A stranger stepped inside. He too was very tired. Paracelsus gestured toward a bench; the other man sat down and waited. For a while, neither spoke.
The master was the first to speak.
“I recall faces from the West and faces from the East,” he said, not without a certain formality, “yet yours I do not recall. Who are you, and what do you wish of me?”
“My name is of small concern,” the other man replied. “I have journeyed three days and three nights to come into your house. I wish to become your disciple. I bring you all my possessions.”
He brought forth a pouch and emptied its contents on the table. The coins were many, and they were of gold. He did this with his right hand. Paracelsus turned his back to light the lamp; when he turned around again, he saw that the man’s left hand held a rose. The rose troubled him.
He leaned back, put the tips of his fingers together, and said:
“You think that I am capable of extracting the stone that turns all elements to gold, and yet you bring me gold. But it is not gold I seek, and if it is gold that interests you, you shall never be my disciple.”
“Gold is of no interest to me,” the other man replied. “These coins merely symbolize my desire to join you in your work. I want you to teach me the Art. I want to walk beside you on that path that leads to the Stone.”
“The path is the Stone. The point of departure is the Stone. If these words are unclear to you, you have not yet begun to understand. Every step you take is the goal you seek.” Paracelsus spoke the words slowly.
The other man looked at him with misgiving.
“But,” he said, his voice changed, “is there, then, no goal?”
“My detractors, who are no less numerous than imbecilic, say that there is not, and they call me an impostor. I believe they are mistaken, though it is possible that I am deluded. I know that there is a Path.”
There was silence, and then the other man spoke.
This is exclusive content for subscribers only – subscribe at this low introductory rate for immediate access!
Unlock this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, by subscribing at the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue – that’s 10 issues online plus six months of full archive access for just $10.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.
å© Jorge Luis Borges 1983, Andrew Hurley 1998