“Antimony is a semi-metal which most commonly occurs naturally as antimony sulfide, Sb₂S₃, a mineral now called stibnite. Stibnite may be reduced to antimony metal simply by heating it with charcoal or other mild reducing agent under proper conditions....
“When the whole mass has cooled, the layers may be easily separated and the upper slag discarded. Then the antimony will appear with a metallic luster. If conditions are suitable, and if the antimony has been well purified, metallic crystals will have formed. The crystals of antimony are long and slender and sometimes arrange themselves in a patterns on a sort of stem and so resemble the fronds of ferns. If certain very special conditions prevail in the purification and cooling of the metal, the crystalline ‘branches’ may be arranged around a central point and so take on the appearance of a star. The star of antimony fascinated the alchemists, and especially Newton.
“But in the seventeenth century neither the nomenclature nor the chemical understanding of the star of antimony was quite the same. In the first place, the name ‘antimony’ was then applied only to the ore, while the terms ‘regulus’ or ‘regulus of antimony’ indicated the antimony metal. In the second place, it was thought that the iron, or any other metal, used the in the reduction of the ore remained in the metallic product, whereas actually it did not if the right proportions had been used. That belief, however, gave rise to a variety of designations for metallic antimony: ‘regulus per se,’ if the metal had been formed by the heating of the ore with a non-metallic reducing agent; ‘Martial Regulus,’ if iron had been employed in the reduction (Mars being identified with iron); ‘Venereal Regulus.’ if copper had been used (Venus being equivalent to copper); and so forth. When the star appeared in the refining, the antimony was given the special designation of regulus antimonii stellatus, the ‘starred regulus of antimony.’
“Nevertheless the common method of preparation in the seventeenth century was identical with the modern one and employed the stibnite ore and iron....
“The term ‘regulus’ is another word which has changed its meaning since Newton’s time. Although now it refers to any metallic product which forms under the slag when ores are refined, then it applied only to metallic antimony. Thus the ‘regulus of iron’ did not then mean metallic iron, as it would today; rather it meant metallic antimony prepared by the use of iron. To the seventeenth-century user of that designation it would also have meant that iron was present in the regulus, as well as antimony metal, although that would not always have been the true state of chemical affairs. On occasion, it might possibly have meant to the seventeenth-century ‘chymist’ that some particular portion of the original iron, such as its ‘mercury,’ was present in the regulus.
“The word ‘regulus’ means ‘little king,’ as it is the diminutive of the Latin word for ‘king,’ rex. It has sometimes been suggested that the word came to be applied metallic antimony because of the special chemical relationships that antimony has with gold, ‘the king of metals,’ ...It has also been suggested that the term ‘regulus’ was used for the metal because the metallic regulus was something of special value obtained from the ore. But it is here suggested that perhaps metallic antimony got its name from ‘regulus’ from its ability to form a star, because there was, and is, a prominent star by that name: Regulus, a star of the first magnitude, the brightest in the constellation Leo, and also known as cor leonis, the heart of the lion. At any rate, Newton saw a relationship between ‘the regulus of antimony’ and the ‘regulus of Leo,’...so, whether the relationship originally existed or not, it is important for the present discussion. Newton - and it is at least possible that others did also - seems to have interpreted the lion of alchemical symbolism as antimony ore. The starry metallic antimony at its heart then became cor leonis of Regulus.” (146-8)
“Both Sendivogius and d’Espagnet firmly believed in ‘magnets.’ The conceived of them as matrices which drew other things - bodies or spirits - to themselves by virtue of an attractive power and then somehow made manifest and substantial a new form what had been drawn in.
“In more than one place in Keynes MS 19 Newton excerpted a passage from Sendivogius in which the ‘Magnet’ or the ‘Chalybs’ was mentioned. In his own notes keyed to that passages Newton then identified the attractive body as antimony, even though Sendivogius said never a word about antimony. In Tractate 9 of the New Light, Sendivogus had said: “There is another Chalybs which is made like this, created of itself from nature, which knows how to draw from the rays of the sun that which so many men have sought, and it is the beginning of our work.”
Newton’s response to that was as follows: “That other (and properly named) chalybs is antimony for it is created from nature of itself (without art) and it is the beginning of the work; neither are there more than two principles, Lead and Antimony.”
“Perhaps it was at that point, when Sendivogius began to emphasize ‘magnets,’ that Newton first began to see the significance of Basilius Valentinus’ idea about the ‘magnetic’ property of antimony and so identified the Sendivogian ‘Chalybs’ with antimony.
“Another example in Keynes MS 19 may be drawn from the section on the Aenigma or the Philosophical Riddle. There Sendivogius spoke of ‘our water.’
“Our water is wondrously drawn, but that is the best which is drawn by the power of our Chalybs which is found in the belly of Aries.” Newton’s comment applies to the ‘power of our Chalybs which is found in the belly of Aries,’ and in it one may see the effects of the prisca sapienta doctrine in operation. Newton said that the best water was drawn “...by the power of our sulphur which lies hid in Antimony. For Antimony was called Aries with the Ancients. Because Aries is the first Zodiac Sign in which the Sun begins to be exalted and Gold is exalted most of all in Antimony.”
“It is a chemical fact that gold can be refined or ‘exalted’ by heating it with antimony ore. In such a treatment, any metals contaminating the gold combine with the sulphur of the stibnite and all rise to the top of the molten mass as a sort of scum. The gold sinks to the bottom, along with metallic antimony, from whence the gold may be recovered in an extremely pure state. That is one of the special relationships between antimony and gold, the ‘king of metals,’ which lend credence to the idea that the use of the world ‘regulus’ for metallic antimony derives from the meaning ‘little king.’ Newton knew that gold could be refined in that manner, evidently from his general chemical reading, for it was common knowledge in the seventeenth century...
“Newton then attributed that knowledge to the ‘Ancients,’ in accord with his belief that all wisdom was anciently held by at least some wise men, and then interpreted the mystical Sendivogian phrase, ‘in the belly of Aries,’ in terms of that supposed antique knowledge. So in Keynes MS 19, in his explanatory comment on the Sendivogian passage just quoted, Newton said that antimony was called Aries by the ancients because the sun begins to be ‘exalted’ in Aries (meaning it begins to rise towards its summer zenith, for Aries is the first spring zodiacal sign) as gold, always symbolized by the sun, is ‘exalted’ or refined in antimony.” (153-4)
- “The Foundations of Newton's Alchemy, or, The Hunting of the Greene Lyon"
by Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs (1983)