Sol gold is, and
Luna silver we declare,
Mars yron,
Mercurie is quyksilver,
Saturnus leed,
and Jupiter is tyn,
And Venus coper,
by my fathers kyn


(Chaucer 1386)






Planets and Metals
The Traditional Association of the Moon and Silver by Nick Kollerstrom


Sun - Gold | Moon - Silver
Mercury - Quicksilver
Venus - Copper | Mars - Iron
Jupiter - Tin | Saturn - Lead


The Sun, one of the two pre-eminent planets known to antiquity, is linked to the noble metal gold, a metal of bright yellow colour and resplendent lustre. Because of its resilience and lustre, the ancients used gold as a symbol of immortal and indestructible power, and the wealth that was linked with the concept of power. It was worked into ornaments and coins and these have displayed the symbolic association of gold by resisting the corrosion of the millennia. A famous and outstanding masterpiece is the mask of King Tutankhamun crafted well over 1000 years BC.

The other noble metal is silver, comparatively scarce in nature but easily beaten into shapes where its gleaming silver colour reminded the ancients of the Moon. In early Rome 'Luna' and a crescent symbol were its hallmarks. Apart from magnificent ornaments, the chief use of this precious metal was as coinage, especially in ancient Greece, where it financed Athenian power and dominance for centuries.

Mercury, otherwise known as Quicksilver was available throughout the ancient world, from Egypt to India, China, and beyond. 'Quick' means 'live' and it certainly was very mobile and silvery as it condensed during the roasting of its vermilion cinnabar ore. It was probably used in fine techniques of cloisonné and related crafts. Its planet is obviously Mercury.

Lead, a very heavy dense metal, was possibly the first ever smelted due to its low melting point. Limited to coins and medallions in ancient Egypt, the Romans used it in great quantities for watermains, cisterns and pipes, many of which lay underground. Its resistive properties have, in fact, made it ideal in modern times for the protection of batteries, electric cables and shields against radioactivity. Saturn is clearly its planet.

Around 4000 BC, the potters of antiquity living in Egypt and Mesopotamia accidentally produced beads of molten copper while firing their pots decorated with pigments of malachite ore. So from beauty came beauty; an attractive golden metal, easily worked into ornaments, utensils, tools and weapons, and abundant in supply. One of its chief sources was Cyprus, from the word 'Cypris' meaning Venus whom they worshipped.

By 2000 BC these master craftsmen had discovered that by adding a small quantity of tin to molten copper, great advantages ensued. The new metal was called bronze, and its chief virtues were its hardness (the Egyptians cut granite blocks with it) and its immunity against corrosion. But tin was rather scarce, so it had to be carried expensively. It was transported vast distances along trade routes, sometimes from the far East where the secret of bronze making may first have been discovered. It quickly replaced copper as the ideal choice for tools, weapons, utensils, sculpture and ornaments. This soft, shiny, white tin, which made possible all these wonders, was conceived as Jupiter's gift to mankind. Then the unthinkable happened around 1200 BC when the 'Sea-people' marauded the Mediterranean areas and disrupted everything, including the trade routes on which the supply of tin depended. The Bronze Age collapsed quickly.

Fortunately, around this time the fierce Hittites found the secret of smelting iron, a metal which had been known for thousands of years and was much more plentiful than copper, but was considered inferior because they could not melt or cast it, and it rusted. Armed with this new technique, the ancient civilisations gradually turned iron into the most useful metal in the world. 'Iron' is a synonym for strength and resolution, and was fashioned into plentiful weapons that smashed through bronze shields. They made tools, ploughshares, chariots, chain armour, and many more strong and serviceable implements. But they were tied to the drudgery of the anvil for another 2500 years, still unable to cast iron, and unaware that the Chinese had long ago discovered how to do it. So we have a picture of the mighty muscled blacksmith at his fiery forge - and give Mars rulership of the metal whose birth came from bloodshed and war. The red colour of Mars itself is due to the iron-rich ores which have rusted on its surface.

But there is one other common metal which is even more abundant than iron and today is second only to iron in its practical uses - aluminium. This is a silvery, lustrous, very light, strong metal whose ore is found in clay, which itself forms under water. It eluded early man for 6000 years because of its intractability to smelting. Pliny wrote that a metal whiter than iron, workable like silver had been discovered in clay, but the Emperor Tiberius had ordered the discoverer beheaded so that the new metal would not depreciate his gold. Scholars in the Middle Ages referred to this mysterious, still unknown, metal as alumina. But not until 1845 did it finally reveal itself; when a German scientist, Friedrich Wohler, by chemical means, triumphantly produced the very first pure globules. At first, it was used widely for articles like cooking utensils. In the last fifty years, however, it has been suspected of imparting a slow, insidious poison to the food, so aluminium utensils have gradually been withdrawn. Of all its multitudinous uses in our modern world, what makes it most outstanding is that on its back we have ridden into thin air around our planet, and then into the void of outer space. As well as suggesting the Moon, does all this suggest Neptune to you?



HISTORICAL NOTE:

Adams computed Neptune's position in 1845, and Leverrier independently in 1846. Adams's two English contacts, Challis and Airy, took no great interest and let it lapse. Galle, Leverier's German contact, at once looked for it through his telescope - and found it within half a degree of the calculated position on 23 September 1846.




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Planets & Metals