Ovum Incantatum Neapolis

(The Enchanted Egg of Naples)

[image of Castle of Egg]
Contents of this Book:

i. Neapolis Condita (The Founding of Naples)

The first ones to come to Cumae were the Rasna, whom we call the Tyrrheni [Etruscans] because they were led by Tyrrhenus; they were fleeing a famine in their homeland Lycia, and this was two generations before the Trojan War. A Sibyl, Symmachia daughter of Hippotensis, departed with them from Erythrae. (This is
told by the Janae of Sardo [Sardinia], where the Rasna stopped on their journey.) After that great war, Ulysses came to consult her, and she led Aeneas down to Tartarus, as Master Vergilius tells in Book VI of the Aeneid. (These words of Neckam confuse the Erythraean and Cumaean Sibyls, as is shown in my book Sibyllina Oracula.)

In later times [c.740 BCE] Euboean Greeks were led to this place by a dove sent by Apollo Archagetes [The Founder], where they established at Cumae on the Tyrrhenian Sea the first Greek colony in Italy. One of their first actions was to build a Temple of Apollo on the acropolis overlooking the Crater [Bay of Naples]; Vergilius says it was built by Daedalus himself, who was then in flight from a certain Minos of Crete [a quodam Minoe Cretico]. The Cumaean Sibyl established herself in a cave under this temple, for Apollo is the principal God of Prophecy. Vergilius calls her Deiphobe, daughter of Glaucus (the Blue Man), and says she was a priestess of Hecate and Apollo, who are both guides through the infernal fires of Tartarus.

Parthenope [Naples] was founded by Cumae and often protected refugees from its mother city. It is said that Vergilius founded the city a.d. V Id. Jul. [July 11] in 551 B.C., but that is stupid to say. What they mean is that it was founded at that time, but that long afterwards Vergilius reconsecrated [resacruit] it to free it from a curse; perhaps that is when it was first called Neapolis (New City). For when they needed to reconsecrate the walls of Neapolis, they called on Master Vergilius, who knew the rites by which Romulus and Remus consecrated the walls of Rome. He said that they would need what is called a Griffin's Egg (Ovum Grypos), but for it they should get the Egg of an Ostrich (Ovum Struthocamelinum).

ij. Incantamentum Ovi (The Enchantment of the Egg)

And this is how Master Vergilius directed that the Griffin's Egg be constructed. First a line was made around the Egg, dividing it left and right. Then half the Egg was clad in gleaming yellow bronze, the other half was colored dark blue [complementary colors]; in these are the extremes, the hottest and coldest colors. A golden image of the Sun was placed on the bronze half, and a silver image of the Moon on the blue half.

Next, Vergilius the Magus consecrated the Egg, so that a spirit (spiritum) would dwell in it. He intoned over the Egg these words from Aristophanes' Aves [The Birds 692]:

"In the beginning of Things, black-winged Night
Into the bosom of Erebos dark and deep
Laid a wind-born Egg, and, as the seasons rolled,
Forth sprang Love, gleaming with wings of gold,
Like to the whirlings of wind, Love the Delight -
And Love with Chaos in Tartarus laid Him to sleep;
And we, His children, nestled, fluttering there,
Till He led us forth to the light of the upper air."
Circling like the Sun [i.e. clockwise], he carried the Egg around the walls of the city with a thuribulum [censer] of burning sulphur. Then he brought the Egg back to the castle and fumigated it in the vapors of the burning sulphur, while he spoke the spell:
Though many live and die, the Egg remains,
The twofold Egg that turns through night and day.
Its shell contains the Force of Life within
Protected from the Chaos that surrounds.
So also this our home shall be secure
However long the Egg is kept intact.

iij. Castrum Ovi (The Fortress of the Egg)

Since the fate of the city was bound to this egg, it was enclosed in an ampulla (a glass vessel with a narrow opening), and by Hermetic Incantations the ampulla was sealed (Ampulla Incantamentis Hermeticis obsignata est). In this way the shell of the Egg remained inviolate, so that likewise the city walls would never be violated. Then the Hermetic Flask (Vas Hermeticum) was suspended by ribbons of silver in an iron frame or cage. (This cage is still to be seen in our day.) In the same way the Sacred Egg is suspended by ribbons in the temple of the Dioscuri in Sparta, which is said to be the Egg that Leda laid and from which Castor and Pollux, twins of the day and the night, of life and death, were born. They say this Egg contains some daemon. (And to this day Enchanted Eggs are suspended in this way in mausoleums, and even churches and mosques.)

Vergilius said, "This Sacred Egg will be supported by the Four Pillars of the Heavens, which are the Four Elements." Therefore the Egg, in its cage, was placed upon four columns on a round pillar of carven bronze. This is the way it has been done from time immemorial. "The Corpse-Eaters [Sarcophagi] show fourfold columns supporting Sacred Eggs within the Sacred Circles [Circi Sacri]." (So we know from Roman reliefs that Eggs were placed on steles in the Circus.)

[image of Castle of Egg] Vergilius warned that if ever the Egg were broken, Neapolis would fall or sink into the sea. Therefore the Egg was carefully guarded, and the Stele of the Egg was hidden in a secret room (cella arcana) in the basement of a castle on the island that Pliny calls Megaris [in the Bay of Naples]. On this account the fortress became known as the Castrum Ovi [Castle of the Egg] (and in later times as the Castello dell'Ovo, which is the name by which Plutarch knew it, c. A.D. 1360). Since the castle grows out of the Neptunian element, the Salty Sea [see below concerning Salt], it is also called the Castrum Marinum [the Sea Castle] (and now the Castello Marino).

Finally, when the Egg was properly consecrated and established in the Castrum Ovi, then Vergilius worked other wonders to protect Neapolis, for he caused all the serpents to be confined beneath the walls near the gate (either the Ferrean gate or the Nolan Gate).

Again, Vergilius warned that if ever the Egg fell or broke, the castle would sink into the sea and so also the city would be destroyed. And indeed, whenever the Egg was moved, the whole city shook. (Some [e.g. Adenès li Rois in his Roman de Cléomadès, c. 1285] say that Vergilius founded two cities on two Eggs, each guarded in a castle; one city still stands, but the other sank into the sea when a disbeliever dared to test Vergilius' warning; this sunken city was called Ys.) Therefore the Sacred Egg of Neapolis is carefully guarded.

iv. Ovum Postea (The Egg in Later Years)

The Egg had protected Neapolis for more than a thousand years when Neckam wrote the foregoing, but by then the Castrum Ovi had become a ruin. Therefore, in A.D. 1154 William I, the Norman king of Neapolis, reconstructed the castle according to a design by a Venetian named Buono. He made it on an oval plan like the Egg. An embankment and bridge connected it to a spur of the Hill of St. Elmo. The castle was enlarged and beautified in many ways by Charles I of Anjou, the King of Neapolis [1266-1286], for he often enclosed himself in it. He had captured the crown by killing King Manfred at the Battle of Benevento and imprisoning his wife, called Sibylla. Dante Alighieri wrote about Manfred in that work in which Master Vergilius guides him through Hades to Heaven [Purg. III.110].

[image of Castle of Egg] A most wonderful era began in A.D. 1309, for then Robert Duke of Calabria, the third son of Charles II, he who is called "Robert the Wise," ascended the throne of Neapolis [1309-1343]. He was a true friend of scholars and had them always at his court. They called him a Second Solomon and he had an unquenchable passion for books. Then, once again, the Greek tongue flourished in Neapolis and Hellenic wisdom was widely studied.

Robert kept company with those scholars who knew the most hidden truths. He was a friend of Francesco Petrarca [Petrarch], who wrote about the images of the Trionfi (see my Preface), and together they worshipped at the Tomb of Vergilius, about which I will write more later, in ""Ossa Vergilii (The Bones of Vergilius)." When the time came for Petrarca to receive the Laurel of Apollo, it was King Robert who examined him, and he would have accompanied him to Rome had he been able. Later Robert summoned Giotto di Bondone, a friend of Dante, from Florence, for this was the advice of Giovanni Boccaccio, to come to Neapolis to be his court painter [1329-1333]; as such he painted the glorious frescos in the Shrine [Sacellum] of the Castle of the Egg.

Then a great calamity fell upon Neapolis during the reign of Queen Joanna I [1343-1381], granddaughter of Robert, who succeeded him and was as foul as he was good. Some say this happened when Ambrogio Visconti, the bastard son of the Duke of Milan, was imprisoned in the Castrum Ovi and escaped from it in 1370, for he cracked the Sacred Egg, and the walls of the castle crumbled to the ground. But I think it was at an earlier time that the Egg was damaged, because famine and plague killed one hundred thousand Neapolitans in the years 1345 to 1348, and the people lived like barbarians. In any case, when Joanna had the castle rebuilt, because she knew the castle's name, she repaired the Egg and enclosed it in a more subtlely wrought frame. There is an inscription [no longer present] on the arch, which leads from Santa Lucia to the castle's bridge:


After Joanna was killed [1382], Charles III placed himself in the Castrum Ovi, where he was besieged by Louis of Anjou. This prompted the chronicler Jean Froissart [c.1333-c.1404] to write that the Castle is "situated as it were by Enchantment in the sea, so that it is impossible to take it but by Necromancy or by the Devil's aid." And so it stood until Ferdinand II severely damaged it late in the last century [the 15th] when Charles VIII was Master of Neapolis. Therefore it has been repaired again in recent years [mid 16th cent.].

But that is enough about the Castle of the Egg.

v. De Struthione (On the Ostrich)

Now I shall explain the Secrets of the Enchantment of the Egg [Arcana Incantamenti Ovi].

Why Vergilius specified an Ostrich Egg: First, as the Physiologus explains, the ostrich is a giant bird with cloven-hoofed feet like a camel's, which lives around Alexandria; it does not lay its eggs until, near the month of June, it looks to the heavens and sees the Vergiliae, that is, the Seven Sisters (the Pleiades). Then it buries its eggs in the sandy Earth, where the Sun warms them until they hatch. The Male ostrich broods by night, but the Female by day. Thus we see the pair of the birds, one looking up to the Sun, the other down to its three Eggs. Therefore, the Ostrich Egg is nurtured by the combined virtues of the Earth and the Sun, and the Male and the Female watch over it, and by their twofold gaze they hatch the Egg. Therefore also is the Ostrich Egg called Vigilia (Vigilance), for it is as a lens that focuses and concentrates the vigilance of its parents, which guard by day and night. There are a people in hidden caves in the Hombori Mountains in Africa (the Dogon), who say that the Ostrich combines the forces of Light and Water; the light because of the way their eggs are incubated, and water because of the fluid undulation of the birds when they run.

vi. De Ovo Sacro (Concerning the Sacred Egg)

Thus the Ostrich Egg contains in itself the essence of creation, life, resurrection, and vigilance, which is why the Greeks, the Chaldeans and many others hang Ostrich eggs in their tombs.

Orpheus said that the Primordial Egg is the formless matter that is the Mother and Nurse of the Elements; it is Being itself; so it is called the Beginning of Creation (Archê Geneseôs). Therefore an Orphic Initiate will not eat an egg because it is the principle of life itself; so also in the Bacchanalia, eggs are offered to Dionysus because the Egg is the source and mother of all things.

Therefore in the Fourth Dictum of that ancient book of Pythagorean Lore called Turba Philosophorum (The Gathering of Sages) we read that the Egg is the Vessel in which the Alchemical Birth takes place. The Shell (Testa) is Earth and the Membrane (Hymen) is Air; this is the Conjunctio Oppositorum Minor (Lesser Conjunction of Opposites). The White (Album) is Water and the Yellow (Luteum) is Fire; this is the Conjunctio Oppositorum Major (Greater Conjunction of Opposites), formed in the Abyssal Water and Central Fire of Tartarus. The Chick is the Point of the Sun (Punctus Solis) where all the Opposites unite and the Opus Magnum (Great Work) is accomplished.

Thus for purification we combine, as Husband and Wife, two holy things, first Sulphur, which the Greeks call Theion, which means Holy, and second the Unbroken Egg, for its intact shell protects inside the twofold Mercurial Spirit, for the Ostrich Egg is illumined by the Mother's and Father's gazes, and incubated in its White Ark (Arca Alba) by the Earth and Sun.

For this reason the Ovum Orphicum (Orphic Egg) is half light and half dark, for the halves are Heaven [light] and Earth [dark], the aetherial power of the Male and the material power of the Female; though now separated, they always yearn to be reunited. The hot beam of Father Sun seeks to enter the body of Mother Earth. Thereby the Egg is incubated. But now the fiery god Mars, whose color is red and who wields the force of Eris (Strife), couples with the sea-born goddess Venus, whose color is green and who wields the force of Eros (Love); from their union Harmonia is born. So also Jove, who is called Maius, mates with Maia, who bears him Mercurius, the Twofold God [see also "The Birth of Vergilius" regarding Maius and Maia].

In this way, according to the alchemists, the Solar power of Sulphur unites with the Earthly power of Salt to yield the Mercurial power of Quicksilver, for quicksilver gets its mobility from sulphur, which it hot and mobile, and it gets its coolness from salt, which is cool and immobile. So also we may say that the Moon borrows its active power from the Sun (as Quicksilver does from Sulphur), and it borrows its materiality from the Earth (as Quicksilver does from Salt). Therefore nature exists on three planes: the Terrestrial, the Lunar and the Celestial, for the Moon is the most heavenly of earthly bodies, and the most earthly of heavenly bodies, for indeed it partakes equally of both realms.

Therefore it is truest to say that the Moon is a Hermaphrodite, having both male and female aspects, Lunus and Luna, who are like Eros and Psyche [Love and Soul], or Animus and Anima [masculine and feminine words for Soul]. Therefore also the Moon is as a female to Heaven and as a male to Earth, for it is a Mean between the Extremes, for the Moon unites Heaven and Earth, as Psyche [Soul] unites Soma [Body] and Nous [Mind], that is, as Quicksilver unites Salt and Sulphur.

And so the Sun as Celestial Father sees everything below as a twofold feminine potency, revealing the two aspects of matter: the lower, which is of the Earth, and the upper, which is of the Moon. The Saline lower realm is ruled by Venus, whose gift is pure generation, which is the wild, chaotic power of Maia, goddess of the earth and spring (May is named for her). The Mercurial upper realm exists through disciplined creation; it is the gift of Ceres, who gave us cultivation, of Athena, who weaves the warp and woof, of Psyche, who sorts the seeds.

Conversely, Earth the Mother sees the Sky above as a twofold masculine potency, for this force, which is generative, life-awakening, and fructifying, has two forms: its Solar aspect is hot and active (the power of Sulphur), the common characters of Fire and Air (the gods Helios and Jove), but its Lunar aspect is cold and passive (the power of Quicksilver), the common characters of Earth and Water (the gods Consus and Neptune). Earthly fertility results from the infusion of the twofold masculine potency, the fiery solar and moist lunar powers, into the feminine earthy matter, that is, by the action of Sulphur and Quicksilver on Salt.

Sulphur is hot and causes separation, but Quicksilver is fluid and causes amalgamation; together the two forces cause separation and union, that is Eris and Eros (Strife and Love) in the matter which is the Salt. Therefore the elements continually separate and rejoin, creating an endless cycle of formation and dissolution in the material world. Wherefore there is hê Genesis kai hê Phthora, that is, Coming-to-be and Passing-away (Generatio & Corruptio), as Aristotle explained in his book De generatione et corruptione.

The two colors of the Sacred Egg reveal to us this Fundamental Law of Earthly Life, manifesting the Fatum [Fate, Destiny, Divine Will] inherent in Feminine Matter. The dark and light colors depict the continuous rotation of Night and Day, and the passage from Death to Life and back again, cycling between two poles.

So also Mercurius' hat is half light and half dark, for he crosses the boundary between Life and Death. So also the Dioscuri, born from the same Egg, who alternate in life and death; and the sons of Oedipus, who rule in alternation; so also the Moliones, Velian [Elean] brothers born from a single Egg, sons of Actor, who together drive their chariot through the cosmos; one lashes the horses, the other holds the reins at leisure. The one on the right aims straight ahead, the one on the left turns back, so together they circle endlessly. Death is conquered when it is joined with Life in a Cycle like the Serpent Uroborus.

Life exists in Death and Death in Life; eternal destruction permits eternal rejuvenation. Indeed, Death is the helpmate of Life, for one cannot exist without the other, as a magnetic pole cannot exist without its opposite. As Plutarch wrote to Apollonius [Cons. ad. Apoll. 10.106F], "The ever-flowing stream of birth will never stand still, nor will the contrary stream of destruction." These contrary streams are the essence of Material Existence, for, as Heraclitus said, the eternal identity of the river lies in its continual change, and in the Earthly realm all change is coming-to-be and passing-away.

So much for the Egg.

vij. Serpentes Murales (The Snakes in the Walls)

Now I will explain why Vergilius confined the snakes beneath the walls near the gate, for this was necessary to complete the protection of the city, just as one's home is protected by the Serpent in the foundations as well as by Fortuna at the hearth.

The Egg and the Serpent are as Woman and Man, for the Egg is the feminine principle of Nature, which is one and undivided until the Serpent coils around it (as we see in the Orphic Egg), and breaks it in halves to release the Life within. But the Life that issues forth is twofold, preserved and rejuvenated by the twofold masculine potency of Genesis and Phthora (Coming-to-be and Passing-away). For the Egg is the material substrate of Life, but the Serpent creates Life in its developed form; the Egg is the bounty of Nature, the Serpent is energy and domination; the Egg is immobile and conserving, the Serpent seeks acquisition, augmentation, and both offensive and defensive activity. Therefore, while the Egg is the Life Source of the city, the Serpent creates its boundaries and protects them.

Further, the Egg, which is the primordial feminine matter, is called Hieron by the Greeks, which means Holy (Sanctum), for it is untouchable; but the Serpent, which is the masculine transformative power, brings the matter into the realm of light, and makes it Hosion, which means Sacred (Sacrum) in Greek. The Wall is the child of the Earth, rising from the womb when it is awakened (excitare) by the male power. In this way the masculine Wall (Murus), like the Phallus, rises to the Heavens but is rooted in the Earth. (This is why the Phallus is protective and why it is carved on the Wall.) Therefore the Wall is Sanctum because it arises from holy feminine matter (the Egg), and Sacrum because it is erected by the male potency (the Serpent). It is Sacrum (and therefore protected) by its consecration to the Celestial Gods of Light; it is Sanctum (and therefore inviolable) through no act of mortals, but because it is born from the Womb of Mother Earth.

This, then, is why Vergilius made the Griffin's Egg as he did, and why he put the Snakes in the Walls.

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Last updated: Wed Apr 21 16:57:46 EDT 1999