The Alchemist

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Melchizedek (the Old Man) Character Analysis

A wise man who meets Santiago at the beginning of his quest to find his treasure. The fortune-teller has told Santiago of the treasure, but he is not convinced to pursue it until he meets Melchizedek. Melchizedek tells him that he appears to people at the moment when they are considering giving up on their Personal Legends. Melchizedek is a Biblical figure known as the King of Salem, and is venerated as a saint.

Melchizedek (the Old Man) Quotes in The Alchemist

The The Alchemist quotes below are all either spoken by Melchizedek (the Old Man) or refer to Melchizedek (the Old Man). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harper One edition of The Alchemist published in 2014.
Part One Quotes

“It's a book that says the same thing almost all the other books in the world say,” continued the old man. “It describes people’s inability to choose their own destinies. And it ends up saying that everyone believes the world's greatest lie.” “What's the world's greatest lie?” the boy asked, completely surprised. “It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”

Related Characters: Santiago (speaker), Melchizedek (the Old Man) (speaker)
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

Santiago meets an old man in the village square who questions him about the book he is reading. The old man complains about the book because he feels that it propagates the “world’s greatest lie.” This is not a unique problem, as this passage explains. According to this old man, many books rely on and express this same lie: that humans do not choose what happens to them in their lives. This analysis of books inside a book helps show the reader the main goal of Coelho’s novel. Unlike many other books, Coelho is claiming that his book The Alchemist will not continue to spread the world’s greatest lie. The main idea of this novel is the opposite: that we can choose what happens to us in our lives.

Throughout the book, multiple characters discuss the separate ideas of free will and fate. Although this is a fictional novel, these ideas as discussed by characters are intended to be relevant to the reader’s life. This is clear because of the universal language used in this passage and other passages like this. The old man uses “us” and “our” to refer to all humans collectively. He says that “everyone” believes the world’s greatest lie, partially because of books they’ve read. This moment helps all readers stop and reflect on the fact that they are reading a book and that they have probably been influenced by other books they’ve read. Coelho hopes to encourage his readers, just as the old man hopes to encourage Santiago, to examine whether they believe this great lie. (And, of course, whether or not they believe it is a lie at all, or just an oversimplification.)

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“Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their Personal Legend.”

Related Characters: Melchizedek (the Old Man) (speaker), Santiago
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

During the old man’s conversation with Santiago in the village square, the old man introduces the idea of a Personal Legend into the novel. In the world of the book, a Personal Legend is a dream or wish that a person chooses to fulfill. This often fails, as the old man explains in this quote, because people lose faith in their ability to fulfill their Personal Legends as they grow up. The old man speaks in universal terms in this passage, explaining a transformation that is relevant to “everyone.” Everyone understands his or her Personal Legend at a young age, which is a key idea because following one’s Personal Legend requires the ability to dream and believe in one’s dreams, an ability common in children. However, this passage explains that most adults lose this ability with time because they no longer believe their dreams can become reality. This is a familiar concept, in literature and life beyond Coelho’s novel. Children are often understood to be idealistic and adults realistic. Children think anything is possible and adults focus on smaller, more achievable goals. Many would say this is part of growing up.

The old man in this passage criticizes this aspect of growing up because he sees that a child becoming a “realistic” adult also means giving up on his or her dreams, and, therefore, the chance to fulfill his or her Personal Legend. Growing up and becoming worldly is the “mysterious force” that changes a person and stops them from dreaming.

“To realize one’s destiny is a person's only real obligation.”

Related Characters: Melchizedek (the Old Man) (speaker), Santiago
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

The old man, Melchizedek, speaks these words to Santiago during their discussion about fulfilling one’s Personal Legends. This quote adds a new level of importance to fulfilling one’s Personal Legend. Initially, Melchizedek describes the value of fulfilling one’s Personal Legend in personal terms. Everyone has a dream as a child that is lost as the person ages. But fulfilling this dream is the thing that will make that person happiest and most satisfied. That is a personal reason for pursuing one’s dreams. To describe the pursuit of a Personal Legend as an “obligation” adds another important point to the discussion, which is the idea developed throughout this novel that fulfilling a Personal Legend benefits all the world, not just the individual.

This novel focuses on the idea of the Soul of World, which describes the unity that exists among all things: humans, animals, and nature. This is a spiritual understanding of the world known as pantheism, the belief that God and the universe are synonymous. Because of this interconnectedness, any one action or being impacts all others. The Soul of the World aids Santiago on his quest, and as he learns about the interconnectedness of all things he becomes closer to fulfilling his Personal Legend. Therefore, when someone fulfills his Personal Legend, he is in tune with the Soul of the World, which is described as being nourished by happiness. When Santiago fulfills his Personal Legend, he in turn nourishes the Soul of the World.

“In order to find the treasure, you will have to follow the omens. God has prepared a path for everyone to follow. You just have to read the omens that he left for you.”

Related Characters: Melchizedek (the Old Man) (speaker), Santiago
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

Melchizedek gives Santiago several pieces of advice that will serve him well throughout the novel. The character of Melchizedek fills an archetypal role in literature: that of the elder giving helpful information to the protagonist who is setting out on a quest or facing a set of challenges. One of these pieces of advice is described in this passage: Santiago should pay attention to omens that he will receive from God. This idea again speaks to the role that God and spirituality play in this novel. God, who in the novel seems to be one and the same as the Soul of the World (and not associated with any particular world religion), actively guides Santiago. This shows that God is benevolent and engaged in human lives. One example of God guiding humans is through dreams, which the fortune-teller tells Santiago are from God. Another example is the omens. The pursuit of one’s Personal Legend may be easy to forget about and ignore, but once the quest begins one will receive help along the way.

This idea of God helping humans is not specific to Santiago's quest. Melchizedek could have said “God has prepared a path for you to follow,” but instead he says “God has prepared a path for everyone to follow.” This may seem like a subtle distinction, but it continues a larger idea of the novel that the themes and ideas presented here are relevant to the reader’s life, as well as all human lives. The topics of fulfilling one’s dreams and relying on God’s guidance are broadly applicable.

Once again he saw that, in that strange land, he was applying the same lessons he had learned with his sheep. “All things are one,” the old man had said.

Related Characters: Melchizedek (the Old Man) (speaker), Santiago
Related Symbols: Santiago’s sheep
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

Despite his own hardships, Santiago takes time to help a candy seller in the Tangier marketplace assemble his market stall. Santiago and the candy seller don’t speak the same language, and yet Santiago is struck by how well the two are able to understand each other despite this language barrier. He realizes this feeling of communication without words is familiar to him because he was able to communicate with his sheep in the same way. Throughout the novel, Santiago’s sheep are a grounding point for him. He learned valuable information from his sheep simply by caring for and observing them. This shows the value of simplicity--an important lesson of the novel. Santiago didn’t need to do anything dramatic or fancy to learn some of the most important life lessons. He simply needed to care for his sheep and observe the world.

Santiago’s connection with the candy seller and with his sheep presents the idea of a universal language. This novel develops the connections among all things in the universe, and one example of this connection is the idea of a universal language that transcends all barriers. Melchizedek also spoke of this interconnectedness of all things, which Santiago remembers in this passage as the phrase "all things are one"--essentially an encapsulation of the idea of a pantheistic universe.

Epilogue Quotes

He thought of the many roads he had traveled, and of the strange way God had chosen to show him his treasure. If he hadn’t believed in the significance of recurrent dreams, he would not have met the Gypsy woman, the king, the thief, or…“Well, it’s a long list. But the path was written in the omens, and there was no way I could go wrong,” he said to himself.

Related Characters: Santiago (speaker), Melchizedek (the Old Man), The Fortune-teller, The Thief (the Young Man)
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

Santiago finds his treasure at the abandoned church where his story began. Therefore, his treasure was physically near him when he first set off in search of his Personal Legend, and yet, as this quote shows, his treasure was emotionally and experientially distant from him. Although he need not have traveled great distances to find his treasure, it's clear that he needed to travel through experiences and grow as a person to receive his treasure. Santiago thinks of the places he has visited, the people he has met, and the experiences he has had along the way. These would not be part of his life without the roundabout pathway by which he arrived at his treasure. 

Santiago points out that he took the path he did because of the omens from God, who clearly intended him to travel and have the experiences that he had. As Coelho makes clear, it's not only the end result of achieving one's Personal Legend that matters, but the process of following omens and learning along the way. This is a key passage because it shows that Santiago's Personal Legend is not simply to find treasure, which is something that can be measured by material standards--his Personal Legend was to go on a quest toward his treasure through which he grew, learned, and changed. 

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Melchizedek (the Old Man) Character Timeline in The Alchemist

The timeline below shows where the character Melchizedek (the Old Man) appears in The Alchemist. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part One
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Santiago starts to read from the book he bought. As he reads, an old man sits down next to him and tries to talk to him. The old man points... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
Meanwhile, the old man asks if he might have a sip of Santiago's wine. The old man then asks... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
...did not want to be a priest, and so he became a shepherd instead. The old man says that being a shepherd is a much better fit for Santiago, because he likes... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
The old man introduces himself as Melchizedek, and he asks Santiago how many sheep he has. The boy says that he has... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Melchizedek picks up a stick and begins to write in the sand. As he moves, something... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
Santiago realizes that Melchizedek is indeed a king, and he wonders why a king would talk with him, a... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Melchizedek explains that the one great truth is that no matter who you are or what... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
Melchizedek asks Santiago why he tends a flock of sheep. Santiago answers that it is because... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
Santiago says the man should also have decided to become a shepherd. Melchizedek explains that the baker chose his profession because it would give him more recognition than... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Santiago asks Melchizedek why he is telling him all this. Melchizedek says that Santiago was trying to realize... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Melchizedek says that people learn early in their lives what their Personal Legend is, but maybe... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The next day, Santiago meets Melchizedek at noon, and brings him six sheep. He tells Melchizedek that he has already sold... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
Santiago asks Melchizedek where the treasure is. Melchizedek says it is in Egypt near the pyramids, which Santiago... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
Melchizedek offers Santiago a white stone and a black stone from the breastplate. He tells him... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
Melchizedek also leaves Santiago with a story. In the story, a shopkeeper sends his son to... (full context)
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
Melchizedek, the king of Salem, sits on the wall of an old fort in Tarifa that... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
Santiago decides to try an experiment with the stones. He asks if the old man 's blessing is still with them, and takes a stone from his pouch. It is... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
...seller is doing the very thing that he wants to do with his life. Like Melchizedek, Santiago can now sense whether a person is near or far from his Personal Legend... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
...land, he is applying the same lessons he learned from his sheep. He remembers that Melchizedek had said, “all things are one.” (full context)
Part Two
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
...distant dream for him, and he has become happy in his work. He remembers that Melchizedek said you must always know what it is you want, and Santiago feels that he... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
...pouch, the stones Urim and Thummim fall to the ground, The stones make Santiago remember Melchizedek, and he is startled by how long it has been since he has thought of... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
Santiago remembers that Melchizedek told him that when you want something, the universe conspires to help you achieve it,... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
...to meet Fatima. He tells her about his life as a shepherd, his encounter with Melchizedek, and his work in the crystal shop. The two become friends. Santiago tells Fatima that... (full context)
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
...wishes he could forget the vision and return to his earlier thoughts, but he cannot. Melchizedek had told him to always pay attention to omens. (full context)
Epilogue
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
...They are also part of his treasure, and they remind him of the old king Melchizedek. Santiago reflects that life is generous to those who seek out their Personal Legend. He... (full context)