The Alchemist

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The Emerald Tablet Symbol Icon

The Emerald Tablet is one of alchemy’s historic trade secrets. It is a single emerald engraved with instructions for completing the Master Work of all alchemy: the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life. These original instructions were therefore simple enough that they could be written on the surface of a single stone. The alchemist explains to Santiago that alchemists later began to distrust simplicity, and so they created other texts and compiled other information about the Master Work. In Santiago and the alchemist’s time period, many strive after the goal of the Master Work, but with no success. The Emerald Tablet is thus a symbol of the value of simplicity. The novel repeatedly emphasizes the value of trusting one’s self and focusing on one’s Personal Legend, and these projects require that one value simplicity: if a Personal Legend becomes more important than anything else, then one’s priorities and problems become less complex and confusing. The novel also suggests that truth is reached by listening to one’s heart, another process that values simplicity. Learning does not require extensive study, but rather quiet observation. Repeatedly this novel emphasizes the ways humans create barriers to their own success, particularly when they value complexity over simplicity, as in the history of The Emerald Tablet.

Apart from its lesson of simplicity, in itself the Emerald Tablet also symbolizes the interconnectedness of all things. It is a distillation of all of alchemy into one unified object, just as the Soul of the World is the distillation of all life and creation into one thing.

The Emerald Tablet Quotes in The Alchemist

The The Alchemist quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Emerald Tablet. 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 Two Quotes

“I learned that the world has a soul, and that whoever understands that soul can also understand the language of things. I learned that many alchemists realized their destinies, and wound up discovering the Soul of the World, the Philosopher's Stone, and the Elixir of Life. But, above all, I learned that these things are all so simple that they could be written on the surface of an emerald.”

Related Characters: The Englishman (speaker), Santiago
Related Symbols: Alchemy, The Emerald Tablet
Page Number: 85-86
Explanation and Analysis:

The Englishman asks Santiago to describe what he has learned from the alchemy books he loans the younger man during their journey. In this passage, Santiago explains what he has learned with an answer that surprises the Englishman. While the two have read the same texts, they have learned very different things. The Englishman values the complexity of alchemy and the hard work it requires. Santiago, on the other hand, values its simplicity and universality. The examples he provides in this quote all focus on universal ideas that make connections across places, cultures, and activities. Santiago speaks of the “Soul of the World” which is accessible to anyone, the success of alchemists in achieving their Personal Legends, and the simplicity of these ideas, which could be contained on the Emerald Tablet. The Englishman values the exclusivity of alchemy, believing it only yields its secrets to those who put in hard work. Santiago sees alchemy as broadly applicable and inclusive. His interpretation of alchemy ties into the idea used throughout the novel that the practices of alchemy can be applied in many areas of life. 

The Emerald Tablet contains universal ideas that require little explanation, as evidenced by the small amount of writing needed to communicate them. This shows that the more universal and applicable an idea, the simpler it often is.


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The Emerald Tablet Symbol Timeline in The Alchemist

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Emerald Tablet appears in The Alchemist. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part Two
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
...strange ideas. In one book, Santiago learns that the most important item in alchemy is the Emerald Tablet . Santiago wonders why, if this single text explains everything about the study of alchemy,... (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
...were so simple they could be inscribed in a few lines on the surface of the Emerald Tablet(full context)
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon on. In the early times, everything about the Master Work could be written on the Emerald Tablet . But because men rejected simple things, they wrote many other works of literature about... (full context)
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
...that it is not code, but actually information that cannot be understood by reason alone. The Emerald Tablet is a direct link to the Soul of the World. The alchemist explains that wise... (full context)