Happy Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas! This year I’m busy writing up my PhD thesis and preparing for my viva in London so I had to celebrate the festival of light in the lab. Luckily, I had a load of the chemicals on hand that fireworks use to produce colours, so we set about bench-top festivities.
What should you do when your King, gold crown and all, gets devoured by a wolf?
According to the 15th Century monk Basil Valentine, the right course of action is to light a bonfire and throw the wolf on the top. Once the wolf has been burned to a crisp, says Valentine, then the King will be brought back to life good as new.
This ludicrous story sounds as though it’s been plucked out of a fairy tale, but is in reality a nearly 600-year-old chemical equation.
The example, vividly brought to life in the engraving below, was used to illustrate the first of The Twelve Keys, a text now thought to have been written by several authors who used the name Basil Valentine as a pseudonym. Let’s face it, it’s a pretty unlikely name for anyone who isn’t an LA detective in a procedural cop show from the 80s.
The First Key of Basil Valentine