Notes to Poem:
Gold, Myrrh, Frankincense

Peter Y. Chou

Preface: My friend Steve Gould sent an email on January 11, 2015 about his 10-day holiday in Rome. His photo on the Ponte Sant'Angelo inspired the poem "Angel with the Sudarium". He went to a Hans Memling Exhibit, one of my favorite artists. I found Memling's Adoration of the Magi (1470) showing all three kings with crowns off their heads. It triggered this poem recounting my epiphany on Christmas Day 1980 concerning Gold, Myrrh, Frankincense— gifts the Three Magi brought to the Christ Child. Among the dozen art postcards in my collection (1980), most artists showed the kings with their crowns on while presenting gifts to Baby Jesus at Bethlehem except for Leonardo da Vinci, & Albrecht Dürer. This shows humility when the kings realized that the Christ Child is the essence (H2O) of their gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense (solid, liquid, vapor) or ice, water, steam.

Commentary on Poem "Gold, Myrrh, Frankincense":

Gold, myrrh, frankincense— gifts Three Magi brought
to the Christ Child guided by the Bethlehem Star.
Christmas Day 1980— I'm watching NBC News

Master of Sant'Apollinare
The Three Magi (526 AD)
Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

Anonymous Artist
Star of Bethlehem
from Crystalinks

Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898)
Star of Bethelhem (1890)
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, UK
Gifts to Baby Jesus: At the time of Jesus' birth, gold, frankincense and myrrh were traditional gifts given to royalty in the Middle East, according to Fred Horton, Professor of the Bible at Wake Forest University. Biblical reference to the Three Magi may be found in Matthew 2:11"And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh." Star of Bethlehem: Matthew 2:1-2: "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him." Giotto witnessed Halley's Comet in 1301, and his Adoration of the Magi (1306) shows the Star as a comet. Chinese and Korean stargazers saw a comet about 5 BC. Kepler proposed Jupiter & Saturn conjunctions in 7 BC as the Bethlehem Star. Roger Sinnot's candidate is conjunction between Jupiter & Venus near Regulus on June 17, 2 BC. F.J. Tipler has proposed a supernova as the Bethlehem Star. Images: Three Magi (; Bethlehem Star (; Burne-Jones' Star of Bethlehem (

with Tom Brokaw giving prices of gold hitting
all-time high $850/oz in January, now $600/oz,
myrrh is at $78/oz & frankincense at $55/oz.

Tom Brokaw
NBC News on TV

Gold Prices: 1973-2015

U.S. $20 Gold Coin
$602.50/oz (December 23, 1980)
The price of gold hit an all-time high of $850/oz on January 21, 1980 and went down to $602.50 on December 23, 1980.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) for stocks went from 838.74 to 963.98 (+125.24) or gain of 14.93% in 1980.
(London Gold Prices). Images: Tom Brokaw (; Gold Chart 1973-2015 (; Gold Coin (

I'm more interested in the Magi's gifts
and look up Webster's to learn that myrrh
is a perfume and frankincense, an incense.

Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
7th Edition (1963)

Coomiphora Myrrha Tree
from which myrrh is harvested

Boswellia sacra Tree
from which most frankincense is derived
Myrrh: a sticky brown substance that comes from trees, that has a sweet smell, and that is used in products that give the air or people's bodies a pleasing smell; (full definition: a yellowish brown to reddish brown aromatic gum resin with a bitter slightly pungent taste obtained from a tree of east Africa and Arabia). Frankincense: a substance that is burned for its sweet smell and that was used in religious ceremonies in ancient times (full definition: a fragrant gum resin fro chiefly East Africa or Arabian trees that is an important incense resin). Image Sources: Webster's Dictionary (; Coomiphora Myrrha (; Boswellia sacra (

Gold, myrrh, frankincense— solid, liquid, vapor
or ice, water, steam— and Christ Child is H2O—
the essence of those gifts from the Three Magi.

Ice (Solid) representing Gold

Water (Liquid) representing Myrrh

Steam (Vapor) representing Frankincense
H2O: Christ is essence After learning that myrrh is a perfume and frankincense is an incense, the physical chemist in me associated them with liquid and vapor. Since gold is solid, then the Magi's gifts were like ice, water, and steam to the Christ Child who is H2O, the essence of what the kings presented at Bethlehem (Matthew 2:11). Image Source: Ice Cubes (; Liquid Water (; Steam (; H2O (

Suddenly an epiphany— if the Three Kings
realized this, they'd prostrate immediately
to baby Jesus with crowns off their heads.

Light bulb inside head
symbolizing "Epiphany"
or spiritual awakening

Filippo Lippi (1457-1504)
Adoratiion of the Magi (1496)
Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Paolo Veronese (1528-1588)
Adoratiion of the Magi (1496)
National Gallery, London

Velázquez (1599-1660)
Adoratiion of Magi (1619)
Prado Museum, Madrid
Epiphany is a Christian Feast Day celebrated on January 6 to commemorate the visitation of the Three Magi in Bethlehem. The word epiphany (from ancient Greek epiphaneia, "manifestation, striking appearance") is the sudden realization or comprehension of the larger essence of something. The term is used in a philosophical sense that one has found the last piece of the puzzle and now sees the whole picture. Archimedes (287 BC-212 BC) had such an epiphany when he shouted "Eureka" ("I have found it") on discovering specific gravity in his bathtub. An "Aha! moment" came to me in 1973 when finding the α-helical and β-sheet potentials of 20 amino acids. This led to the Chou-Fasman "Prediction of Protein Conformation" paper (1974) that became a Citation Classic. A poetic epiphany came when realizing that the Platonic Lambda Λ (Soul of the Universe) is not abstract but manifests itself whenever we are walking and breathing ("Platonic Lambda Sonnet"). Note: The Adoration of the Magi paintings by Lippi, Veronese, and Velázquez shown above were not available to me back on December 25, 1980. They were found recently on the web depicting all the Three Magi with crowns off their head. What happened back then on Christmas 1980 is recounted in the three stanzas below. Image Sources: Light Bulb in Head (; Lippi's Adoration (; Veronese's Adoration (; Velázquez's Adoration (;

Searching through my shoeboxes of art postcards
bought from European museums, I found a dozen
cards of paintings on Adoration of the Magi.

Giotto di Bondone (1266-1337)
Adoratiion of the Magi (1306)
Cappella Scrovegni a Padova

Fra Angelico (1395-1455)
Adoratiion of the Magi (1445)
National Gallery of Art

Quentin Metsys (1466-1530)
Adoratiion of the Magi (1526)
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Peter Paul Reubens (1370-1427)
Adoratiion of the Magi (1634)
King's College, Cambridge, UK
After taking three art history classes at Columbia University (1961-1963), I began collecting art postcards from Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Frick Collection, National Gallery of Art, and Boston Museum of Fine Arts. In my travels to Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Switzerland (1972-1979), I bought hundreds more art cards. I have three shoeboxes filled with art postcards, mostly arranged in alphabetical order by artists, some by topics such as Angels, Buddha, and Art on Postage Stamps. Going through my collection, I found a dozen art cards with paintings of Adoration of the Magi. Having moved last April, I can't find the original envelope containing the Adoration of the Magi cards rounded up on that Christmas Day 1980. So the paintings shown in these Notes were gathered from the Internet. Image Sources: Giotto's Adoration (; Fra Angelico's Adoration (; Metsys's Adoration (; Reuben's Adoration (

Only two had all three kings with their crowns off—
my favorites, Leonardo da Vinci & Albrecht Dürer—
They knew! They knew! as tears rolled down my face.
Gentile da Fabriano (1370-1427)
Adoratiion of the Magi (1423)
Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
Adoratiion of the Magi (1481)
Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)
Adoratiion of the Magi (1504)
Uffizi Gallery, Florence
In 1980, while reading Robert Lawlor's Sacred Geometry: Philosophy & Practice (1979), I was fascinated by Luca Pacioli (1447-1517), whose De divina proportione (1498) was illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). Leonardo has been described as the archetype of Renaissance Man, with "unquenchable curiosity" and "feverishly inventive imagination". He is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived. I was inspired by his paintings and Notebooks. Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) was a German painter, printmaker, mathematician, engraver, and theorist from Nuremberg. His prints established his reputation across Europe when he was still in his twenties, and he has been conventionally regarded as the greatest artist of the Northern Renaissance ever since. Even though he was the best artist in Germany, Dürer went to Italy (1494-1495 & 1505-1507) to learn more on the art of perspectives. There is a receipt of his purchase of Euclid's Geometry in Latin while he was in Venice. After visiting the "Albrecht Dürer: Master Printmaker" Exhibit at Boston Museum of Fine Arts (1971), I bought their 294-pages Exhibition Catalogue. Browsing through the engravings and lithographs of this German artist, his 1514 engraving of Melencolia I intrigued me. I began to read everything about this work and Dürer's life to unravel the many symbolisms in the images. Some of these studies were included in my web page "Hitchcock's Vertigo & Dürer's Melencolia" (10-30-2008).

Leonardo da Vinci
Self-Portrait (1515)
Royal Library, Turin, Italy

Leonardo da Vinci's
Vitruvian Man (1487)
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

Albrecht Dürer
Self-Portrait (1500)
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Albrecht Dürer's
Melencolia I (1514)
Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie
Image Sources: Fabriano's Adoration (; Leonardo's Adoration (; Dürer's Adoration (; Leonardo da Vinci (; Vitruvian Man (; Albrecht Dürer (; Dürer's Melencolia I (;

Most artists showed the kings with their crowns on
but great masters knew Christ was the King of kings
such as Bosch, Botticelli, and Hans Memling.

Lorenzo Monaco 1370-1425)
Adoration of the Magi (1422)
Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Pietro Perugino 1446-1523)
Adoration of Magi (1476)
Galleria Nazionale Umbria

Jan Gossaert 1478-1532)
Adoration of the Magi (1515)
National Gallery, London

Abraham Bloemaert (1556-1651)
Adoration of the Magi (1624)
Central Museum, Utrecht
Since wearing a crown symbolizes kingship or royalty, artists portrayed kings with crowns on their head. However, if the Magi recognized baby Jesus as the King of kings, they would be so humble to take the crown off their head. On that Christmas Day 1980, my dozen art cards of Adoration of the Magi showed only Leonardo and Dürer with all three kings with their crowns off. Now, with a wider survey of 30 paintings of Adoration of the Magi, here are the results: 3 artists with 3 crowns on (Burne-Jones, Fra Angelico, Monaco); 11 with 2 crowns on (Bloemaert, El Greco, Fabriano, Fouquet, Giotto, Gossaert, Mowbray, Obilman, Perugino, Rembrandt, Stetter); 7 with 1 crown on (Bouts, Bruegel, Ghirlandaio, Metsys, Murillo, Ponte, Rubens); 10 artists showing 0 crowns on (Bosch, Botticelli, Dürer, Leonardo, Lippi, Mantegna, Memling, Velázquez, Veronese)

Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516)
Adoration of the Magi (1500)
Prado Museum, Madrid

Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510)
Adoration of the Magi (1476)
Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Hans Memling (1433-1494)
Adoration of the Magi (1470)
Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain
Image Sources: Monaco's Adoration (; Perugino's Adoration (; Gossaert's Adoration (; Bloemaert's Adoration (; Bosch's Adoration (; Botticelli's Adoration (; Memling's Adoration (

Three decades have passed since that epiphany—
but the insight and illumined light of that day
still burns brightly and is aflame in my heart.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
Adoratiion of the Magi, Detail (1481)
Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Whitney Rader
Holy Night (circa 2012)

Unknown Artist
Christ the Alchemist
St. Stephen's Cathedral
Of all the artists surveyed, Leonardo's Adoratiion of the Magi is the only one depicting all Three Kings on their knees showing their humility before the Christ Child. During my spiritual quest for enlightenment, it was a joy and wonder to meet sages who were humble with wisdom to teach me (see "Waiting for the Great Pumpkin"). Their kindness and generosity have inspired my research in protein structure and insights while writing poetry. The teachings of Buddha, Christ, Lao Tzu, Plato, and Rumi, have given me so much insights, inspiration, and illumination to share at Wisdom Portal. Images: Detail of Leonardo's Adoration of the Magi (; Ayeri's Holy Night (; Christ the Alchemist (

— Peter Y. Chou
    Mountain View, 2-6-2015

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