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The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho

Section 3

Summary Section 3


Melchizedek explains the concept of the Personal Legend to Santiago. A person’s Personal Legend, he says, represents what that person most desires to accomplish in his or her life. Everyone knows their Personal Legend when they are young, but as time passes, a mysterious force makes them feel they will never achieve their Personal Legend.

Melchizedek asks Santiago why he lives as a shepherd. When Santiago says he likes to travel, Melchizedek points to a baker working nearby. The baker likes to travel, but became a baker because people consider them more important than shepherds. Melchizedek worries that Santiago is about to give up on his own Personal Legend and says he appears to everyone who is about to quit pursuing his or her dream. He usually appears as a solution to a problem or an idea, and once appeared as an emerald to a miner. He says he will help Santiago if Santiago hands over one-tenth of his flock.

The meeting upsets Santiago, and he begins wandering through the city. He buys bread from the baker Melchizedek mentioned. He then stops at a booth selling tickets for the boat to Africa, but decides to keep being a shepherd. Then, an intense wind called the levanter picks up. Santiago envies the wind’s freedom, and decides the merchant’s daughter and his sheep are only steps on the way toward his Personal Legend.

Santiago finds Melchizedek the next day and brings six sheep. He tells Melchizedek he sold the rest of his sheep the day before. Melchizedek says Santiago can find his treasure in Egypt by the pyramids. Initially, Santiago feels annoyed that Melchizedek does not give a more exact location, but then a butterfly appears. Melchizedek explains the butterfly is Santiago’s first omen and opens his cape to reveal a jeweled breastplate. Melchizedek gives Santiago two stones from the breastplate. He says the stones are called Urim and Thummim and they represent “yes” and “no.” They will help Santiago to read omens.

Before Melchizedek leaves, he tells Santiago the story of a shopkeeper who sends his son to learn the secret of happiness from the wisest man in the world. The boy finds the man in a beautiful castle in the desert. The wise man tells the boy to spend time looking around while balancing a spoonful of oil. When the boy returns, he says he didn’t pay attention to any of the castle’s splendor because he concentrated on the oil. The wise man sends him out again to see the castle, and the boy returns having seen the castle but having also spilled the oil. The wise man tells him he must admire the castle without forgetting the oil. The story reminds Santiago of a shepherd always needing to remember his flock.

As Melchizedek watches Santiago’s ship pull out of port towards Africa, he remembers making the same bargain with Abraham that he made with Santiago.