The Guide to Dan Brown's 'The Solomon Key' is available from good bookstores across the U.S. and also on Amazon.com
On Dan Brown’s website there is a competition (now closed, though you can still ‘play’) which offered a trip to Paris for the lucky winner. This Internet challenge required the attentive reader to find and ‘decipher’ some codes hidden on the jacket of The Da Vinci Code. And what’s more, the answers to this challenge are said to point to the content of Dan Brown’s next Robert Langdon mystery, titled The Solomon Key.
In my book The Guide to Dan Brown's “The Solomon Key” (Amazon US), I devote a chapter to working through each question and answer in the Internet challenge, and then expand on each topic in detail in the subsequent chapters. Space prohibits us from discussing them all here, so I’d just like to focus on the final question in the challenge, and what happens when you answer it.
The final question of the challenge is perhaps the most cryptic, and requires both a keen eye and a little cryptographic knowledge (or for some, just a strong intuition). The clue given points to a very faint seal on the back cover of The Da Vinci Code, in which a series of numbers are given, separated by the ‘eye in the triangle’ symbol often associated with the ‘Illuminati’. A riddle describes how to solve the final cipher:
Each number to a chapter points the way
Each chapter starts with words in muted gray
The letter that is first is what you seek
Thirteen of them (and though it all looks Greek)
Add three all-seeing-eyes – a perfect square
Begin at E, and Caesar guides you there.
The directions end with the question:
What famous phrase is printed around the seal?
Using the numbers on the cover of the book, and cross-checking with the initial ‘grayed’ title character of the related chapters, we gather thirteen letters, which don’t make a whole lot of sense in their current order. Following the directions given, we add three all-seeing-eyes to the thirteen letters and now have sixteen characters in all - a perfect four by four square just as the clue says. But how do we form this square using the letters and eyes?
The clue leads the way – “Caesar guides you there”. While a number of cipher techniques were used by Julius Caesar, one in particular suits the use of a square, the so-called “Caesar Box”. To employ a Caesar Box, the cipher text is laid out in vertical columns within the square, and then the coded message is revealed by reading across the rows. Using this method, and taking the all-seeing eyes as ‘spaces’ between the words, reveals an intriguing phrase:
A5. E Pluribus Unum
In hindsight, the answer may be obvious: the question asks for the famous phrase printed around a seal which uses the pyramid and all-seeing eye motif. This is obviously the ‘Great Seal’ of the United States, and the Latin motto is clearly visible – although it should be noted that it is on the reverse side (as a banner held in the beak of the eagle), and not surrounding the all-seeing eye. On that side, we find the controversial phrases Annuit Coeptis and Novus Ordo Seclorum.
After entering the answer, the challenge explains the phrase. It describes how E Pluribus Unum is Latin for "Out of Many…One", and that it appears on the Great Seal of the United States. It also notes that these motifs can be found on the dollar bill, adding that discussion of the various theories involved will have to wait for another day. I’ve beaten Dan Brown to the punch on that one and give a detailed exposition of early Freemasonry in America, and the symbolism of the dollar bill, in my guide to The Solomon Key – but let’s continue on with the challenge and see what other surprises await.
By answering the challenge questions correctly, the ‘contestant’ is then taken to a final page which consists of one last challenge. It says that to complete the quest, we are required to click on the oeil droit of the Mona Lisa. This is a simple enough task, as oeil droit is French for "right eye", and we are presented with an image of the Mona Lisa. Clicking on the right eye of Da Vinci’s famous portrait completes the challenge. However, perhaps we should note the choice of the right eye as a further clue to the content of The Solomon Key?
Dan Brown regularly reminds us in The Da Vinci Code, on his website, and in interviews that many of ‘the mysteries’ in his novels are based on the idea of a continuation of hidden knowledge from ancient times. One of the ancient traditions from which he draws on regularly for the ‘symbology’ of his novels is that of the great Egyptian culture which existed for some 3,000 years before the time of Christianity. And the ‘right eye’ held a certain meaning for the ancient Egyptians.
The ‘udjat’, or ‘Eye of Horus’, was a particularly potent symbol to the Ancient Egyptians. Examples of this motif can be found on temple walls and inscribed on pyramidions, but it was mostly used as an amulet worn by the living and included in the mummy wrappings of the deceased. It has a curious mythological origin:
A symbol of the god Horus...myths state that Horus lost his eye in his war with Seth to avenge the death of his father. Seth tore the eye into pieces. Thoth...was able to reassemble them...Thoth gave the Eye to Horus. Horus, in turn, gave the eye to his murdered father Osiris, thereby bringing him back to life.
The symbol was most often depicted anatomically as the right eye, although both left and right held their own meaning. The right eye of Horus, also termed the ‘Eye of Ra’, was consonant with the Sun – and on Hermetic grounds has therefore been associated with masculinity, rationality and science. The left eye was associated with the Moon – and was therefore ascribed femininity, intuition, and esoteric thought according to Hermetic philosophy. Interestingly, Masonic iconography often portrays both the Sun and the Moon together in the one image.
As an amulet, the Eye of Horus was believed to have healing and protective power, even the ability to resurrect the dead (as was the case with Osiris). The icon was also used as a mathematical device, with the different ‘shreds’ of the torn-up eye each representing a fraction of the whole. Could Dan Brown use this fact as part of one of his codes? Perhaps more pertinently, the Eye of Horus is also thought by some to have served as the model for the "all-seeing-eye", commonly associated with secret societies including the Illuminati and the Freemasons, and mentioned previously by Brown in Angels and Demons. This may be based on the function of the eye, which is to perceive light, an allusion to the spiritual ability to see the ‘inner light’.
However, we should also keep in mind this division of the two eyes of Horus as signifying the rational and intuitive sides of human consciousness. Dan Brown’s storylines often revolve around similar dichotomies to these: in Angels and Demons, the battle between the Illuminati and the Catholic Church was described as a battle between science and religion. Ironically, in The Da Vinci Code, the Church was depicted as the domination of the masculine, and the Priory of Sion the defender of the ‘sacred feminine’. With the secret societies in each case being depicted at the opposite ends of the Hermetic spectrum, it may be difficult to decide where Dan Brown will position Freemasonry in The Solomon Key. Further investigation may illuminate the issue though (no pun intended), and I discuss this in detail in my book.
Finally, returning to the Great Seal imagery which appears on the U.S. dollar bill, there is one last detail worth noting about the portrayal of President George Washington on the reverse side, which brings our investigation full circle. David Ovason points out in his book The Secret Symbols of the Dollar Bill that if you fold the dollar bill vertically in half, or draw straight diagonals between the tops of the ‘1’ figures, you will find the same point of convergence: directly in the middle of George Washington’s right eye – his oeil droit. Ovason wrote his book well before Dan Brown's internet challenge focused on the dollar bill symbolism and the right eye of the Mona Lisa - do you think we’re on to something?