Santiago rides his horse through the desert for many more hours, trying to listen to it again so as to learn the exact location of the treasure. His heart, however, isn’t cooperating — it is thinking about other things. Finally Santiago’s heart relents and whispers to him, “Be aware of the place where you are brought to tears. That’s where I am, and that’s where your treasure is.”
His horse climbs one more sand dune, and Santiago’s heart leaps. He sees the pyramids in front of him, illuminated by the moonlight. Santiago falls to his knees and weeps. He notices that where his tears fell, a scarab, or beetle, now scurries through the sand. Santiago knows that in Egypt, this beetle is considered a symbol of God. Another omen — this must be the place he was meant to dig! Santiago digs through the night, but finds nothing.
Some thieves see Santiago digging in the sand and think he is hiding something. They search Santiago’s clothes and find the piece of gold that the alchemist gave him. Assuming he must have buried more gold in the sand, they force Santiago to continue digging until the next morning. When he doesn’t find any riches, the thieves beat him badly.
Santiago screams at them that he is only looking for treasure because he dreamed twice about a buried treasure at the Egyptian pyramids. One of the thieves tells Santiago that he had a recurring dream about a buried treasure, except his dream told him to go to an abandoned church in Spain where shepherds often took their sheep to rest.
“In my dream,” the thief says, “there was a sycamore growing out of the ruins of the sacristy, and I was told that, if I dug at the roots of the sycamore, I would find a hidden treasure. But I’m not so stupid as to cross an entire desert just because of a recurrent dream.”
After the thieves depart, Santiago sits up and starts laughing. He knows where the hidden treasure is buried.
When Santiago’s heart tells him to dig where his tears fall, Coelho is telling his readers not only that they should listen to their hearts, but that they should pay attention to their emotions — not merely their thoughts.
Ironically, the scarab beetle — a humble, ugly thing — represented God to the Egyptians, and it represents God to Coelho, as well. Even if an omen is unlikely, it must heeded.
More irony: The gold that the alchemist created from lead is precisely what causes the thieves to believe that Santiago is digging for more treasure, and to beat him. For Santiago, and for the reader, this is an unexpected, negative consequence of the alchemist’s wisdom and power. Of course, ultimately it leads to the information that will send Santiago home to his treasure.
Santiago’s arrival at the pyramids is somewhat evocative of another quest, that of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey. When, after traveling for ten years, Odysseus finally arrives at his home, the island of Ithaca, his journey has ended, but one task remains: to defeat the suitors who have taken over his palace during Odysseus’s absence. Similarly, Santiago has reached the pyramids he dreamed about. His pilgrimage has come to an end. But he still needs to find the dreamed-for treasure — and, as it turns out, to fight the thieves that want to take it from him.
Like the crystal merchant, the thief who ignores his dream is a foil for Santiago, a figure who characterizes him by contrast. Unlike Santiago, this man pays his dreams no mind, with the result that he lives as a robber, a criminal.