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Mount Atlas is said to possess a forest of trees of a peculiar character,1 of which we have already spoken.2 In the vicinity of this mountain is Mauretania, a country which abounds in the citrus,3 a tree which gave rise to the mania4 for fine tables, an extravagance with which the women reproach the men, when they complain of their vast outlay upon pearls. There is preserved to the present day a table which belonged to M. Cicero,5 and for which, notwithstanding his comparatively moderate means, and what is even more surprising still, at that day too, he gave no less than one"6 million sesterces: we find mention made also of one belonging to Gallus Asinius, which cost one million one hundred thousand sesterces. Two tables were also sold by auction which had belonged to King Juba; the price fetched by one was one million two hundred thousand sesterces, and that of the other something less. There has been lately destroyed by fire, a table which came down from the family of the Cethegi, and which had been sold for the sum of one million four hundred thousand sesterces, the price of a considerable domain, if any one, indeed, could be found who would give so large a sum for an estate.

The largest table that has ever yet been known was one that belonged to Ptolemæus, king of Mauretania; it was made of two semicircumferences joined together down the middle, being four Feet and a half in diameter, and a quarter of a foot in thickness: the most wonderful fact, however, connected with it, was the surprising skill with which the joining had been concealed,7 and which rendered it more valuable than if it had been by nature a single piece of wood. The largest table that is made of a single piece of wood, is the one that takes its name8 from Nomius, a freedman of Tiberius Cæsar. The diameter of it is four Feet, short by three quarters of an inch, and it is half a foot in thickness, less the same fraction. While speaking upon this subject, I ought not to omit to mention that the Emperor Tiberius had a table that exceeded four Feet in diameter by two inches and a quarter, and was an inch and a half in thickness: this, however, was only covered with a veneer of citrus-wood, while that which belonged to his freedman Nomius was so costly, the whole material of which it was composed being knotted9 wood.

These knots are properly a disease or excrescence of the root, and those used for this purpose are more particularly esteemed which have lain entirely concealed under ground; they are much more rare than those that grow above ground, and that are to be found on the branches also. Thus, to speak correctly, that which we buy at so vast a price is in reality a defect in the tree: of the size and root of it a notion may be easily formed from the circular sections of its trunk. The tree resembles the wild female cypress10 in its foliage, smell, and the appearance of the trunk. A spot called Mount Ancorarius, in Nearer Mauretania, used formerly to furnish the most esteemed citrus-wood, but at the present day the supply is quite exhausted.

1 Desfontaines observed in the vicinity of Atlas, several trees peculiar to that district. Among others of this nature, he names the Pistacia Atlantica, and the Thuya articulata.

2 See B. v. c. 1.

3 Generally supposed to be the Thuya articulata of Desfontaines, the Cedrus Atlantica of other botanists.

4 This rage for fine tables made of the citrus is alluded to, among others, by Martial and Petronius Arbiter. See also Lucan, A. ix. B. 426, et. seq.

5 It is a rather curious fact that it is in Cicero's works that we find the earliest mention made of citrus tables, 2nd Oration ag. Verres, s. 4:— "You deprived Q. Lutatius Diodorus of Lilybæum of a citrus table of remarkable age and beauty."

6 Somewhere about £9000.

7 This is considered nothing remarkable at the present day, such is the skill displayed by our cabinet-makers.

8 Called "Nomiana."

9 Tuber.

10 The European cyprus, the Cupressus sempervirens of Linnæus.

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