CHAP. 29. (15.)—THE TREES OF MOUNT ATLAS. THE CITRUS, AND
THE TABLES MADE OF THE WOOD THEREOF.
Mount Atlas is said to possess a forest of trees of a peculiar
of which we have already spoken.2
In the vicinity
of this mountain is Mauretania, a country which abounds in
a tree which gave rise to the mania4
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
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
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
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.