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Next in rank among the objects of luxury, we have amber;1 an article which, for the present, however, is in request among women2 only. All these three last-mentioned substances hold the same rank, no doubt, as precious stones; the two former for certain fair reasons; crystal, because it is adapted for taking cool drinks, and murrhine vessels, for taking drinks that are either hot or cold. But as for amber, luxury has not been able, as yet, to devise any justification for the use of it. This is a subject which affords us an excellent opportunity of exposing some of the frivolities and falsehoods of the Greeks; and I beg that my readers will only have patience with me while I do so, it being really worth while, for our own practical improvement, to become acquainted with the marvellous stories which they have promulgated respecting amber.

After Phaëthon had been struck by lightning, his sisters, they tell us, became changed into poplars,3 which every year shed their tears upon the banks of the Eridanus, a river known to us as the "Padus." To these tears was given the name of "electrum,"4 from the circumstance that the Sun was usually called "elector." Such is the story, at all events, that is told by many of the poets, the first of whom were, in my opinion, Æschylus, Philoxenus, Euripides, Satyrus, and Nicander; and the falsity of which is abundantly proved upon the testimony of Italy itself.5 Those among the Greeks who have devoted more attention to the subject, have spoken of certain islands in the Adriatic Sea, known as the "Electrides," and to which the Padus,6 they say, carries down electrum. It is the fact, however, that there never were any islands there so called, nor, indeed, any islands so situate as to allow of the Padus carrying down anything in its course to their shores. As to Æschylus placing the Eridanus in Iberia, or, in other words, in Spain, and giving it the name of Rhodanus; and as to Euripides and Apollonius representing the Rhodanus and the Padus as discharging themselves by one common mouth on the shores of the Adriatic; we can forgive them all the more readily for knowing nothing about amber when they betray such monstrous ignorance of geography.

Other writers, again, who are more guarded in their assertions, have told us, though with an equal degree of untruthfulness, that, at the extremity of the Adriatic Gulf, upon certain inaccessible rocks there, there are certain trees7 which shed their gum at the rising of the Dog-Star. Theophrastus8 has stated that amber is extracted from the earth in Liguria;9 Chares, that Phaëthon died in the territory of Hammon, in Æthiopia, where there is a temple of his and an oracle, and where amber is produced; Philemon, that it is a fossil substance, and that it is found in two different localities in Scythia, in one of which it is of a white and waxen colour, and is known as "electrum;" while in the other it is red, and is called "sualiternicum." Demostratus calls amber "lyncurion,"10 and he says that it originates in the urine of the wild beast known as the "lynx;" that voided by the male producing a red and fiery substance, and that by the female an amber of a white and less pronounced colour: he also informs us that by some persons it is called "langurium," and that in Italy, there are certain wild beasts known as "languri." Zenothemis, how- ever, calls these wild beasts "langæ," and gives the banks of the river Padus as their locality. Sudines says, that it is a tree in reality, that produces amber, and that, in Etruria, this tree is known by the name of "lynx;" an opinion which is also adopted by Metrodorus. Sotacus expresses a belief that amber exudes from certain stones in Britannia, to which he gives the name of "electrides." Pytheas says that the Gutones,11 a people of Germany, inhabit the shores of an æstuary of the Ocean called Mentonomon, their territory extending a distance of six thousand stadia; that, at one day's sail from this territory, is the Isle of Abalus, upon the shores of which, amber is thrown up by the waves in spring, it being an excretion of the sea in a concrete form; as, also, that the inhabitants use this amber by way of fuel, and sell it to their neighbours, the Teutones. Timæus, too, is of the same belief, but he has given to the island the name of Basilia.12

Philemon says that electrum does not yield a flame.13 Nicias, again, will have it, that it is a liquid produced by the rays of the sun; and that these rays, at the moment of the sun's setting, striking with the greatest force upon the surface of the soil, leave upon it an unctuous sweat, which is carried off by the tides of the Ocean, and thrown up upon the shores of Germany. He states, also, that in Egypt it is similarly produced, and is there called "sacal;"14 that it is found in India, too, where it is held as a preferable substitute for frankincense; and that in Syria the women make the whirls of their spindles of this substance, and give it the name of "harpax,"15 from the circumstance that it attracts leaves towards it, chaff, and the light fringe of tissues. According to Theochrestus, amber is thrown up by the tides of the Ocean, at the foot of the Pyrenæan range; an opinion adopted also by Xenocrates. Asarubas, who has written the most recently upon these subjects, and is still living, informs us, that near the shores of the Atlantic is Lake Cephisis, known to the Mauri by the name of "Electrum;" and that when this lake is dried up by the sun, the slime of it produces amber, which floats upon the surface. Mnaseas speaks of a locality in Africa called Sicyon, and of a river Crathis there, which discharges itself from a lake into the Ocean, the banks of which are frequented by birds which he calls "meleagrides"16 and "penelopes:" it is here that, according to him, electrum is produced, in manner above mentioned. Theomenes says that near the Greater Syrtis are the Gardens of the Hesperides, and Lake Electrum: on the banks, he says, are poplars, from the summits of which amber falls into the water below, where it is gathered by the maidens of the Hesperides.

Ctesias asserts that there is in India17 a river called Hypobarus, a word which signifies "bearer of all good things;" that this river flows from the north into the Eastern Ocean, where it discharges itself near a mountain covered with trees which produce electrum; and that these trees are called "siptachoræ," the meaning of which is "intense sweetness." Mithridates says, that off the shores of Germany there is an island called "Serita,"18 covered with a kind of cedar, from which amber falls upon the rocks. According to Xenocrates, this substance is called, in Italy, not only "succinum," but "thieum" as well, the Scythian name of it, for there also it is to be found, being "sacrium:" others, he says, are of opinion that it is a product of Numidia. But the one that has surpassed them all is Sophocles, the tragic poet; a thing that indeed surprises me, when I only consider the surpassing gravity of his lofty style, the high repute that he enjoyed in life, his elevated position by birth at Athens, his various exploits, and his high military command. According to him, amber is produced in the countries beyond India, from the tears that are shed for Meleager, by the birds called "meleagrides!"19 Who can be otherwise than surprised that he should have believed such a thing as this, or have hoped to persuade others to believe it? What child, too, could possibly be found in such a state of ignorance as to believe that birds weep once a year, that their tears are so prolific as this, or that they go all the way from Greece, where Meleager died, to India to weep? "But then," it will be said, "do not the poets tell many other stories that are quite as fabulous?" Such is the fact, no doubt, but for a person seriously to advance such an absurdity with reference to a thing so common as amber, which is imported every day and so easily proves the mendacity of this assertion, is neither more nor less than to evince a supreme contempt for the opinions of mankind, and to assert with impunity an intolerable falsehood.

(3.) There can be no doubt that amber is a product of the islands of the Northern Ocean, and that it is the substance by the Germans called "glæsum;"20 for which reason the Romans, when Germanicus Cæsar commanded the fleet in those parts, gave to one of these islands the name of Glæsaria,21 which by the barbarians was known as Austeravia. Amber is produced from a marrow discharged by trees belonging to the pine22 genus, like gum from the cherry, and resin from the ordinary pine. It is a liquid at first, which issues forth in considerable quantities, and is gradually hardened by heat or cold, or else by the action of the sea, when the rise of the tide carries off the fragments from the shores of these islands. At all events, it is thrown up upon the coasts, in so light and voluble a form that in the shallows it has all the appearance of hanging suspended in the water. Our forefathers, too, were of opinion that it is the juice of a tree, and for this reason gave it the name of "succinum:"23 and one great proof that it is the produce of a tree of the pine genus, is the fact that it emits a pine-like smell when rubbed, and that it burns, when ignited, with the odour and appearance of torch-pine wood.

Amber is imported by the Germans into Pannonia, more particularly; from whence the Veneti, by the Greeks called Eneti, first brought it into general notice, a people in the vicinity of Pannonia, and dwelling on the shores of the Adriatic Sea. From this it is evident how the story which connects it with the Padus first originated; and at the present day we see the female peasantry in the countries that lie beyond that river wearing necklaces of amber, principally as an ornament, no doubt, but on account of its remedial virtues as well; for amber, it is generally believed, is good for affec- tions of the tonsillary glands and fauces, the various kinds of water in the vicinity of the Alps being apt to produce disease in the human throat.24

From Carnuntum in Pannonia, to the coasts of Germany from which the amber is brought, is a distance of about six hundred miles, a fact which has been only very recently ascertained; and there is still living a member of the equestrian order, who was sent thither by Julianus, the manager of the gladiatorial exhibitions for the Emperor Nero, to procure a supply of this article. Traversing the coasts of that country and visiting the various markets there, he brought back amber, in such vast quantities, as to admit of the nets, which are used for protecting the podium25 against the wild beasts, being studded26 with amber.

The arms too, the litters,27 and all the other apparatus, were, on one day, decorated with nothing but amber, a different kind of display being made each day that these spectacles were exhibited. The largest piece of amber that this personage brought to Rome was thirteen pounds in weight.

That amber is found in India too, is a fact well ascertained. Archelaüs, who reigned over Cappadocia, says that it is brought from that country in the rough state, and with the fine bark still adhering to it, it being the custom there to polish it by boiling it in the grease of a sucking-pig. One great proof that amber must have been originally in a liquid state, is the fact that, owing to its transparency, certain objects are to be seen within, ants for example, gnats, and lizards. These, no doubt, must have first adhered to it while liquid, and then, upon its hardening, have remained enclosed within.28

1 "Succinum." It is of vegetable origin, and, according to Göppert, was originally the viscous resin of a tree named by him Pinites succinifer.

2 It is used by men, more particularly, at the present day, as a mouth-piece for pipes.

3 As to the vegetable origin of amber, there is no doubt that the ancients were right.

4 Most probably from ἥλιος, the "sun." Phaëthon was fabled to have been the son of Apollo. See the story in Ovid's Met. B. ii. l. 340, et seq.

5 Where amber was not to be found.

6 In reality, these "Amber Islands" were situate at the month of the Vistula, into which the Radanus discharged itself; a river whose name was afterwards confounded with "Eridanus," the ancient name of the Padus, or Po. See B. iv. cc. 27, 30, as to the produce of amber in the Baltic.

7 Another reference to its vegetable origin.

8 De Lapid. n. 53.

9 In confirmation of this, Ajasson remarks that amber is found at Saint Paulet in the Department Du Gard, and at Aix, in the Department of Bouches-du-Rhône, regions not very distant from the territory of ancient Liguria.

10 It has been supposed by some that this in reality was Tourmaline, and Woodward has identified it with Belemnites. See Beckmann, Hist. Inv. Vol. I. p. 86. Bohn's Edition. See further as to "Lyncurium," B. viii. c. 57, and Chapter 13 of this Book.

11 See B. iv. c. 28.

12 See B. iv. c. 27.

13 Said in reference to the electric spark, Ajasson thinks.

14 In Hebrew, this word means "a stone."

15 From the Greek ἁρπάζω, "to drag."

16 See B. x. c. 38.

17 All this is based, Ajasson thinks, upon the stories of Hindoo mythology.

18 The old reading is "Osericta:" Ajasson identifies it with the island of Oësel in the Baltic.

19 See B. x. c. 38.

20 See B. iv. c.c 27, 30, and the Notes.

21 See B. iv. c. 30.

22 It is just possible that the Pinites succinifer may have still existed, to some extent, eighteen hundred years ago. See Note 65 above.

23 From "succus," "juice."

24 Goitre, for example.

25 The projecting part in the Circus or Amphitheatre, next the arena, and immediately in front of the place occupied by the emperor and nobles.

26 The knots, probably, were adorned with studs or buttons of amber.

27 "Libitina." Meaning the litters on which the slain gladiators were carried away from the arena.

28 Martial has three Epigrams on Insects enclosed in amber; B. iv. Ep. 32 and 59, and B. vi. Ep. 15.

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