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The substance that possesses the greatest value, not only among the precious stones, but of all human possessions, is adamas;1 a mineral which, for a long time, was known to kings only, and to very few of them. Such was the name given to a nodosity of gold,2 sometimes, though but rarely, found in the mines, in close proximity with gold, and only there to be found, it was thought. The ancients supposed that adamas was only to be discovered in the mines of Æthiopia,3 between the Temple of Mercury and the island of Meroë; and they have informed us that it was never larger than a cucumber-seed, or differing at all from it in colour.

At the present day, for the first time, there are no less than six different varieties of it recognized. The Indian adamas is found, not in a stratum of gold, but in a substance of a kindred nature to crystal; which it closely resembles in its transparency and its highly polished hexangular and hexahedral4 form. In shape it is turbinated, running to a point at either extremity, and closely resembling, marvellous to think of, two cones united at the base. In size, too, it is as large even as a hazel-nut. Resembling that of India, is the adamas5 of Arabia, which is found in a similar bed, but not so large in size. Other varieties have a pallid hue like that of silver, and are only to be found in the midst of gold of the very finest quality. These stones are tested upon the anvil, and will resist the blow to such an extent, as to make the iron rebound and the very anvil split asunder.6 Indeed its hardness is beyond all expression, while at the same time it quite sets fire at defiance7 and is incapable of being heated; owing to which indomitable powers it is, that it has received the name which it derives from the Greek.8

One kind, about as large as a grain of millet in size, has been called "cenchros,"9 and another,10 that is found in the gold mines at Philippi, is known as the "Macedonian" adamas: this last is about as large as a cucumber-seed in size. We next come to the Cyprian11 adamas, so called from its being found in the Isle of Cyprus: it is of a colour somewhat inclining to that of copper, but, in reference to its medicinal virtues, of which we shall have to make further mention, it is the most efficacious of them all. Next in succession to this we have siderites,12 a stone which shines like iron, and is more ponderous than any of the others, but differs in its properties from them all. For it breaks when struck by the hammer, and admits of being perforated by other kinds of adamas; a thing which is the case, also, with that of Cyprus: in short, these two are degenerate stones, and only bear the name of "adamas" for the purpose of enhancing their value.

Now with reference to those affinities and repugnances which exist between certain objects, known to the Greeks as "sympathia" and "antipathia," phænomena to which we have endeavoured13 to draw attention thoughout these books, they nowhere manifest themselves with greater distinctness than here. This indomitable power, in fact, which sets at nought the two most violent agents in Nature, fire, namely, and iron, is made to yield before the blood of a he-goat.14 The blood, however must be no otherwise than fresh and warm; the stone, too, must be well steeped in it, and then subjected to repeated blows: and even then, it is apt to break both anvils and hammers of iron, if they are not of the very finest temper. To what spirit of research, or to what accident, are we indebted for this discovery? or what conjecture can it have been, that first led man to experiment upon a thing of such extraordinary value as this, and that, too, with the most unclean15 of all animals? Surely a discovery, such as this, must have been due solely to the munificence of the gods, and we must look for the reason of it in none of the elementary operations of Nature, but wholly in her will.

When, by good fortune, this stone does happen to be broken, it divides into fragments so minute as to be almost imperceptible. These particles are held in great request by engravers, who enclose them in iron, and are enabled thereby, with the greatest facility, to cut16 the very hardest substances known. So great is the antipathy borne by this stone to the magnet, that when placed near, it will not allow of its attracting iron; or if the magnet has already attracted the iron, it will seize the metal and drag it away from the other.17 Adamas, too, overcomes and neutralizes poisons, dispels delirium, and banishes groundless perturbations of the mind; hence it is that some have given it the name of "ananchites."18 Metrodorus of Scepsis is the only author, that I know of, who says that this stone is found also in Germany, and in the island of Basilia,19 where amber is found. He says, too, that this is preferable to the stone of Arabia; but can there be any doubt that his statement is incorrect?

1 We may here remark, that throughout this Book, in all cases where there is any doubt as to the identification of the substance, the ancient name is retained. Hence our words "adamant" and "diamond." If Pliny means the latter, which is doubtful, it still maintains the rank here assigned to it. The word "adamas" is supposed to be derived from the Greek , privative, and δαμὰω, "to subdue," it being supposed to be invincible by fire. The diamond is pure carbon crystallized, and is thought to have been of vegetable origin. Dana has the following remarks upon the word "adamas."—"This name was applied by the ancients to several minerals differing much in their physical properties. A few of these are quartz, specular iron ore, emery, and other substances of rather high degrees of hardness, which cannot now be identified. It is doubtful whether Pliny had any acquaintance with the real diamond."—System of Mineralogy, Art. Diamond. We may also add, from the same authority, that the method of polishing diamonds was first discovered in 1456, by Louis Berquen, a citizen of Bruges, previous to which time the diamond was only known in its native uncut state.

2 This statement cannot apply to the "diamond" as known to us, though occasionally grains of gold have been found in the vicinity of the diamond.

3 Ajasson is of opinion that the Æthiopia here mentioned is in reality India, and that the "Temple of Mercury" means the Brahmaloka, or Temple of Brahma.

4 The diamond, as known to us, is octahedral.

5 Though found in comparative abundance in India, the diamond is not found in Arabia.

6 This is not the case with the diamond; for on being struck under such circumstances, it will break.

7 In reality, the diamond will burn, and, at a temperature of 14° Wedgewood, is wholly consumed, producing carbonic acid gas.

8 See Note 1, above.

9 " Millet-seed."

10 Ajasson says, that no doubt this adamas was Adamantine, or limpid Corundum.

11 Ajasson suggests that this may have been Dichroite, or Cordierite, known also as Iolite, or Water sapphire.

12 Possibly the Siderite, sparry iron, or spathic iron of modern Mineralogy. Ajasson is inclined to think that it is Corundum, of a dark hue.

13 See B. xx. c. 1, B. xxviii. cc. 23, 41, and B. xxxii. c. 12

14 Brotero thinks that this was a story invented by the dealers, with a view of concealing the real method of breaking the stone.

15 Said, probably, with reference to the rank, nauseous smell of the hegoat.

16 This is true with reference to the diamond, and, in a less degree, several other crystalline substances, emery and quartz, for example.

17 Ajasson remarks, that if the diamond is placed in the magnetic line or current of the loadstone, it attracts iron equally with the loadstone, and consequently neutralizes the attractive power of the loadstone in a considerable degree.

18 The reading is very doubtful here. This word, as it is here given, would appear to be derived from the Greek privative, and ἀγχομαι, "to strangle oneself," and to mean, "preventive of suicide."

19 See B. iv. c. 27, and Chapter 11 of this Book.

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  • Cross-references to this page (3):
    • Harper's, Adămas
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), ARA´BIA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), CYPRUS
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