previous next


Thus far we have spoken in reference to the stones, which, it is generally agreed, belong to the highest rank; in obedience, more particularly, to a decree1 that has been passed by the ladies to that effect. There is less certainty with respect to those upon which the men as well have been left to form a judgment; seeing that the value of each stone depends more particularly upon the caprice of the individual and the rivalry that exists in reference thereto; as, for example, when Claudius Cæsar was so much in the habit of wearing the smaragdus and the sardonyx.2 The first Roman who wore a sardonyx, according to Demostratus, was the elder Africanus, since whose time this stone has been held in very high esteem at Rome: for which reason, we shall give it the next place after the opal. By sardonyx, as the name3 itself indicates, was formerly understood a sarda with a white ground beneath it, like the flesh beneath the human finger-nail; both parts of the stone being equally transparent. Such, according to Ismenias, Demostratus, Zenothemis, and Sotacus, is the sardonyx of India; the last two giving the name of "blind" sardonyx to all the other stones of this class which are not transparent, and which have now entirely appropriated the name to themselves. For, at the present day, the Arabian sardonyx presents no traces whatever of the Indian sarda,4 it being a stone that has been found to be characterized by several different colours of late; black or azure for the base, and vermilion, surrounded with a line of rich white, for the upper part, not without a certain glimpse5 of purple as the white passes into the red.6

We learn from Zenothemis that in his time these stones were not held by the people of India in any high esteem, although they are found there of so large a size as to admit of the hilts of swords being made of them. It is well known, too, that in that country they are exposed to view by the mountain-streams, and that in our part of the world they were formerly valued from the fact that they are nearly the only ones7 among the engraved precious stones that do not bring away the wax when an impression is made. The consequence is, that our example has at last taught the people of India to set a value upon them, and the lower classes there now pierce them even, to wear them as ornaments for the neck; the great proof, in fact, at the present day, of a sardonyx being of Indian origin. Those of Arabia are remarkable for their marginal line of brilliant white, of considerable breadth, and not glistening in hollow fissures in the stone or upon the sides, but shining upon the very surface, at the margin, and supported by a ground intensely black beneath. In the stones of India, this ground is like wax in colour,8 or else like cornel, with a circle also of white around it. In some of these stones, too, there is a play of colours like those of the rainbow, while the surface is redder even than the shell of the sea-locust.9

Those stones which are like honey in appearance, or of a fæculent10 colour—such being the name given to one defect in them—are generally disapproved of. They are rejected also when the white zone blends itself with the other colours, and its limits are not definitely marked; or if, in like manner, it is irregularly intersected by any other colour; it being looked upon as an imperfection if the regularity of any one of the colours is interrupted by the interposition of another. The sardonyx of Armenia is held in some esteem, but the zone round it is of a pallid hue.

1 Said ironically. There is a somewhat similar remark in B. xxxiii. c. 12.

2 A mixture of brown-red and white chalcedony.

3 From the Greek σάρδιον, "sard," and ὄνυξ, a "finger nail."

4 His meaning seems to be that it does not present the bright transparent red of the Indian Sarda or Carnelian. See Chapter 31 of this Book.

5 "Quâdam spe." Un soupçon, as the French would say.

6 This would appear, from the description, to be an Agate, or variegated Chalcedony.

7 He probably intends to include the Sarda or Caruelian here.

8 A variety, probably, of common Chalcedony.

9 See B. ix. cc. 74, 88, and B. xxxii. c. 53.

10 "Fæculentæ," of the colour of wine-lees.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Latin (Karl Friedrich Theodor Mayhoff, 1906)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

hide References (2 total)
  • Cross-references to this page (1):
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), ARME´NIA
  • Cross-references in general dictionaries to this page (1):
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: