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There has been invented also a kind of linen which is incombustible by flame. It is generally known as "live"1 linen, and I have seen, before now, napkins2 that were made of it thrown into a blazing fire, in the room where the guests were at table, and after the stains were burnt out, come forth from the flames whiter and cleaner than they could possibly have been rendered by the aid of water. It is from this material that the corpse-cloths of monarchs are made, to ensure the separation of the ashes of the body from those of the pile. This substance grows3 in the deserts of India,4 scorched by the burning rays of the sun: here, where no rain is ever known to fall, and amid multitudes of deadly serpents, it becomes habituated to resist the action of fire. Rarely to be found, it presents considerable difficulties in weaving it into a tissue, in consequence of its shortness; its colour is naturally red, and it only becomes white through the agency of fire. By those who find it, it is sold at prices equal to those given for the finest pearls; by the Greeks it is called "asbestinon,"5 a name which indicates its peculiar properties. Anaxilaüs6 makes a statement to the effect that if a tree is surrounded with linen made of this substance, the noise of the blows given by the axe will be deadened thereby, and that the tree may be cut down without their being heard. For these qualities it is that this linen occupies the very highest rank among all the kinds that are known.

The next rank is accorded to the tissue known as "byssus,"7 an article which is held in the very highest estimation by females, and is produced in the vicinity of Elis, in Achaia.8 I find it stated by some writers that a scruple of this sold for- merly at four denarii, the same rate, in fact, as gold. The downy nap of linen, and more particularly that taken from the sails of sea-going ships, is very extensively employed for medicinal purposes, and the ashes of it have the same virtues as spodium.9 Among the poppies, too,10 there is a variety which imparts a remarkable degree of whiteness to fabrics made of linen.

1 "Vivum."

2 He evidently considers asbestus, or amianthus, to be a vegetable, and not a mineral production. It is, in reality, a mineral, with long flexible filaments, of a silky appearance, and is composed of silica, magnesia, and lime. The wicks of the inextinguishable lamps of the middle ages, the existence of which was an article of general belief, were said to be made of asbestus. Paper and lace, even, have been made of it in modern times.

3 "Nascitur." In the year 1702 there was found near the Nævian Gate, at Rome, a funereal urn, in which there was a skull, calcined bones, and other ashes, enclosed in a cloth of asbestus, of a marvellous length. It is still preserved in the Vatican.

4 On the contrary, it is found in the Higher Alps in the vicinity of the Glaciers, in Scotland, and in Siberia, even.

5 Signifying "inextinguishable," from α, "not," and σβέννυμι, "to extinguish." See B. xxxvii. c. 54.

6 See end of this Book.

7 He evidently alludes to cotton fabrics under this name. See Note 37 to c. 2 of this Book.

8 Pausanias, in his Eliaca, goes so far as to say, that byssus was found only in Elis, and nowhere else. Judging from the variable temperature of the climate, it is very doubtful, Fée says, if cotton was grown there at all. Arrian, Apollonius, and Philostratus say that the tree which produced the byssus had the leaves of the willow, and the shape of the poplar, characteristics which certainly do not apply to the cotton-tree.

9 Impure oxide of metals, collected from the chimneys of smelting-houses. Fée says that Pliny on this occasion is right.

10 In B. xx. c. 79, he speaks of the "heraclion" poppy, supposed by some of the commentators to be identical with the one mentioned here.

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