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In the same degree that people in our part of the world set a value upon the pearls of India—a subject on which we have already spoken1 on the appropriate occasion at sufficient length—do the people of India prize coral: it being the prevailing taste in each nation respectively that constitutes the value of things. Coral is produced in the Red Sea also, but of a more swarthy hue than ours. It is to be found also in the Persian Gulf, where it is known by the name of "iace." But the most highly-esteemed of all, is that produced in the vicinity of the islands called Stœchades,2 in the Gallic Gulf, and near the Æolian Islands and the town of Drepana in the Sea of Sicily. Coral is to be found growing, too, at Graviscæ, and off the coast of Neapolis in Campania: as also at Erythræ, where it is intensely red, but soft, and consequently little valued.

Its form is that of a shrub,3 and its colour green: its berries are white and soft while under water, but the moment they are removed from it, they become hard and red, resembling the berries of cultivated cornel in size and appearance. They say that, while alive, if it is only touched by a person, it will immediately become as hard as stone; and hence it is that the greatest pains are taken to prevent this, by tearing it up from the bottom with nets, or else cutting it short with a sharp-edged instrument of iron: from which last circumstance it is generally supposed to have received its name of "curalium."4 The reddest coral and the most branchy is held in the highest esteem; but, at the same time, it must not be rough or hard like stone; nor yet, on the other hand, should it be full of holes or hollow.

The berries of coral are no less esteemed by the men in India than are the pearls of that country by the females among us: their soothsayers, too, and diviners look upon coral as an amulet endowed with sacred properties,5 and a sure preservative against all dangers: hence it is that they equally value it as an ornament and as an object of devotion. Before it was known in what estimation coral was held by the people of India, the Gauls were in the habit of adorning their swords, shields, and helmets with it; but at the present day, owing to the value set upon it as an article of exportation, it has become so extremely rare, that it is seldom to be seen even in the regions that produce it. Branches of coral, hung at the neck of infants,6 are thought to act as a preservative against danger. Calcined, pulverized, and taken in water, coral gives relief to patients suffering from griping pains in the bowels, affections of the bladder, and urinary calculi. Similarly taken in wine, or, if there are symptoms of fever, in water, it acts as a soporific. It resists the action of fire a considerable time before it is calcined.

There is also a statement made that if this medicament is frequently taken internally, the spleen will be gradually consumed. Powdered coral, too, is an excellent remedy for patients who bring up or spit blood. Calcined coral is used as an ingredient in compositions for the eyes, being productive of certain astringent and cooling effects: it makes flesh, also, in the cavities left by ulcers, and effaces scars upon the skin.

1 In B. ix. c. 54.

2 See B. iii. c. 11.

3 Theophrastus reckons coral among the precious stones, and the Pseudo-Orpheus among the minerals. Pliny would seem to be at a loss whether to consider it as an animal or a vegetable. In reality it is the production of marine organized bodies of an arborescent habit, known as Corallina, with jointed stems, supported on a kind of root divided into branches, which are likewise jointed.

4 Because κειρε̂ιται, it is "cut short" in the sea, a far-fetched derivation, apparently.

5 Solinus informs us that Zoroaster attributed certain mysterious properties to coral.

6 A practice still retained, though the original intention of it has been lost sight of. As to the form of the coral now used by infants, see Note 85 to B. xxviii. c. 7.

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  • Cross-references to this page (2):
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), ALTI´NUM
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), SAXETANUM
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