Pliny,   Natural History

-   Book 33 ,   sections 95-164


Translated by H.Rackham (1952), with some minor alterations. Click on the L symbols to go to the Latin text of each chapter.    

  ← Previous sections (1-94)

{31.} L   [95] After these details let us speak about the varieties of silver ore, the next madness of mankind. Silver is only found in deep shafts, and raises no hopes of its existence by any signs, giving off no shining sparkles such as are seen in the case of gold. The ore is sometimes red, sometimes ash-coloured. It cannot be smelted except when combined with lead or with the vein of lead, called galena, lead ore, which is usually found running near veins of silver ore. Also when submitted to the same process of firing, part of the ore precipitates as lead while the silver floats on the surface, like oil on water.

[96] Silver is found in almost all the provinces, but the finest is in Spain, where it, as well as gold, occurs in sterile ground and even in the mountains; and wherever one vein is found another is afterwards found not far away. This indeed also occurs in the case of almost every metal, and accounts it seems for the word metals used by the Greeks. It is a remarkable fact that the shafts initiated by Hannibal all over the Spanish provinces are still in existence; they are named from the persons who discovered them; [97] one of these mines, now called after Baebelo, furnished Hannibal with 300 pounds weight of silver a day, the tunnelling having been carried a mile and a half into the mountain. Along the whole of this distance watermen are posted who all night and day in spells measured by lanterns bale out the water and make a stream. [98] The vein of silver nearest the surface is called the 'raw.' In early days the excavations used to stop when they found alum, and no further search made; but recently the discovery of a vein of copper under the alum has removed all limit to men's hopes. The exhalations from silver mines are dangerous to all animals, but specially to dogs. Gold and silver are more beautiful the softer they are. It surprises most people that silver traces black lines.

{32.} L   [99] There is also a mineral found in these veins of silver which contains a humour, in round drops, that is always liquid, and is called quicksilver. It acts as a poison on everything, and breaks vessels by penetrating them with malignant corruption. All substances float on its surface except gold, which is the only thing that it attracts to itself; consequently it is also excellent for refining gold, as if it is briskly shaken in earthen vessels it rejects all the impurities contained in it. When these blemishes have been thus expelled, to separate the quicksilver itself from the gold it is poured out on to hides that have been well dressed, and exudes through them like a kind of perspiration and leaves the gold behind in a pure state. [100] Consequently when also things made of copper are gilded, a coat of quicksilver is applied underneath the gold leaf and keeps it in its place with the greatest tenacity: but if the gold-leaf is put on in one layer or is very thin it reveals the quicksilver by its pale colour. Consequently persons intending this fraud adulterated the quicksilver used for this purpose with white of egg; and later they falsified also hydrargyrum or artificial quicksilver, which we shall speak about in its proper place { 33.123 }. Otherwise quicksilver is not to be found in any large quantity.

{33.} L   [101] In the same mines as silver there is found what is properly to be described as a stone, made of white and shiny but not transparent froth; several names are used for it, stirni, stibi, alabastrum and sometimes larbasis. It is of two kinds, male and female. The female variety is preferred, the male being more uneven and rougher to the touch, as well as lighter in weight, not so brilliant, and more gritty; the female on the contrary is bright and friable and splits in thin layers and not in globules.

{34.} L   [102] Antimony has astringent and cooling properties, but it is chiefly used for the eyes, since this is why even a majority of people have given it a Greek name meaning 'wide-eye,' because in beauty-washes for women's eyebrows it has the property of magnifying the eyes. Made into a powder with powdered frankincense and an admixture of gum it checks fluxes and ulcerations of the eyes. It also arrests discharge of blood from the brain, and is also extremely effective with a sprinkling of its powder against new wounds and old dog-bites and against burns if mixed with fat and litharge of silver, or lead acetate and wax. [103] It is prepared by being smeared round with lumps of ox and burnt in ovens, and then cooled down with women's milk and mixed with rain water and pounded in mortars. And next the turbid part is poured off into a copper vessel after being purified with soda. The lees are recognized by being full of lead, and they settle to the bottom of the mortars and art thrown away. Then the vessel into which the turbid part was poured off is covered with a cloth and left for a night, and the next day anything floating on the surface is poured off or removed with a sponge. [104] The sediment on the bottom is considered the choicest part and is covered with a linen cloth and put to dry in the sun but not allowed to become very dry, and is ground up a second time in the mortar and divided into small tablets. But it is above all essential to limit the amount of heat applied to it, so that it may not be turned into lead. Some people do not employ dung in boiling it but fat. Others pound it in water and strain it through three thicknesses of linen cloth and throw away the dregs, and pour off the liquor that comes through, collecting all the deposit at the bottom, and this they use as an ingredient in plasters and eyewashes.

{35.} L   [105] The slag in silver is called by the Greeks the 'draw-off.' It has an astringent and cooling effect on the body, and like sulphuret of lead, of which we shall speak in dealing with lead { 34.173 }, it has healing properties as an ingredient in plasters, being extremely effective in causing wounds to close-up, and when injected by means of syringes, together with myrtle-oil, as a remedy for straining of the bowels and dysentery. It is also used as an ingredient in the remedies called emollient plasters used for proud flesh of gathering sores, or sores caused by chafing or running ulcers on the head.

[106] The same mines also produce the mineral called scum of silver. Of this there are three kinds, with Greek names meaning respectively golden, silvery and leaden; and for the most part all these colours are found in the same ingots. The Attic kind is the most approved, next the Spanish. The golden scum is obtained from the actual vein, the silvery from silver, and the leaden from smelting the actual lead, which is done at Puteoli, from which place it takes its name. [107] Each kind however is made by heating its raw material till it melts, when it flows down from an upper vessel into a lower one and is lifted out of that with small iron spits and then twisted round on a spit in the actual flame, in order to make it of moderate weight. Really, as may be inferred from its name, it is the scum of a substance in a state of fusion and in process of production. It differs from dross in the way in which the scum of a liquid may differ from the lees, one being a blemish excreted by the material when purifying itself and the other a blemish in the metal when purified. [108] Some people make two classes of scum of silver which they call 'scirerytis' and 'peumene,' and a third, leaden scum which we shall speak of under the head of lead { 34.173 }. To make the scum available for use it is boiled a second time after the ingots have been broken up into pieces the size of finger-rings. Thus after being heated up with the bellows to separate the cinders and ashes from it it is washed with vinegar or wine, and cooled down in the process. In the case of the silvery kind, in order to give it brilliance the instructions are to break it into pieces the size of a bean and boil it in water in an earthenware pot with the addition of wheat and barley wrapped in new linen cloths, until the silvery scum is cleaned of impurities. [109] Afterwards they grind it in mortars for six days, three times daily washing it with cold water and, when they have ceased operations, with hot, and adding salt from a salt-mine, an obol weight to a pound of scum. Then on the last day they store it in a lead vessel. Some boil it with white beans and pearl-barley and dry it in the sun, and others boil it with beans in a white woollen cloth till it ceases to discolour the wool; and then they add salt from a salt-mine, changing the water from time to time, and put it out to dry on the 40 hottest days of summer. They also boil it in a sow's paunch in water, and when they take it out rub it with soda, and grind it in mortars with salt as above. In some cases people do not boil it but grind it up with salt and then add water and rinse it. [110] It is used to make an eyewash and for women's skins to remove ugly scars and spots and as a hair-wash. Its effect is to dry, to soften, to cool, to act as a gentle purge, to fill up cavities caused by ulcers, and to soften tumours; it is used as an ingredient in plasters serving these purposes, and for the emollient plasters mentioned above. Mixed with rue and myrtle and vinegar, it also removes erysipelas, and likewise chilblains if mixed with myrtle and wax.

{36.} L   [111] Minium or cinnabar also is found in silver mines; it is of great importance among pigments at the present day, and also in old times it not only had the highest importance but even sacred associations among the Romans. Verrius gives a list of writers of unquestionable authority who say that on holidays it was the custom for the face of the statue of Jupiter himself to be coloured with cinnabar, as well as the bodies of persons going in a triumphal procession, and that Camillus was so coloured in his triumph, [112] and that under the same ritual it was usual even in their day for cinnabar to be added to the unguents used at a banquet in honour of a triumph, and that one of the first duties of the censors was to place a contract for painting Jupiter with cinnabar. For my own part I am quite at a loss to explain the origin of this custom, although at the present day the pigment in question is known to be in demand among the nations of Ethiopia whose chiefs colour themselves all over with it, and with whom the statues of the gods are of that colour. On that account we will investigate all the facts concerning it more carefully.

{37.} L   [113] Theophrastus states that cinnabar was discovered by an Athenian named Callias, 90 years before the archonship of Praxibulus at Athens - this date works out at the 349th year of our city {405 BC}, and that Callias was hoping that gold could by firing be extracted from the red sand found in silver mines; and that this was the origin of cinnabar, although cinnabar was being found even at that time in Spain, but a hard and sandy kind, [114] and likewise in the country of the Colchi on a certain inaccessible rock from which the natives dislodged it by shooting javelins, but that this is cinnabar of an impure quality whereas the best is found in the Cilbian territory beyond Ephesus, where the sand is of the scarlet colour of the kermes-insect; and that this is ground up and then the powder is washed and the sediment that sinks to the bottom is washed again; and that there is a difference of skill, some people producing cinnabar at the first washing while with others this is rather weak and the product of the second washing is the best.

{38.} L   [115] I am not surprised that the colour had an important rank, for as far back as Trojan times red ochre was highly valued, as evidenced by Homer, who speaks of it as a distinguished colour for ships, although otherwise he rarely alludes to colours and paintings. The Greek name for it is 'miltos,' and they call minium 'cinnabar.' [116] This gave rise to a mistake owing to the name 'Indian cinnabar,' for that is the name the Greeks give to the gore of a snake crushed by the weight of dying elephants, when the blood of each animal gets mixed together, as we have said; and there is no other colour that properly represents blood in a picture. That kind of cinnabar is extremely useful for antidotes and medicaments. But our doctors, I swear, because they give the name of cinnabar to minium also, employ this minium, which as we shall soon show is a poison.

{39.} L   [117] In old times 'dragon's-blood' cinnabar was used for painting the pictures that are still called monochromes, 'in one colour.' Cinnabar from Ephesus was also used for painting, but this has been given up because pictures in that colour were a great amount of trouble to preserve. Moreover both colours were thought excessively harsh; consequently painters have gone over to red-ochre and Sinopic ochre, pigments about which I shall speak in the proper places { 35.30 }. Cinnabar is adulterated with goat's blood or with crushed service-berries. The price of genuine cinnabar is 50 sesterces a pound.

{40.} L   [118] Juba reports that cinnabar is also produced in Carmania, and Timagenes says it is found in Ethiopia as well, but from neither place is it exported to us, and from hardly any other either except from Spain, the most famous cinnabar mine for the revenues of the Roman nation being that in the region of Sisapo in Baetica, no item being more carefully safeguarded: it is not allowed to smelt and refine the ore upon the spot, but as much as about 2000 pounds per annum is delivered to Rome in the crude state under seal, and is purified at Rome, the price in selling it being fixed by law established at 70 sesterces a pound, to prevent its going beyond limit. But it is adulterated in many ways, which is a source of plunder for the company. [119] For there is in fact another kind a of minium, found in almost all silver-mines, and likewise lead-mines, which is made by smelting a stone that has veins of metal running through it, and not obtained from the stone the round drops of which we have designated quicksilver - for that stone also if fired yields quicksilver - but from other stones found at the same time. These have no quicksilver and are detected only by their leaden colour, and only when they turn red in the furnaces, and after being thoroughly smelted they are pulverized by hammering. This gives a minium of second rate quality, which is known to very few people, and is much inferior to the natural sands we have mentioned. [120] It is this then that is used for adulterating real minium in the factories of the company, but a cheaper kind is adulterated with Syrian: the preparation of the latter will be described in the proper place { 35.40 }; but the process of giving cinnabar and red-lead a treatment of Syrian is detected by calculation when the one is weighed against the other. Cinnabar also, with red-lead, affords an opportunity for pilfering by painters in another way, if they wash out their brushes immediately when full of paint; the cinnabar or the red-lead settles at the bottom of the water and stays there for the pilferers. [121] Pure cinnabar ought to have the brilliant colour of the scarlet kermes-insect, while the shine of that of the second quality when used on wall-paintings is affected by rust, although this is itself a sort of metallic rust. In the cinnabar mines of Sisapo the vein of sand is pure, without silver. It is melted like gold; it is assayed by means of gold made red hot, as if it has been adulterated it turns black, but if genuine it keeps its colour. I find that it is also adulterated with lime, and this can be detected in a similar way with a sheet of red-hot iron if there is no gold available. [122] A surface painted with cinnabar is damaged by the action of sunlight and moonlight. The way to prevent this is to let the wall dry and then to coat it with Punic wax melted with olive oil and applied by means of brushes of bristles while it is still hot, and then this wax coating must be again heated by bringing near to it burning charcoal made of plant-galls, till it exudes drops of perspiration, and afterwards smoothed down with waxed rollers and then with clean linen cloths, in the way in which marble is given a shine. Persons polishing cinnabar in workshops tie on their face loose masks of bladder-skin, to prevent their inhaling the dust in breathing, which is very pernicious, and nevertheless to allow them to see over the bladders. Cinnabar is also used in writing books, and it makes a brighter lettering for inscriptions on a wall or on marble even in tombs.

{41.} L   [123] Of secondary importance is the fact that experience has also discovered a way of getting hydrargyrum or artificial quicksilver as a substitute for real quicksilver; we postponed the description of this a little previously. It is made in two ways, not by pounding red-lead in vinegar with a copper pestle in a copper mortar, or it is put in an iron shell in flat earthenware pans, and covered with a convex lid smeared on with clay, and then a fire is lit under the pans and kept constantly burning by means of bellows, and so the surface moisture (with the colour of silver and the fluidity of water) which forms on the lid is wiped off it. This moisture is also easily divided into drops and rains down freely with slippery fluidity. [124] And as cinnabar and red-lead are admitted to be poisons, all the current instructions on the subject of its employment for medicinal purposes are in my opinion decidedly risky, except perhaps that its application to the head or stomach arrests haemorrhage, provided that it does not find access to the vital organs or come in contact with a lesion. In any other way for my own part I would not recommend its employment.

{42.} L   [125] At the present time silver is almost the only substance that is gilded with artificial quicksilver, though really a similar method ought to be used in coating copper. But the same fraudulence which is so extremely ingenious in every department of life has devised an inferior material, as we have shown { 33.100 }.

{43.} L   [126] With the mention of gold and silver goes a description of the stone called the touch stone, formerly according to Theophrastus not usually found anywhere but in the river Tmolus, but now found in various places. Some people call it Heraclian stone and others Lydian. The pieces are of a moderate size, not exceeding four inches in length and two in breadth. The part of these pieces that has been exposed to the sun is better than the part on the ground. When experts using this touchstone, like a file, have taken with it a scraping from an ore, they can say at once how much gold it contains and how much silver or copper, to a difference of a scruple, their marvellous calculation not leading them astray.

{44.} L   [127] There are two points in which silver shows a variation. A shaving that remains perfectly white when placed on white-hot iron shovels is passed as good, while if it turns red it is of the next quality, and if black it has no value at all. But fraud has found its way even into this test; if the shovels are kept in men's urine the silver shaving is stained by it during the process of being burnt, and counterfeits whiteness. There is also one way of testing polished silver in a man's breath - if it at once forms surface moisture and dissipates the vapour.

{45.} L   [128] It has been believed that only the best silver is capable of being beaten out into plates and producing an image. This was formerly a sound test, but nowadays this too is spoiled by fraud. Still, the property of reflecting images is marvellous; it is generally agreed that it takes place owing to the repercussion of the air which is thrown back into the eyes. In a similar way, owing to the same force, in employing a mirror if the thickness of the metal has been polished and beaten out into a slightly concave shape the size of the objects reflected is enormously magnified: such a difference does it make whether the surface welcomes the air in question or flings it back. [129] Moreover bowls can be made of such a shape, with a number of looking-glasses so to speak beaten outward inside them, that if only a single person is looking into them a crowd of images is formed of the same number as the facets in question. Ingenuity even devises vessels that do conjuring tricks, for instance those deposited as votive offerings in the temple at Smyrna: this is brought about by the shape of the material, and it makes a very great difference whether the vessels are concave and shaped like a bowl or convex like a Thracian shield, whether their centre is recessed or projecting, whether the oval is horizontal or oblique, laid flat or placed upright, as the quality of the shape receiving the shadows twists them as they come: [130] for in fact the image in a mirror is merely the shadow arranged by the brilliance of the material receiving it. And in order to complete the whole subject of mirrors in this place, the best of those known in old days were those made at Brundisium of a mixture of stagnum and copper. Silver mirrors have come to be preferred; they were first made by Pasiteles in the period of Pompeius the Great. But it has recently come to be believed that a more reliable reflection is given by applying a layer of gold to the back of glass.

{46.} L   [131] The people of Egypt stain their silver so as to see portraits of their god Anubis in their vessels; and they do not engrave but paint their silver. The use of that material thence passed over even to our triumphal statues, and, wonderful to relate, its price rises with the dimming of its brilliance. The method adopted is as follows: with the silver is mixed one third its amount of the very fine Cyprus copper called chaplet-copper and the same amount of live sulphur as of silver, and then they are melted in an earthenware vessel smeared round with potter's clay; the heating goes on till the lids of the vessels open of theft own accord. Silver is also turned black by means of the yolk of a hardboiled egg, although the black can be rubbed off with vinegar and chalk.

[132] The triumvir Antonius alloyed the silver denarius with iron, and forgers put an alloy of copper in silver coins, while others also reduce the weight, the proper coinage being 84 denarii from a pound of silver. Consequently a method was devised of assaying the denarius, under a law that was so popular that the common people unanimously district by district voted statues to Marius Gratidianus. And it is a remarkable thing that in this alone among arts spurious methods are objects of study, and a sample of a forged denarius is carefully examined and the adulterated coin is bought for more than genuine ones.

{47.} L   [133] In old days there was no number standing for more than 100,000, and accordingly even today we reckon by multiples of that number, using the expression times 'ten times one hundred thousand' or larger multiples. This was due to usury and to the introduction of coined money, and also on the same lines we still speak of money owed as 'somebody else's copper.' Afterwards 'Dives,' 'Rich,' became a family surname, though it must be stated that the man who first received this name ran through his creditors' money and went bankrupt. [134] Afterwards Marcus Crassus, who was a member of the Dives family, used to say that nobody was a wealthy man except one who could maintain a legion of troops on his yearly income. He owned landed property worth two hundred million sesterces, being the richest Roman citizen after Sulla. Nor was he satisfied without getting possession of the whole of the Parthians' gold as well; and although it is true he was the first to win lasting reputation for wealth - it is a pleasant task to stigmatize insatiable covetousness of that sort - we have known subsequently of many liberated slaves who have been wealthier, and three at the same time not long before our own days in the period of the emperor Claudius, namely Callistus, Pallas and Narcissus. [135] And to omit these persons, as if they were still in sovereign power, there is Gaius Caecilius Isidorus, the freedman of Gaius Caecilius who in the consulship of Gaius Asinius Gallus and Gaius Marcius Censorinus {8 BC} executed a will dated January 27 in which he declared that in spite of heavy losses in the civil war he nevertheless left 4116 slaves, 3600 pairs of oxen, 257,000 head of other cattle, and 60 million sesterces in cash, and he gave instructions for 1,100,000 to be spent on his funeral. [136] But let them amass uncountable riches, yet what fraction will they be of the riches of the Ptolemy who is recorded by Varro, at the time when Pompeius was campaigning in the regions adjoining Judaea {63 BC}, to have maintained 6000 horse at his own charges, to have given a lavish feast to a thousand guests, with 1,000 gold goblets, which were changed at every course; and then what fraction would his own estate have been (for I am not speaking about kings) of that of the Bithynian Pythes, [137] who presented the famous gold plane tree and vine to king Darius, and gave a banquet to the forces of Xerxes, that is 788,000 men, with a promise of five months' pay and corn on condition that one at least of his five children when drawn for service should be left to cheer his old age? Also let anyone compare even Pythes himself with king Croesus! What madness it is (damn it all!), to covet a thing in our lifetime that has either fallen to the lot even of slaves or has reached no limit even in the desires of kings!

{48.} L   [138] The Roman nation began lavishing donations in the consulship of Spurius Postumius and Quintus Marcius {186 BC}: so abundant was money at that date that they contributed funds for Lucius Scipio to defray the cost of games which he celebrated. As for the national contribution of one-sixth of an its per head for the funeral of Menenius Agrippa {491 BC}, I should consider this as a mark of respect and also a measure rendered necessary by Agrippa's poverty, and not a matter of lavish generosity.

{49.} L   [139] Fashions in silver plate undergo marvellous variations owing to the vagaries of human taste, no kind of workmanship remaining long in favour. At one time Furnian plate is in demand, at another Clodian, at another Gratian - for we make even the factories feel at home at our tables - at another time the demand is for embossed plate and rough surfaces, where the metal has been cut out along the painted lines of the designs, [140] while now we even fit removable shelves on our sideboards to carry the viands, and other pieces of plate we decorate with filigree, so that the file may have wasted as much silver as possible. The orator Calvus complainingly cries that cooking-pots are made of silver; but it is we who invented decorating carriages with chased silver, and it was in our day that the emperor Nero's wife Poppaea had the idea of even having her favourite mules shod with gold.

{50.} L   [141] The younger Africanus left his heir thirty-two pounds weight of silver, and the same person paraded 4370 pounds of silver in his triumphal procession {145 BC} after the conquest of Carthage. This was the amount of silver owned by the whole of Carthage, Rome's rival for the empire of the world, yet subsequently beaten in the show of plate on how many dinner-tables! Indeed after totally destroying Numantia the same Africanus at his triumph {132 BC} gave a largess of seven denarii a head to his troops - warriors not unworthy of such a general who were satisfied with that amount! His brother Allobrogicus was the first person who ever owned 1000 pounds weight of silver, whereas Livius Drusus when tribune of the people had 10,000 pounds. [142] For that an old warrior, honoured with a triumphal procession, incurred the notice of the censors {275 BC} for possessing ten pounds weight of silver - that nowadays seems legendary, and the same as to Catus Aelius's not accepting the silver plate presented to him by the envoys from Aetolia who during his consulship {198 BC} had found him eating his lunch off earthenware, and as to his never till the last day of his life having owned any other silver but the two bowls given to him by his wife's father Lucius Paulus in recognition of his valour at the time when king Perseus was conquered. [143] We read that the Carthaginian ambassadors declared that no race of mankind lived on more amicable terms with one another than the Romans, inasmuch as in a round of banquets they had found the same service of plate in use at every house! But, good heavens, Pompeius Paulinus the son of a knight of Rome at Arelate and descended on his father's side from a tribe that went about clad in skins, to our knowledge had 12,000 pounds weight of silver plate with him when on service with an army confronted by tribes of the greatest ferocity.

{51.} L   [144] Now we know that ladies' bedsteads have for a long time now been entirely covered with silver plating, and so for long have banqueting-couches also. It is recorded that Carvilius Pollio, knight of Rome, was the first person who had silver put on these latter, though not so as to plate them all over or make them to the Delos pattern, but in the Carthaginian style. In this latter style he also had bedsteads made of gold, and not long afterwards silver bedsteads were made, in imitation of those of Delos. All this extravagance however was expiated by the civil war of Sulla.

{52.} L   [145] In fact it was shortly before this period that silver dishes were made weighing a hundred pounds, and it is well-known that there were at that date over 150 of those at Rome, and that many people were sentenced to outlawry a because of them, by the intrigues of people who coveted them. History which has held vices such as these to be responsible for that civil war may blush with shame, but our generation has gone one better. Under the Emperor Claudius his slave Drusillanus, who bore the name of Rotundus, the Emperor's steward of  Nearer Spain, possessed a silver dish weighing 500 pounds, for the manufacture of which a workshop had first been specially built, and eight others of 250 pounds went with it as side-dishes, so that how many of his fellow-slaves, I ask, were to bring them in or who were to dine off them? [146] Cornelius Nepos records that before the victory won by Sulla there were only two silver dinner-couches at Rome, and that silver began to be used for decorating sideboards within his own recollection. And Fenestella who died towards the end of the principate of Tiberius says that tortoiseshell sideboards also came into fashion at that time, but a little before his day they had been solid round structures of wood, and not much larger than tables; but that even in his boyhood they began to be made square and of planks mortised together and veneered either with maple or citrus wood, while later silver was laid on at the corners and along the lines marking the joins, and when he was a young man they were called 'drums,' and then also the dishes for which the old name had been magides came to be called basins from their resemblance to the scales of a balance.

{53.} L   [147] Yet it is not only for quantities of silver that there is such a rage among mankind but there is an almost more violent passion for works of fine handicraft; and this goes back a long time, so that we of today may excuse ourselves from blame.

Gaius Gracchus had some figures of dolphins for which he paid 5000 sesterces per pound, while the orator Lucius Crassus had a pair of chased goblets, the work of the artist Mentor, that cost 100,000; yet admittedly he was too ashamed ever to use them. It is known to us that he likewise owned some vessels that he bought for 6000 sesterces per pound. [148] It was the conquest of Asia that first introduced luxury into Italy, inasmuch as Lucius Scipio carried in procession at his triumph 1400 pounds of chased silverware and vessels of gold weighing 1500 pounds: this was in the 565th year from the foundation of the city of Rome {189 BC}. But receiving Asia also as a gift dealt a much more serious blow to our morals, and the bequest of it that came to us on the death of king Attalus was more disadvantageous than the victory of Scipio. [149] For on that occasion all scruples entirely disappeared in regard to buying these articles at the auctions of the king's effects at Rome - the date was the 622nd year of the city {132 BC}, and in the interval of 57 years our community had learnt not merely to admire but also to covet foreign opulence; an impetus having also been given to manners by the enormous shock of the conquest of Achaia, that victory itself also having during this interval of time introduced the statues and pictures won in the 608th year of the city {146 BC}. [150] That nothing might be lacking, luxury came into being simultaneously, with the downfall of Carthage, a fatal coincidence that gave us at one and the same time a taste for the vices and an opportunity for indulging in them. Some of the older generation also sought to gain esteem from these sources. It is recorded that Gaius Marius after his victory over the Cimbrians drank from Bacchic tankards, in imitation of Father Liber - he, the ploughman of Arpinum who rose to the position of general from the ranks!

{54.} L   [151] The view is held that the extension of the use of silver to statues was made in the case of statues of the deified Augustus, owing to the sycophancy of the period, but this is erroneous. We find that previously a silver statue of Pharnaces the First, king of Pontus, was carried in the triumphal procession of Pompeius the Great {61 BC}, as well as one of Mithridates Eupator, and also chariots of gold and silver were used. [152] Likewise silver has at some periods even supplanted gold, female luxury among the plebeians having its shoe buckles made of silver, as wearing gold buckles would be prohibited by the more common fashion. We have ourselves seen Arellius Fuscus (who was expelled from the equestrian order on a singularly grave charge) wearing silver rings when he sought to acquire celebrity for his school for youths. But what is the point of collecting these instances, when our soldiers' sword hilts are made of chased silver, even ivory not being thought good enough; and when their scabbards jingle with little silver chains and their belts with silver tabs, nay nowadays our schools for pages just at the point of adolescence wear silver badges as a safeguard, and women use silver to wash in and scorn sitting-baths not made of silver, and the same substance does service both for our viands and for our baser needs? [153] If only Fabricius could see these displays of luxury - women's bathrooms with floors of silver, leaving nowhere to set your feet - and the women bathing in company with men - if only Fabricius, who forbade gallant generals to possess more than a dish and a saltcellar of silver, could see how nowadays the rewards of valour are made from the utensils of luxury, or else are broken up to make them! Alas for our present manners - Fabricius makes us blush!

{55.} L   [154] It is a remarkable fact that the art of chasing gold has not brought celebrity to anyone, whereas persons celebrated for chasing silver are numerous. The most famous however is Mentor of whom we spoke above. Four pairs of goblets were all that he ever made, but it is said that none of them now survive, owing to the burning of the Temple of Artemis of Ephesus and of the Capitol. [155] Varro says in his writings that he also possessed a bronze statue by this sculptor. Next to Mentor the artists most admired were Acragas, Boethus and Mys. Works by all of these exist at the present day in the island of Rhodes - one by Boethus in the temple of Athena at Lindus, some goblets engraved with Centaurs and Bacchants by Acragas in the temple of Father Liber or Dionysus in Rhodes itself, goblets with Sileni and Cupids by Mys in the same temple. Hunting scenes by Acragas on goblets also had a great reputation. [156] After these in celebrity is Calamis, and Diodorus who was said to have placed in a condition of heavy sleep rather than engraved on a bowl a Slumbering Satyr for Antipater. Next praise is awarded to Stratonicus of Cyzicus, Tauriscus, also Ariston and Eunicus of Mitylene, and Hecataeus, and, around the period of Pompeius the Great, Pasiteles, Posidonius of Ephesus, Hedys, Thracides who engraved battle scenes and men in armour, and Zopyrus who engraved the Athenian Council of Areopagus and the Trial of Orestes on two goblets valued at 12,000 sesterces. There was also Pytheas, one of whose works sold at the price of 10,000 denarii for two ounces: it consisted of an embossed base of a bowl representing Odysseus and Diomedes in the act of stealing the Palladium. [157] The same artist also carved some very small drinking cups in the shape of cooks known as 'The Chefs in Miniature,' which it was not allowed even to reproduce by casts, so liable to damage was the fineness of the work. Also Teucer the artist in embossed work attained celebrity, and all of a sudden this art so declined that it is now only valued in old specimens, and authority attaches to engravings worn with use even if the very design is invisible.

[158] Silver becomes tarnished by contact with water from springs containing minerals and by the salt breezes, as happens also even in the interior regions of Spain.

{56.} L In gold and silver mines also are formed the pigments yellow ochre and blue. Yellow ochre is strictly speaking a slime. The best kind comes from what is called Attic slime; its price is two denarii a pound. The next best is marbled ochre, which costs half the price of Attic. The third kind is dark ochre, which other people call Scyric ochre, as it comes from the island of Scyros, [159] and nowadays also from Achaia, which they use for the shadows of a painting, price two sesterces a pound, while that called clear ochre, coming from Gaul, costs two asses less. This and the Attic kind they use for painting different kinds of light, but only marbled ochre for squared panel designs, because the marble in it resists the acridity of the lime. This ochre is also dug up in the mountains 20 miles from Rome. It is afterwards burnt, and by some people it is adulterated and passed off as dark ochre; but the fact that it is not genuine and has been burnt is shown by its acridity and by its crumbling into dust.

[160] The custom of using yellow ochre for painting was first introduced by Polygnotus and Micon, but they only used the kind from Attica. The following period employed this for representing lights but ochre from Scyros and Lydia for shadows. Lydian ochre used to be sold at Sardis, but now it has quite gone out.

{57.} L   [161] The blue pigment is a sand. In old days there were three varieties: the Egyptian is thought most highly of; next the Scythian mixes easily with water, and changes into four colours when ground, lighter or darker and coarser or finer; to this blue the Cyprian is now preferred. To these were added the Puteoli blue, and the Spanish blue, when blue sand-deposits began to be worked in those places. Every kind however undergoes a dyeing process, being boiled with a special plant and absorbing its juice; but the remainder of the process of manufacture is the same as with gold-solder.

[162] From blue is made the substance called blue wash, which is produced by washing and grinding it. Blue wash is of a paler colour than blue, and it costs 10 denarii per pound, while blue costs 5 denarii. Blue is used on a surface of clay, as it will not stand lime. A recent addition has been Vestorian blue, called after the man Vestorius who invented it; it is made from the finest part of Egyptian blue, and costs 11 denarii per pound. Puteoli blue is employed in the same way, and also near windows; it is called cyanos. [163] Not long ago Indian blue or indigo began to be imported, its price being 7 denarii; painters use it for dividing-lines, that is, for separating shadows from light. There is also a blue wash of a very inferior kind, called ground blue, valued at 5 asses.

The test of genuine Indian blue is that when laid on burning coal it should blaze; it is adulterated by boiling dried violets in water and straining the liquor through linen on to Eretrian earth. Its use as a medicament is to clean out ulcers; consequently it is employed as an ingredient in plasters, and also in cauteries, but it is extremely difficult to pound up. [164] Yellow ochre used as a drug has a gently mordant and astringent effect, and fills up ulcers. To make it beneficial it is burnt in earthenware vessels.

We are not unaware that the prices of articles which we have stated at various points differ in different places and alter nearly every year, according to the shipping costs or the terms on which a particular merchant has bought them, or as some dealer dominating the market may whip up the selling price; we have not forgotten that, under the emperor Nero, Demetrius was prosecuted before the consuls by the entire Seplasia { of Capua }. Nevertheless I have found it necessary to state the prices usual at Rome, in order to give an idea of a standard value of commodities.

Book 34

Attalus' home page   |   02.10.20   |   Any comments?