Diamonds in Mythology and Folklore

Page 1




Author: James Russell Website: www.speculatorsjourney.com Email: james@speculatorsjourney.com Twitter: @SpecJourney Cover and illustrations: Sam Pash Website: sampashillustration.tumblr.com Copyright Š 2019 First Published by Speculators Journey in 2019 in Perth, Western Australia. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. Please feel free to email me for permission; I’m usually agreeable. ISBN: 978-0-6484907-0-8


KNOWN ONLY TO KINGS: DIAMONDS IN MYTHOLOGY AND FOLKLORE

The greatest value among the objects of human property, not merely among precious stones, is due to the diamond, for a long time known only to kings and even to very few of these. – Pliny the Elder, Natural History (AD 77)


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

CONTENTS PREFACE

6

CHAPTER ONE – DISCOVERY Early History of Diamonds Diamonds and the Caste System Diamonds and Sex

10 12 17 19

CHAPTER TWO – DIAMONDS IN INDIAN MYTHOLOGY Indra and the Drought God The Origin of Diamonds in Hindu Mythology The Syamantaka The Silappadikaram Diamonds and Buddhism

21 21 24 26 31 40

CHAPTER THREE – DIAMONDS IN WESTERN MYTHOLOGY Diamonds in the Bible The Story of Uranus, Cronus and the Diamond Harpé The Valley of Diamonds

43 44 49 53

CHAPTER FOUR – PLINY AND HIS THOUGHTS ON DIAMONDS Testing Diamonds with a Hammer and Anvil Softening Diamonds with Goat Blood The Power of Diamonds over Magnets Diamonds, Poison and Medicine

58 58 62 63 65

CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE Three Diamonds Diamond Cut Diamond Charlemagne and the Diamond Biancabella and the Snake The Enchanted Ring Diamonds and Toads Mr. Fox

75 76 81 91 97 109 120 124

GLOSSARY

130

AUTHOR’S NOTE

139

INDEX

142

4


ILLUSTRATIONS Some idealised forms of natural diamond crystals 7 Ancient trade routes 15 Ancient Roman diamond ring with rough and cut diamonds 16 “The combination of diamond with bone created an invincible weapon.” 22 A vajra or dorje 25 “Each thought they were on the verge of overpowering the other.” 27 “The king was delighted by her dance.” 32 Vajrapani, a manifestation of Buddha’s power. 40 The Breastplate of Judgement worn by the High Priest of Israel. 45 “Dread keepers of the fabulous treasure.” 54 A Roman blacksmith tests a diamond. 59 “One diamond is enough for me to live a comfortable life.” 76 “I would be most honoured and would guard the box with my life.” 83 “Everyone is entitled to justice, man or beast.” 92 “You seem very unhappy, what’s the matter?” 109 “A cascade of diamonds, pearls and flowers fell from her mouth.” 119 “It is so, and it was so. Here’s hand and ring I have to show.” 126 Diagram of diamond formation and deposition. 131

5


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

D

PREFACE

iamonds are unique because they are the only gemstones made entirely from a single element. It is carbon in its hardest form, in fact, the hardest natural material known to us. A counterpoint to the

softest solid, graphite, which is also composed of pure carbon. The atoms are merely arranged differently. Biologists say that we are carbon-based life forms and carbon is the basic building block of all life. Whether in the form of graphite, diamond or the recently discovered graphene, carbon minerals have extraordinary qualities. Graphene is considered the wonder mineral of the twenty-first century. But diamonds also have qualities which are going to be essential for future technology. Among other things, they: disperse heat;can withstand high frequency, high voltage conditions; are resistant to radiation and are scratch resistant, enabling super transparency. They are the go-to stone for jewellers. In addition to serving as the centrepiece in an item of jewellery, they are also the best choice to make an item glitter and draw the eye to it. As the hardest of all stones, they can achieve the highest level of polish and are the ultimate in scratch resistance. They seldom need a re-polish. They can be set in any kind of jewellery without fear that they will be knocked and unduly damaged. They are tough enough to be (gently) hammered into their setting. They are rare enough to be desirable. Yet there are enough of them that a jeweller can obtain almost any size, shape and grade their

6


P R E FA C E

customer demands within a reasonable time. Diamonds are strangers from an alien land‌ they come from deep within the earth, so deep that no drill can reach their source. They only come to the surface when carried by high-velocity volcanic magma. The volcanoes which have such deep roots and erupt so quickly are all extinct now, but maybe they will start erupting again one day. Diamonds carry within themselves other minerals from their original location: they are the only clue for our scientists to what exists so deep within the Earth. But the Earth isn’t the only deep and inaccessible place occupied by diamonds. Although they were the exclusive possession of kings until a little more than a hundred years ago, they have drilled themselves down to a place in our collective subconscious. I was surprised by the themes which recur so often in myth and folklore concerning diamonds. Why should snakes, rain and poison, among other things, all be associated with diamonds? Why should Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Judaism take an interest in a mineral that was mostly used for industrial purposes until the early Renaissance? The connection with snakes, which crops up time and again throughout the literature, was the most unexpected. The snake is a symbol which conveys many different meanings. As an animal which can kill humans,

Some idealised forms of natural diamond crystals.

7


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

it inspires fear. Its shape, smell and reptile nature can cause disgust. Known for shedding their skins, they are a symbol of rebirth or immortality. The ancient Greeks and Romans saw them as a fertility symbol. Snakes have a long-held association with healing and medicine. These meanings are evident in some of the stories. But their most important meaning, in relation to diamonds, is that of knowledge. It was a snake which encouraged Eve to seek self-awareness. This myth is one of the earliest in human history and the best known one in the Bible. I haven’t included all of the stories that mention diamonds, only those which I think represent some unique insight into the way we view them. There are numerous stories I have not included where diamonds are mentioned, but where a substitute material would serve almost as well. For example, impassable walls and gates are often made of diamond; great treasures often include diamonds; beneficial animals sometimes produce diamonds. There are many beliefs about the power of diamonds to cure various illnesses, to make people invisible, to drive off snakes. Unless there is a story attached to those beliefs I have not described them here. However, I have included a discussion of Pliny’s thoughts on diamonds, as they have influenced our encounters with these stones for two thousand years. I have also included a section on diamonds as a poison and for medicinal use for the same reason. All of the stories in this collection are ‘true’ in that they have been passed down to us by storytellers, and they reveal some form of eternal truth or wisdom. All except the first, ‘Discovery’, which I have taken the liberty to invent. But even that one is based on a story from early colonial times, and my own experiences travelling in Indonesian Borneo and prospecting.

8


P R E FA C E

At the back of this book, I have added a contextual glossary, a section where I’ve defined some of the words that are often used to talk about diamonds. They are in the context of short essays on various related topics. I think this is a more interesting way to define the words than interrupting a story to explain something that you might already know. Finally, there is an index which includes most of the themes that recur in stories about diamonds. Identifying these recurring themes has given me some interesting insights into how we understand diamonds. If I have left out a story which you think belongs in this collection, please send a message through the website speculatorsjourney.com. If you enjoy this book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon, Goodreads or whichever social media you prefer.

9


CHAPTER ONEÂ DISCOVERY

D

eep in the forests of Borneo, the tribeswomen were starting to disperse from the pool where they took their morning bath. There had been animated discussion about the alarming news from a visitor

last night concerning a tribe much further downstream. A number of children in that tribe had gone missing in the previous few months. Finally, a few hunters managed to trace the disappearances to a large burrow on an island in the river. They dug into the mound from the opposite side of the tunnel. Inside the den, they found two big black dragons and a small yellow dragon. The two big dragons were as thick as the pole used to hold up the roof of the village longhouse. They killed the two big dragons but they judged the younger one innocent of the crimes. Before releasing the small dragon they made a treaty with it - they would not kill any more dragons as long as the dragons did not harm any more people. With these thoughts, most of the women went back to the longhouse to process their grain, grind pigments or weave cloth. A few went upstream to set fish traps. Others took advantage of the cool morning to work in their gardens. One of the women slipped away from the group without happening to mention

10


CHAPTER ONE – DISCOVERY

what she was planning to do. She had seen a dragon before, many years ago. It was like a giant python. But that wasn’t her concern that morning. The woman went downstream a little way, then up a tributary creek until she came to a place her grandmother had shown her. She started looking for rocks where the water flowed over them, causing the current to slow. She asked the stream’s forgiveness for what she was about to do. Then, with the back of her hand, she swept away the topmost pebbles from a rock shelf on the downstream side of the rocks, and searched for flakes of gold among the heaviest sediments. As she found them, she popped them into a tightly woven purse. In a little while, she had gathered almost enough flakes and grains of this ‘sand of heaven’ to make a thin earring. But then her eyes were drawn to a flash of light from a tiny pebble. She had seen pebbles like this one before. They were various shades of brownish yellow and had a greasy look. Not very attractive and not very common. But the Dayak take note of everything in their environment. The difference between this one and the other pebbles like it was that an edge was knocked off, exposing a fresh surface that hadn’t been stained by iron oxide. It glowed and flashed in the sunlight. The woman put the stone into her purse with the gold. After a search that took longer than she expected, she found another stone like the first, but without a chip on its surface. She ritually thanked the spirit of the stream for its gifts, and took the finds away to her little day camp to take a closer look. She broke open the second stone. It was brownish all the way through, not transparent and glittery like the first. But she noticed that the stone had made a scratch on the hard rock she

11


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

pounded it on. After more testing on some other hard objects, she concluded that these little stones would be better than anything else for carving patterns on the surface of tools, other gemstones or anything she wanted to decorate. ◊ The discovery of diamonds in Borneo probably happened later than in India, because that’s where the earliest reports of diamond mining come from. The earliest hard evidence we have of diamonds from Borneo is from the sixteenth century, while we know that Indians were mining diamonds thousands of years before that. Perhaps the discovery happened independently in both regions. Wherever it happened, the discovery was a freak event which we now take for granted. Nobody in Africa or South America noticed the diamonds which existed in even greater quantities there - until Europeans went searching for them. In Zimbabwe’s Marange district, not far from the ancient city of Bulawayo, and even after the world-changing discoveries in South Africa, people trod the ground for centuries without taking notice of diamonds that were under their feet. Once the diamond rush began, in 2006, people were picking them up off the ground like bits of broken windshield glass.

Early History of Diamonds We know that the Indians used diamonds as talismans (lucky charms) from as long ago as 800 BC. For the next 2,500 years, India and Borneo were the only known sources of diamonds in the world. Around 400 BC, Indian jewellers began to identify diamonds as a distinct type of stone, separate from quartz. Diamonds came to Rome by the second century BC. 12


CHAPTER ONE – DISCOVERY

The Romans wore diamonds in the form of crystals, uncut. An uncut, rough diamond has a distinctive ‘greasy’ lustre and its surface is usually pitted, often with tiny triangles (or ‘trigons’). But if the stone has cleaved, the cleavage surface will show a brilliant adamantine lustre, just as you can see on any cut and polished diamond. Cleavage can occur when too much pressure is put on the stone and a section of it slices off. Diamonds have ‘perfect’ cleavage, which means the cleaved surfaces are flat, but diamonds don’t cleave easily. It is likely that the Romans knew diamonds mainly for their industrial use as an abrasive. Diamond-tipped iron styluses were essential for carving pictures and words in agate and other gemstones to make seal rings, the blockchain technology of their time. They used diamond-tipped drills to bore holes in pearls, amber and other gemstones to make them into wearable beads. Diamond-tipped styluses and drills were also exported from Rome to China. The second century BC manuscript, the Lie Tseu, or Book of Master Lie, mentions an instrument which was a chisel with a diamond tip. It also gives the source of this tool, which was Rome. Chinese manuscripts from the fifth century AD mention the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire as a source of these tools. The Chinese themselves found it curious that ‘foreigners’ would use such a dull thing as a diamond for a ring stone or a talisman. They describe the diamonds they saw as resembling a pearl - which is what a rough diamond looks like when it has rounded edges. In the ancient world, diamonds looked nothing like the ones you see in a jeweller’s shop window today. The technology to cut and polish them did not exist. It wasn’t until the 12th 13


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

century AD, when the science of optics began to emerge, that diamonds started being cut to maximise their brilliance and dispersion. It was a process which took centuries to perfect. Most of the diamonds that survive from Ancient Rome are yellowish or brownish and uncut, so it is likely their appearance was secondary to their worth as talismans. This also shows that India did not export its best stones to the West. The best diamonds were taken by local rulers. Kings love to own things that are unusual, rare or prestigious. It’s a way of demonstrating their power by showing off things which another king might not have owned or even seen before. Diamonds were also used as gifts. Sometimes they were used in diplomacy, but they are also small enough to be snatched up and carried off into exile by a king if he lost his throne. The jewels could then be used to gain favour with another king who might help restore the exile, or at least give him asylum and a comfortable retirement. What other interesting things can I tell you about Roman diamonds? Very few have survived. Nearly all come from archaeological digs. Very few come from earlier than the time of Julius Caesar. Most were found in Roman Syria. Most are set in rings. Sometimes, rock crystal (colourless quartz) was used to imitate diamond. There are some ancient Roman rings set with rock crystal cut into the shape of a diamond octahedron crystal. When the Roman Empire collapsed in the fifth century and hostile empires rose up along the Indian trade route, diamonds lost their position in European life. This situation continued for almost a thousand years. Medieval lapidary books rated them seventeenth among the precious stones, even though the writers knew of and acknowledged the ancient writer Pliny’s comments concerning diamonds. In the seventh century, Isidore of Seville described diamonds as ‘small and dull.’ 14


CHAPTER ONE – DISCOVERY

15


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

Ancient Roman diamond ring with rough and cut diamonds

Even in the sixteenth century, after a trip to India in 1565, Portuguese physician and naturalist Garcia de Orta wrote: “…here (in India) the diamond is the king of the gemstones. But if we use value and beauty as our criteria it is certain that, for us, emeralds hold first place, then rubies.” So the biggest and best of India’s diamonds tended to stay close to where they were found. Laws were made to ensure that the local king got first pick of any particularly large or unusual gems found in his domain. Only lesser stones were used for trade. Stones from Borneo were exported solely to India. Supplies of diamonds from India were never large enough for them to be less than a super luxury item in Europe. Imports amounted to just a few kilograms a year at the height of the trade. Only the highest levels of the elite could afford to buy a diamond to wear. This was the case until the 18th century,

16


CHAPTER ONE – DISCOVERY

when big new deposits of diamonds were discovered in Brazil. We only know a little of the early history of diamonds in India from a book called The Arthasastra of Kautilya. This is sometimes translated as “The Lesson of Profit”. Kautilya was the chief minister to King Chandragupta Maurya, the first emperor of India, who ruled from 320 to 298 BC. Until 1905, when a copy of the Arthasastra was discovered, the only information we had about Chandragupta came from a Greek named Megasthenes. He served at the court as a diplomat for only four years. The Arthasastra proves to us that the Indians knew about diamonds at that time. They were an important economic trade item and a rich source of tax revenue. It also talks about an earlier work, the Ratnapariksha. Both of these texts acclaimed the diamond as the greatest of all gemstones. Not for its physical properties but for its magical powers.

Diamonds and the Caste System In Western society, we belong to various social classes. Our class depends on our level of wealth, education, occupation, friends, what we wear, how we speak, etc. When we visit the house of someone from a much higher or lower social class we might feel a bit uncomfortable compared to when we visit someone from the same class. But we can change our social class with some effort, or some lack of effort. In some cultures, these social distinctions are more formalised: they depend entirely on who your ancestors were. In Japan, your name might indicate you belong to a particular caste, such as the Burakumin, and it might prevent you from getting a good job. In India, caste barriers are clear and permanent and may even restrict you

17


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

to working in a narrow range of jobs. The governments of Japan and India have been working for many years to eliminate these barriers. At one time, in India, the caste system even determined what type of diamond people were allowed to own. They believed diamonds contained so much power that it would be dangerous for them to be in the wrong hands. Only Brahmins, the priestly caste, were permitted to own ‘white’, or colourless, diamonds. Vaisyas, the merchant and farming caste, were allowed to have only yellow diamonds. Many industrial diamonds have a brownish yellow colouring, although vibrant canary yellow stones are highly prized today. The Ksatria, or warrior caste, could wear red diamonds. This is the rarest colour for diamonds, so it is likely that red spinel was mistaken for diamond. Spinel crystallises in the form of an octahedron, which also happens to be the most highly prized and the best-recognised shape for a diamond crystal. The Sudras, mostly labourers and artisans, were only allowed dark gray or black diamonds, which were possibly in fact siderite crystals. Siderite crystals also form octahedrons. Siderite can sometimes be magnetic, which will be discussed in the section on Pliny. The Sudra were also allowed to have blue diamonds because this colour is associated with Yama, the god of the underworld. Vibrant blue diamonds are of course delightful, but most ‘blue’ diamonds have a blackish tone which is not appealing. Well-formed, clear octahedral crystals were the most highly prized of diamonds. This is likely due to the way their shape displays the dazzling division of colours, known as dispersion and brilliance, that you can see in a modern cut diamond.

18


CHAPTER ONE – DISCOVERY

But poorly formed crystals, those with rough surfaces, cracked or heavily included were thought to attract bad luck. In those cases where someone took the risk of wearing coloured diamonds, there was also a hierarchy for where on the body they could be worn. Clear, perfectly formed crystals could be worn on the head. As the quality diminished, the stones were to be worn on lower parts of the body in a descending gradient until black, misshapen stones could only be worn on the feet. This system was not always followed, of course, and later Islamic rulers wore famous diamonds on their chest, as armbands, as well as in their turbans. Surprisingly, at some time women were not allowed to wear diamonds at all. The Garuda Purana, a Hindu sacred text whose date is uncertain, states: “Diamonds are prohibited as articles of female wear, as they are possessed of the mystic virtues, making them sterile and unhappy.”

Diamonds and Sex Even today our scientists don’t fully understand the conditions under which diamonds form, and they continue to be a rich field of study. As the ancient Indians began the long process towards our current knowledge, they formed the opinion that diamonds have a gender. Since they believed that diamonds were inhabited by gods and spirits, it’s not surprising that they would then seek to assign genders to them. Diamonds with rounded edges, spherical shapes and more lines and spots were considered female. Those that were elongated, triangular and/ or thin were neuters. The ones which were pointed, had sharp edges, flat planes, and were bright, were considered male.

19


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

This led to the belief that diamonds could reproduce. Diamond mines were sometimes closed temporarily when their yield began to decline. After a few years, the mine would be reopened and there would be a higher yield. This may be because the action of groundwater in the closed mine worked to loosen the hard conglomerate gravels in which the diamonds were embedded, allowing them to be more easily mined. Or it may be that during the years of closure, improved technology allowed diamonds to be found at lower grades than were previously needed for mining to be profitable. Because the diamond was thought to house living beings, Indian techniques for cutting diamonds developed much more slowly than in the West. It is not unusual, today, for a diamond to lose 50% or more of its weight in the cutting process. This is necessary to ensure the facets are arrayed at angles which maximise the amount of light reflected from the stone, and to create the rainbow effect of dispersion. However, Indian lapidaries sought to preserve the coherence of the stone, losing as little weight as possible. Often the cutting would amount to little more than polishing some windows into the surface of the diamond. Cutting to maximise weight retention at the expense of brilliance has been a recognisable feature of South Asian lapidary art until very recently.

20


CHAPTER TWO DIAMONDS IN INDIAN MYTHOLOGY

Indra and the Drought God

T

here are many variations on this ancient tale. The following story is a compilation of several different versions. Indra is the king of heaven and the god associated with lightning, thunder and the rains.

He is usually depicted riding an elephant and carrying a vajra. A vajra is like a mace or sceptre, usually with five prongs on one end, four around the edge and one in the centre. But the better vajras have four prongs which are curved so as to join at the top, and they enclose a diamond. ‘Vajra’ is a Sanscrit word meaning both lightning and diamond. It is from ‘vajra’ that we derive the English word ‘vigour’, which implies physical and sexual energy. Indra used his vajra to create lightning. With his vajra, he sliced open the belly of the cloud serpent to release rain on to the earth. He also used it to create Yama, the first man. Being the first man to live, Yama was also the first to die. Because of that, Yama is king of the underworld. This is how Indra came to acquire his vajra, the Vajrayudha. 21


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

“The combination of diamond with bone created an invincible weapon.”

There was a demon named Vritra who was the god of drought. He was created by Tvashta, the god of making things (similar to the Greek god Hephaestus) for the purpose of taking revenge on Indra for killing his three-headed son and guru to the gods, Vishwarupa. Vritra was a fearsome dragon and held all the rivers and waters of the world captive. Indra was not pleased by this dry world of Vritra’s. He immediately set to fighting the drought god. They kicked up a lot of dust and harmed each other grievously. Vritra won the fight and swallowed Indra. But the other gods (Indra’s friends) forced the dragon to vomit him out. They established a truce by which Indra promised not to attack Vritra with anything made of metal, wood or stone, nor with anything that was either wet or dry. Now the gods had left their weapons with the sage Dadhichi so they could watch the fight between Indra and Vritra. Dadhichi guarded the weapons for a very long time. But eventually he got

22


CHAPTER TWO – DIAMONDS IN INDIAN MYTHOLOGY

tired of it and, in order to protect them while enabling him to leave his home, he dissolved the weapons in holy water and drank it. Much later, when the gods eventually returned and asked for their weapons back, Dadhichi told them what he’d done. The weapons were absorbed into his body and became part of his bones. Realising that bone is not metal, stone or wood, the gods asked Dadhichi to sacrifice his life so they could use his bones against Vritra. Dadhichi agreed to this. But perhaps he was like most of us, willing to sacrifice our time and money for charitable purposes… but just not yet. Dadhichi said that first, he would like to make a pilgrimage to all the holy rivers. After that, he would make the sacrifice. This wanderlust was the thing that caused the trouble with the weapons in the first place! But the gods could not refuse a request from someone who was willing to give his life for them, especially as it was in order to undertake a holy task. However, Indra didn’t feel like waiting while the holy man wandered from one river to another, wasting time here and there. So he gathered up all the rivers together and brought them to Dadhichi so he could get his pilgrimage done without wasting any more time. Dadhichi gave up his life through the use of yoga techniques. Indra carved the Vajrayudha from Dadhichi’s bones. He placed a huge diamond inside it, which he could unlock to release the solid energy it contained on to any target. The combination of diamond, the hardest thing in the natural world, with bone, the hardest thing in the human body, created an invincible weapon. The gods returned to Vritra and, after a battle lasting 360 days, Indra killed him.

23


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

A year-long battle is not a simple matter. There are many details I could have included about this fight. But one noteworthy point is that Indra almost gave up. He had already severed Vritra’s arm, but sometimes ‘knowing’ what the outcome will be makes us complacent and disinterested. It was ultimately Vritra himself who inspired Indra to finish him off. He rebuked Indra and goaded him into ending the fight honourably for both of them. Classical Western mythology echoes elements of this story Indra’s counterpart is Zeus who also uses a diamond weapon, and is king of the gods, and is associated with lightning and thunder. The notion of diamonds being used to concentrate energy is still held in contemporary popular Western mythology. Films such as Batman and Robin, Congo and Diamonds are Forever feature diamonds being used to power death rays and strong laser beams. Diamonds, and indeed vajras, are still used today by Hindus and Buddhists, including the Dalai Lama, as meditative icons. An alternative name for vajra in Buddhism is ‘dorje’. The diamonds in a vajra or dorje can be thought of as helping the believer to cut through distracting, negative or confusing thoughts to release wisdom, just as Indra cut the clouds to release the rains.

The Origin of Diamonds in Hindu Mythology The Ratnapariksha, a second century AD Sanskrit compilation of information on gemstones, tells the story of King Bala, the king of demons, and how all the gemstones in the world came into existence. 24


CHAPTER TWO – DIAMONDS IN INDIAN MYTHOLOGY

Bala was powerful and brave. He proved this by conquering the three worlds - the Earth, the air and the heavens. He defeated Indra, more than once. Even the wives of the gods weren’t safe from him. He captured Sachi, wife of Heros, to her great shame. The gods realised they could not beat Bala in an outright fight. So they changed their tactics. On a day of sacrifice, they asked him playfully if he would agree to pretend to be their victim and substitute himself for the animal in the purifying fire. Filled with pride by this request, Bala agreed to it. But even when he realised that it was the gods’ intention to make him become the sacrifice

A vajra or dorje

itself, he didn’t back down but went through with it. More than that, he asked for nothing in return, not even something to relieve the agony of death which he was about to suffer. Like an animal, they tied him to a stake with thirteen ropes, but this wasn’t necessary. He still could have escaped. His promise was the real bond which held him in the pyre. Because of the purity of his sacrifice his burnt remains - the ashes and bones that were left over from the fire - turned into gemstone seeds with the power of the gods inside them. The gods, snakes, goblins and Siddhas (mystics) all joined in a free-for-all to snatch up the gemstones. As they raced home with their treasures, some of the sacred seeds fell out of their hands and scattered all over the Earth. Some fell in the seas and rivers, some in the mountains and forests. Because they were heavy, they found their places in the lowest reaches and formed gemstone deposits. 25


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

Notice that Bala is endowed with the attributes of diamonds most favoured by the Hindus - strength, purity, nobility, even bravery. But was it wisdom or pride that led to his demise? Part of this legend reminds me of a more recently invented diamond creation myth which a Griqua servant told to a South African prospector: “After the passing of many moons, and when there was great sorrow in the land, a spirit, pitying the wants and difficulties of mankind, descended from Heaven with a huge basket full of diamonds. The spirit flew over the Vaal River, starting beyond Delport’s Hope, dropping diamonds as it sped on. Past Barkly West and Klipdam it flew toward the place now called Kimberley, ever throwing out handful after handful of gems from its huge basket. On reaching Kimberley, where at that time large trees were growing, one of the spirit’s big toes caught in a branch of a camelthorn tree, and tripping, he upset the basket, emptying out all the diamonds, and thus forming the Kimberley Mines.” – from The Romance and Reality of the Vaal Diamond Digging by T.L. Terpend and George Beet.

The Syamantaka In the Bhagavad Purana, one of the holy books of the Hindu religion, there was a stone named the Syamantaka which the sun god Surya wore around his neck. It was said that “when worn by a pure man it produces gold. But to an unclean person it always proves fatal.” ◊ Satrajit, the king of Dwarka (a city on the northwest coast of India), had a special devotion to Surya and spent a long

26


CHAPTER TWO – DIAMONDS IN INDIAN MYTHOLOGY

time praying on the beach. Eventually, Surya himself appeared before him. But the god was so radiant that the king could not see his facial expressions. So the god took off the stone and put it by his side so the king could gaze upon him. When Surya was leaving, he asked the king if there was anything he wanted. Satrajit asked for the Syamantaka, and his request was granted. Whenever the king wore the Syamantaka it generated so much light that he was mistaken for the sun itself. He kept the stone in his palace, and it was said to produce a large amount of gold every day. It also protected the kingdom from drought, fire, snakes, thieves and famine. The Lord Krishna noticed the Syamantaka and wanted to demonstrate to the world that the best things should be reserved for the country’s ruler.

“Each thought they were on the verge of overpowering the other.”

27


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

So he asked Satrajit to present the Syamantaka to King Ugrasena, the overlord of Satrajit’s and many other kingdoms. Ugrasena also happened to be Krishna’s grandfather. But the gold generated by the Syamantaka was too tempting for Satrajit to give up, and he refused to do so. Not wanting to cause a war, Krishna made no attempt to take the Syamantaka by force. But Satrajit began to find the stone burdensome, feeling anxious now he knew that Krishna wanted it. So he quietly gave it to his brother, Prasena for safe keeping. Prasena took the stone with him one day when he went hunting in the forest. He could not have had a pure enough spirit, because a lion killed him and his horse. The lion had been attracted by the stone, and started to take it away to its lair. But then a bear noticed the lion, and killed him. The bear took the Syamantaka back to his cave and gave it to his son as a toy. When Prasena didn’t come back from hunting, everyone suspected Krishna of murdering him and taking the gem, since they knew he wanted it. He had to clear his name. So he tracked the horse’s hoof prints until he found the body of Prasena, then he tracked the lion to where it was killed by the bear, and then he tracked the bear back to its cave. He entered the cave and found the baby bear with its nurse, playing with the gem. When the nurse saw Krishna she raised the alarm, summoning the father bear from his sleep. This was no ordinary bear, his name was Jambavan and he appears in other stories of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. He was the king of bears, much as Hanuman was the king of the monkeys. Jambavan did not recognise Krishna for who he was; he thought he was just a man, and a robber. He was enraged by the intrusion and immediately attacked Krishna. They fought for twenty-one days. First, they fought with weapons, then 28


CHAPTER TWO – DIAMONDS IN INDIAN MYTHOLOGY

with stones, then with tree trunks and finally hand to hand. Each thought they were on the verge of overpowering the other, always one blow away from victory. Meanwhile, after a week, everyone back home assumed that Krishna was dead. They prepared the usual funeral arrangements and sacrifices. After three weeks of fighting without doing much damage, but receiving many wounds, Jambavan finally realised that his thinking had been clouded because of his desire to keep the gemstone. Contending against Krishna had worn away his attachment to the object; he now understood he was fighting a supernatural being, and he gave up the fight. Krishna admitted that he was an incarnation of Vishnu, the supreme God. He had merely been indulging Jambavan in what was for him a play fight. Krishna forgave Jambavan, and attended to the wounds he had dealt him. The bear paid homage to Krishna, gave him his daughter’s hand in marriage and the gem Syamantaka. Krishna was troubled by the notion of taking the gem from his old friend, who he actually had known in a previous incarnation. But he decided that he had to take the stone to help clear his own name. Krishna returned to Dwarka and gave the Syamantaka back to King Satrajit. Satrajit gave Krishna his daughter, by way of reconciliation for blaming him without evidence. As for Jambavan’s daughter, although Krishna had many wives, Jambavati was his third favourite and bore him many children. Unfortunately, some other lords were upset that they hadn’t been given a chance to marry the princess. So one day when Krishna was away, they killed King Satrajit and stole the Syamantaka. But the princess escaped and found Krishna, and told him what had happened. Krishna went back again to Dwarka and hunted down the 29


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

main assassin. But the Syamantaka was lost. The assassin had given it to one of his conspirators, Akrura. Over the course of 61 years, Krishna noticed that Akrura always happened to have plenty of gold on him. And whenever Akrura moved to a new region, there was never a problem with drought, fire, famine, snakes and such things in that location. Krishna called a meeting of all the lords, including Akrura, on some pretext. Once the main business of the meeting was over, he asked Akrura to show him the Syamantaka. Akrura realised he was trapped, so he brought out the jewel and admitted that he had kept it much too long. Krishna said he only wanted the stone in order to clear his reputation of any suspicion that he might crave to own it. He offered it to the other lords who had gathered. But the other lords who had a claim on it were deterred by the fates of Satrajit and Prasena. Eventually, everyone agreed to let Akrura keep the jewel. Since he had held it for such a long time already, without suffering any harm, this proved that he had a pure heart and would not be harmed by continuing to own it. The story ends with this advice: “If you can recall the false accusation against Krishna, you will be able to endure the smears and slander brought against you, which are minor by comparison. In this way, you will be fortified to endure and wait until you are found innocent.” ◊ This story is the earliest example we know of that features a ‘cursed stone’ - the idea that a gemstone can bring bad luck to an unworthy owner. There are many gemstones that are said to carry this curse, mostly made up by salesmen trying to create a buzz and ramp up the price. But there is a grain of truth in

30


CHAPTER TWO – DIAMONDS IN INDIAN MYTHOLOGY

these types of legend. Gemstones are, by their nature, highly desirable things. They also store a large amount of value in a small and easily transported object. So if someone is known to be carrying a valuable gemstone and does not have proper security, they will be a target for thieves. Kings have been captured and tortured for information about the location of particular diamonds. It isn’t a matter to be taken lightly. I know people who have had their homes broken into because they were known to own valuable gemstones, or even suspected of it. Expensive jewels are for those who can afford to protect the stones and themselves.

The Silappadikaram One of the three surviving great Tamil epic poems is the Silappadikaram, or the Tale of the Anklet. As the name suggests, a golden anklet encrusted with diamonds and rubies is central to the plot. Unlike most of the stories in this book, the core plot is very relatable. I felt as if I were reading the plot of a Shakespearean play when I found this story. I suspect the reason it is not better known to the world is that important elements of the meaning are conveyed through dance and song, which has confounded translators. The style is also highly sophisticated and poetical at the expense of precision. In the summaries I have read, the translators are sometimes confused about what actually happened in important events in the story. Comparing translations, they are often conflicting and give incomplete information, so I have had to make my own judgement on what events to include in my version of the story.

31


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

“The king was delighted by her dance.”

While I have no chance of fully conveying the meaning contained in the Silappadikaram, I feel the work is too significant to omit from this collection of stories. Although the poem is dated to the sixth century AD, it is set in the lost city of Puhar in the ancient kingdom of Chola, on the southeast coast of India. The city was destroyed and abandoned around 300 BC, yet the poem includes a detailed description of the city and its layout, which now lies under the sea. Modern archaeologists have found the description to be accurate, which indicates the original poet knew the city before its destruction. That might sound hard to believe, but the Illiad describes events from the 13th or 12th century BC and was not written down until perhaps the 8th century BC. Yet much

32


CHAPTER TWO – DIAMONDS IN INDIAN MYTHOLOGY

of the geography of what is now thought to be ancient Troy corresponds with geographical descriptions in the Illiad. That doesn’t mean the events in both stories are also true, but it seems likely that some fragments of the original stories survived oral transmission over hundreds of years. ◊ The main characters of the Silappadikaram are Kannagi (aged 12) and Kovalan (16), daughter and son respectively of two powerful merchant families, who are brought together by an arranged marriage. Kannagi worked hard to be an ideal wife, carefully learning the family traditions from her mother-inlaw and generally doing all she could to create a pleasant and peaceful environment for the two of them. But happy lives don’t make great stories. A few years passed by after their marriage and at the palace, Madhavi, a beautiful and talented dancer, was making her debut performance, an arangetam, before the king. The king was delighted by her dance and awarded her the Thalaikol (a gilded sceptre decorated with diamonds and pearls) and a garland worth 1,008 gold coins. An arangetam is not an ordinary dance. It marks the end of years of hard work and study, mastering all the elements of classical Tamil dance. It is a display of expertise, after which a student becomes a master and may take on students herself. Madhavi sent her servant out on the streets with her garland. The servant was to announce that whoever could buy the garland could stay with Madhavi. Kovalan happened to be passing by, and heard the servant calling out the offer. Being young and rich he decided to accept the deal. He was so entranced by the young dancer that he stayed on with her. After a few months of

33


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

high living his money ran out, but Madhavi was not ashamed to send her servant to visit Kannagi to ask for money. Kannagi always provided what was asked of her to support her husband, although he didn’t even bother to visit her. The cost of providing for Kovalan’s life with Madhavi wore down Kannagi’s savings. She sold everything that was not essential for keeping a facade of respectability. All her furniture, carpets and fittings, except for those on the outside of the house, were sold. She sold all her jewellery, all the gold that was given her at her wedding. All that was left were her gold anklets, encrusted with diamonds and rubies. She was preparing to sell those too. On a holiday dedicated to Indra, Kovalan took Madhavi and the little girl she had borne him to the beach to enjoy the festivities. As they were enjoying the sunset, Madhavi quoted some poetry. She uttered it thoughtlessly, in a context which revealed something about herself to Kovalan. I’m sure there’s been someone in your life who you loved or admired who said or did something which completely changed your opinion of them. That’s how it was for Kovalan. He couldn’t bear to be with Madhavi any longer, and immediately set off for his real home. Kovalan was ashamed to face up to Kannagi. He knew she was the one who had funded his lifestyle, living big while she stayed home, always loyal and chaste. Waiting, hoping for him to return. He told her what he had done and his plans to rebuild his life. He could not bear the shame of asking either of their parents for help, so he had decided to leave Puhar and try to find work in Madurai. Madurai is an inland city which survives today, mostly notable for being a pilgrimage site.

34


CHAPTER TWO – DIAMONDS IN INDIAN MYTHOLOGY

Knowing the duties of a wife in her culture, Kannagi asked if she could go with Kovalan, wherever he chose to go. Kovalan warned her of the dangers and hardships of travel, the mountains they would have to climb and the jungles they would need to pass through, the wild animals and the evil spirits who would harass them. But Kannagi would not be put off. She insisted on enduring the same as her husband, the good and the bad, in order to rebuild their lives together. So they set off in secret, under the cover of night. They had a number of adventures on the way, but those are ancillary to the main story. Towards the end of their journey, Kovalan received a letter from Madhavi. In it, she professed her love for him and begged him to return. But he instructed the messenger to take the letter to his parents so that they would be relieved of worrying about what had happened to him. When Kovalan and Kannagi reached the outskirts of Madurai, they took an opportunity to rest. Kovalan had suffered terribly on the road, and needed to recover before facing the task of building a business in an unknown city. Kannagi took the opportunity to discuss religion and philosophy with the mystics and sages who lived outside the city, keeping themselves unsullied from the physical and moral pollution of the town. Within days it was the sages and mystics who were seeking Kannagi out for her wisdom. After Kovalan had recovered, Kannagi gave him one of her diamond-encrusted anklets to sell in the city to raise capital to establish a business. She decided to stay home and let Kovalan take charge of business matters. He set out for the city at an inauspicious hour, although he was not aware of that.Â

35


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

In the city, he met a goldsmith and offered the anklet for a fair price. The goldsmith accepted, but asked Kovalan to wait in his shop for a little while until he could get the money to pay him. So it seemed everything was going well. Kovalan did not know that the goldsmith had stolen a jewelled anklet from the queen some time ago. This goldsmith could not do business at court any more as he was suspected of the crime, even though it could not be proven. The goldsmith went straight to the palace and announced that he had found the thief. If they acted quickly they could catch that thief and recover the queen’s anklet. The king ordered his men to go to the goldsmith’s shop, find Kovalan and execute him immediately. The goldsmith went with them to guide them. The guards found Kovalan at the shop, but he didn’t react to them like someone who had done something wrong. He seemed like a gentleman, not a thief. They hesitated. But the goldsmith urged them on. He explained to them the ways of thieves and how they put on an act of innocence. When there is confusion in a group, there is always one who is willing to take charge. One of the soldiers was more cruel than the others and he took it upon himself to cleave Kovalan’s head from his body. He was the one who brought the anklet to the king. While all this was happening, Madari, a female pastoralist and one of Kannagi’s friends, noticed many signs and omens predicting a coming catastrophe. She offered a kuravaikkuttu, a sacred dance, to Krishna. When it ended, she overheard rumours of what had happened to Kovalan. She went to Kanaggi’s house but could not bear to give her the news. From her stricken face, though, Kannagi guessed that something was amiss. She insisted on knowing the truth.

36


CHAPTER TWO – DIAMONDS IN INDIAN MYTHOLOGY

The news of Kovalan’s death sent Kannagi into a fit of grief which she could barely endure. She threw herself on the ground in a madness of despair. Although it was late at night, she insisted on seeking out Kovalan’s body which had been left unclaimed in the market square, a pool of blood thickening around it. As she wept over the body Kannagi cried out to Surya, the Sun god, who answered, “This city which accuses him shall be destroyed by fire.” Then a vision came to her. It was the spirit of Kovalan ascending into heaven. As he rose, he said to her, “Stay here.” By this, she knew she was not to follow him into death. But the injustice bore into her heart, and the energy of her grief now turned into anger towards the king. Kannagi stormed into the royal court demanding justice. She stated her case, and showed her other anklet to prove that it was the same as the one Kovalan had been accused of stealing. The king called for the anklet recovered from Kovalan and saw that not only were the two anklets identical but they were decorated with diamonds and rubies. He remembered, with a shock that flushed through his chest, that the queen’s lost anklet was decorated with pearls. This realisation unsettled his mind. He had always tried to be a just king but this showed that he had rashly condemned an innocent man. The stress of these events resulted in a fit, and the king collapsed and died. Kannagi was still in such a rage that she did not notice the king’s death, and was not appeased. Unable to contain herself in the palace, she took her rage out to the streets. She circled the city three times, then tore off her left breast with her bare hands and flung it against the city wall. She called on Surya to honour his oath but to spare the innocent and the animals.

37


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

The god of fire, Agni, came down, and very soon the city was engulfed in flames. For those who find the idea of Kannagi tearing off her own breast distasteful, there is an alternative, but modern, version of events: When the king collapsed, it threw the court into an uproar. As guards and attendants rushed to help him, Kannagi was pushed aside. In trying to catch her balance, she knocked over a huge lamp containing oil which spilled on to the carpet and tapestry around the throne. They immediately erupted in flame, causing panic in the crowded room. The fire soon spread through the rest of the palace and from there to the rest of the city. Madurai was almost completely destroyed when the goddess of the city appeared to Kannagi. She explained that in a previous life Kannagi had been married to a merchant, and Kovalan was in the service of the local king. Kovalan wrongly suspected the merchant of being a spy and had him executed. Kannagi’s grief at losing that husband had caused her to fling herself from a cliff. The goddess explained that, “A virtuous life is a good thing in itself, but it does not spare us from accounting for what we did in the past.� The goddess asked Kannagi to spare what remained of the city, and Kannagi agreed. Kannagi then asked the goddess what was left for her to do now, and the goddess replied that in fourteen days she would be taken into heaven in a celestial carriage. Kannagi left Madurai and wandered about the country before reaching a hill. From there she ascended to heaven. In this way, she became a goddess of steadfastness and instruction. The people in that region built a number of temples to her, and she is still venerated there. It is said that when news of the events in Madurai came to the king in Puhar it grieved him deeply, as the king of Madurai was 38


CHAPTER TWO – DIAMONDS IN INDIAN MYTHOLOGY

his own son. He was so overcome with grief that he neglected to perform an important ceremony to Indra. And that is why Puhar was drowned in a tsunami and sank beneath the sand and sea. ◊ As with diamonds, rubies are associated with many qualities. Because it looks like a glowing coal, the ruby is associated with fire and the Sun. Its red colour also signifies blood, passion, energy. As we will see from many examples in this book, the hardness of diamond evokes qualities of loyalty, perseverance, purity, learning, honour: all of which are virtues of Kannagi. It is only recently that Western society has become interested in what popular performers and celebrities have to say about moral and political issues. As a class, we expect them to lead superficial lives, indulging in hedonism. But we expect much more from performers trained in the highest levels of classical arts. A performer who will portray our gods, saints and even revered heroes is expected to observe decorum in their personal life. How much more so for someone living in ancient India? Yet Madhavi is identified as a “chaste” woman when she appears in another of the three surviving Tamil epics, the Manimekalai. So she was perhaps practising sacred prostitution, a form of ritual marriage to a deity. This practice was relatively more common in ancient times, although it was not accepted in most cultures. Herodotus mentions it unfavourably in The Histories. The practice survived in Southern India, and was eventually suppressed by the British. This led to many women leaving the temples and being forced to practice regular prostitution to survive. Since independence, the relevant state governments have passed laws to stamp out the last vestiges of the practice. Hindu scholars say there is no mention or allowance in their scriptures for sacred prostitution. 39


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

Diamonds and Buddhism More than any other religion, Buddhism is steeped in diamond imagery. In early Buddhism, diamonds were a symbol of spiritual power, purity and indestructibility, and the physical expression of wisdom and knowledge. Diamonds are sometimes embedded in the peak of a stupa. An example of this is the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, Myanma. This temple is ‘capped by a golden orb inlaid with 4,350 diamonds. At its top is a single 76 carat diamond’.

Vajrapani, a manifestation of Buddha’s power.

40


CHAPTER TWO – DIAMONDS IN INDIAN MYTHOLOGY

The Diamond Sutra is the oldest printed book to survive in its complete form. The book was discovered in 1907 among a cache of other manuscripts inside a Buddhist cave temple at Dunhuang, along the Silk Road in the Gobi Desert. It states that when the Buddha was asked what the title of the book should be, he replied: “The Diamond of Transcendent Wisdom, because its teaching will cut like a diamond blade through worldly illusion to illuminate what is real and everlasting.” Vajrapani Vajrarpani (meaning ‘vajra in his hand’) is one of Buddha’s bodyguards and one of the earliest bodhisattvas. He is a manifestation of Buddha’s power. He is usually depicted as a fierce looking god with a vajra in one hand and snakes in the others (he may have four or even six hands). He might be trampling on snakes or even the Hindu deities Brahma and Shiva. Vajrapani travelled with Buddha during his time as a wandering beggar. Sometimes he is described as the king of heaven or as the god of rain. In one story, the nagas (a mythical race of snakes who took the form of king cobras) wanted to hear Buddha’s preaching. But they were threatened by their deadly enemies, the garudas (a mythical race of giant eagles). In order to protect them, Vajrapani took the form of a bird so the nagas would not be attacked. At the Buddha’s parinirvana (his death and attainment of nirvana), Vajrapani dropped his vajra on the ground in despair and rolled in the dust.

41


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

Vajrasana The symbol of an empty throne was an important focus for devotion in early Buddhism. Buddhists were initially reluctant to represent the physical form of the Buddha in artwork, so his presence was depicted by the throne on which he attained nirvana. This throne is called the Vajrasana (diamond throne). Some believe the Vajrasana was a single diamond crystal, 100 feet in circumference. It was unmoved by wind, rain or earthquake. But when the earth entered its current, and final, age, the diamond was covered over with sand, so that it could never again be seen by humans. They believe it is the source of all the diamonds on the Godavari, Krishna and other rivers. The

Victorian

archaeologist,

Alexander

Cunningham,

excavated the site of the Buddha’s throne at Bodh Gaya. He found a sandstone throne erected by the Emperor Ashoka about two hundred years after the Buddha’s enlightenment. The top surface of this throne is carved with a rhythmic diamond pattern. This throne was found behind another bigger throne from a later period, which itself was behind an even bigger and later throne. No actual diamonds were reported to be found.

42


CHAPTER THREE DIAMONDS IN WESTERN MYTHOLOGY

A

lmost as much as jade is important for the Chinese and East Asian people, diamonds hold a special place in the Western imagination. But after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, they

virtually disappeared for a thousand years before bursting back on the Western consciousness with an intensity that has only increased ever since. Diamonds get a few mentions in Greek and Roman mythology. They are variously thought to originate from some children who Zeus decided to change into diamonds, or as pieces of shooting stars, as the points of Cupid’s love arrows, or as the tears of the gods. Plato thought they contained living beings, which is an echo of the Indian belief that diamonds are inhabited by gods and spirits. Diamonds don’t occur naturally in the Mediterranean region, nor in any of the regions adjacent to it. The earliest evidence of diamonds being used for industrial purposes (drilling holes in beads) was found in Yemen from artifacts dating from the seventh to fifth centuries BC. Before that, ancient lapidaries relied on emery deposits (corundum-rich sands), mostly from the island of Naxos.

43


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

The word “diamond” comes from the ancient Greek “adamas”, meaning “unconquerable” or “untameable”. But it was not until the first century AD that Pliny the Elder described adamas with the characteristics of what we know today as “diamond”. When the name adamas is used earlier than then, we can never be completely sure that the writer is describing an actual diamond and not some other hard stone, such as corundum.

Diamonds in the Bible The Bible is not a rich source of information about diamonds. In its many books, there are only three phrases which are generally accepted as referring to diamonds. There are some who claim there is a fourth reference to diamonds. That claim is highly contentious, but it is influential. I will explore all four cases briefly. Accepted biblical references to diamonds The following biblical references to diamonds are not controversial. Nearly all biblical scholars accept that the writer in each case is referring to diamonds, not some other stone: Jeremiah 17:1 “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of your altars.” Zacheriah 7:12 “Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the Lord of hosts.” (Adamant is an alternative word for diamond.)

44


CHAPTER THREE – DIAMONDS IN WESTERN MYTHOLOGY

Ezekiel 3:9 “As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house.” These quotes are taken from the King James version of the Bible. They are translated from books which were originally written in the fifth and fourth centuries BC. The authors of those books saw the diamond as a tool for inscribing and as something that is very hard. Importantly, they weren’t specified as something for decoration. The High Priest’s Breastplate The Breastplate of Judgement is described at Exodus 28:18. This jewel contained an array of twelve different gemstones. Each

The Breastplate of Judgement worn by the High Priest of Israel.

gemstone represented one of the twelve tribes of Israel and the name of the tribe was inscribed on it (carved into it). The events in Exodus happened in the 16th century BC, long before diamonds were even known to exist. The creation of the book itself is dated to the time of the Babylonian Exile, which occurred around the 6th century BC. By the time the bible was translated into Greek (around the 3rd to 1st century BC), the identity of some of the gemstones on the Breastplate was already lost. In many cases, the translator had to guess from the meanings of other ancient Hebrew words which stone

45


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

the writer was referring to. But there is no word on the list of gemstones that can be clearly translated as “diamond”. Yet in the King James version of the Bible, published in 1611, one of the gemstone names was translated as “diamond”. This version of the Bible was for hundreds of years, and possibly even is today, the most influential in the English-speaking world. It is considered to be one of the great works of English literature. It’s not my intention to disparage the King James Bible, but in this case the translation is incorrect, and it has influenced many later translators of the Bible to make the same error. This is not only my opinion, but it is the consensus of most of today’s Bible scholars. The following are some of the arguments which support this case: • Only industrial diamonds were exported from India at the time Exodus was written. There is no evidence for diamonds in the Middle East in the 6th century BC which would be big enough to bear the name of a tribe. • The technology for inscribing on diamonds did not exist at the time. The only thing that can carve a diamond is another diamond, and this was not known in the time of Moses. In those days, gemstones were carved using emery, a powdered form of common corundum. Corundum is one of the hardest minerals in nature, but it is much softer than diamond and can’t be used to inscribe on diamonds. The earliest known carved diamonds were made under the Mughal Empire, two thousand years after Exodus was written. People making the case for a diamond on the Breastplate will tell you, however, that the stones were carved using the Shamir. The Shamir is variously described as a living worm or as a green stone which can cut through anything, including diamonds.

46


CHAPTER THREE – DIAMONDS IN WESTERN MYTHOLOGY

Solomon is said to have cut the stonework for the First Temple in Jerusalem using the Shamir. Another theory is that the diamond had inclusions taking the form of Jewish letters which happened to correspond to the name of one of the Tribes. • Cornelius a Lapide, a seventeenth-century Jesuit priest, noted that if such an incredibly valuable diamond were to bear the name of one of the tribes, casting a shadow over all the others, it would have led to division rather than unity as the other tribes’ hearts would be filled with envy. • People who study the Bible know that imagery and stories are often retold in different ways. The New Testament book Revelation 21:19-20 echoes the Exodus description of the Breastplate of Judgement when it describes the New Jerusalem. The foundations of the walls of this city are to be made from twelve different types of gemstones. Some of the names of the gemstones can’t be translated with certainty, but it is clear that a diamond is not one of them. There is no question, however, that the Breastplate of Judgement was created and used. If we were able to locate this precious relic, we could identify all of the gemstones and the matter would be settled. Fortunately, some effort has been given to identifying the various possible fates of the Breastplate. When the second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, the Breastplate of Judgement might have been among the treasures carried off to the Temple of Concord in Rome. Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410 AD, and captured by the Vandals in 455, although it is possible the Jewish treasures remained in Rome because the

47


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

Vandals decided to settle there. In 536, Rome was captured by Belisarius of the Byzantine Empire, and it is recorded that the “vessels of the Jews� were taken to Constantinople and then back to Jerusalem where they were kept in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Jerusalem was captured by the Sassanians in 615, and they were overthrown in their turn by Moslem Arabs in 637. Some believe the Breastplate still exists and is kept by some secretive Jewish or Christian sect. I think it more likely that it was broken up unknowingly by one of the many looters, who could have taken it and not known its significance. It should be noted that the Breastplate of Judgement is never specifically mentioned in any contemporary description of the Jewish treasures in all of the time since the days of Moses. The Breastplate is still relevant today through the idea of birthstones. This is the notion that the month of your birth determines which gemstone best suits you. Coincidentally, my birthstone is the diamond. The origin of birthstones is a bit hazy, but it coincides with a big wave of Jews fleeing Central Europe and Russia in the nineteenth century. Many of these refugees found work in the jewellery trade in the Netherlands, England and the USA. The twelve stones of the Breastplate of Justice might have inspired the idea of the twelve birthstones. Whatever the source of their birthstone tradition, it became a useful marketing tool. The list of birthstones has changed over the years, depending on the availability of some stones and the discovery of new ones.

48


CHAPTER THREE – DIAMONDS IN WESTERN MYTHOLOGY

The Story of Uranus, Cronus and the Diamond Harpé This is one of the earliest stories in Western literature. It comes from Hesiod’s Theogony. ◊ Uranus was one of the first gods, born of Gaea (Mother Earth) and Chaos. He was a Titan, and the god of the sky. Uranus had quite a few children with Gaea. Some of the children were Titans, but some were monsters. You can imagine how tiresome it would be to look after a group of children like that. Uranus eventually decided that fatherhood was not for him and pushed his children, Titans and monsters together, back into Gaea. Understandably, Gaea was not happy with this. She created a diamond harpé (a kind of sword with a sickle along the edge of the blade) and gave it to Cronus, one of the Titans. Cronus sneaked up on Uranus while he was sleeping and used the harpé to cut off his genitalia. He then flung them into the sea. Some of Uranus’ blood fell on the ground and caused the giants, furies and nymphs to be born. His sperm fell into the sea and caused the birth of Aphrodite. But that was the end of Uranus’ dictatorship. Unfortunately, Cronus proved to be a worse father than Uranus, but that’s another story. ◊ The edge of a diamond is a very sharp thing: it was used for precision cutting late into the twentieth century, and sometimes even today. So it’s an appropriate thing to use to cut off a god’s genitals. Perhaps the story represents new knowledge allowing the old order to be overthrown. It’s curious, though, that the weapon should be in the form of a harpé. The harpé is not a

49


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

common type of sword by any means and I have not heard of it being used in any stories other than the ones in the Theogony. The Medusa The same diamond harpé which Gaea gave to Cronus was used by Perseus to chop off Medusa’s head. An interesting part of the story is that Medusa had snakes for hair. She is also often represented in art as having a snake-like body. This was done as a punishment from Athena for being raped in her temple by Poseidon. Medusa was a priestess of Athena. Athena was a virgin goddess and required her priestesses to be virgins too. Poseidon had a running feud with Athena, so he raped Medusa either because of her beauty, or to defile Athena’s temple, or both. Regardless of Poseidon’s motives, Medusa was the one to face the consequences. Athena was the goddess of justice and the classical authors, particularly Ovid, considered it to be an act of justice to punish Medusa. Even today, there are countries where it is considered reasonable to punish the victim of a sex crime but not the perpetrator. Part of her punishment was that anyone who looked at Medusa would turn to stone. The danger she now presented caused the Athenians to exile her to a remote island. This reflects the situation faced by all unmarried women of those times, and sometimes even in the present, who experienced sex (willingly or not). They were not considered to be marriageable, and they were often shunned by their family and friends. Medusa’s punishment of having her hair turned to snakes is significant, as we know that snakes signify knowledge. But what kind of knowledge? Artistic depictions show the snakes 50


CHAPTER THREE – DIAMONDS IN WESTERN MYTHOLOGY

to be lashing out and striking wildly in all directions. So we might conclude that it is some form of knowledge which is aggressively dangerous to anyone who approaches too closely. As Medusa was no longer a virgin, she had knowledge of sex. So the snakes could represent some form of sexual awareness. Perseus was sent by King Polydectes to kill Medusa as an impossible quest. But the gods wanted him to succeed, so they gave him useful gifts. Zeus gave him the harpé as an inheritance (Perseus was a son of Zeus) as it had come to Zeus from his own father, Cronus. His uncle Hades gave him his helm of darkness, so he could hide from sight. Hermes lent him his winged sandals, so he could fly. Athena gave him a bronze shield which was polished to a mirror finish. The gift of Athena’s shield was significant, because this was the item which allowed Perseus to look at Medusa indirectly and therefore not be turned to stone. So Athena has cursed Medusa in two ways and now is the architect of her death. In the battle, Perseus cut off Medusa’s head with the harpé. If we think of the diamond in the harpé as representing one kind of knowledge and Medusa’s snakes representing another, it leads to some interesting ideas. The diamond harpé is the same weapon as was used to emasculate Uranus. So it symbolises some form of knowledge or strength of the young, or new, to overcome the old. Perhaps it is reason or logic overcoming tradition or inspired genius. On a sexual level, perhaps it is love, or morality, cutting away unrestrained lust. Whatever it is that the harpé overcomes, it is a potent enemy, since the defeat of Medusa was a feat that involved the help of so many gods. In any case, the ideas represented by Medusa are not discarded, but taken up by the winner and incorporated into his array of weapons. 51


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

Perseus took away Medusa’s head in a sack, where its gaze could not affect other creatures. But he brought it out sometimes to use when he encountered other enemies. In one case, he destroyed a sea creature, Cetus, which belonged to Poseidon. From its name, we could assume the monster was some kind of whale, but it is often depicted as a dragon or giant snake. If it were definitely a dragon or snake, that would be symbolically significant. In some versions of the story, Perseus kills Cetus with a sword, in others he uses the Medusa’s head. One of Perseus’ last exploits was to defend the city of Argos against an attack by Dionysus. The ancient Greek poet Nonnus wrote: “Perseus of the sickle was champion of the Argives … he lifted up the head of Medusa which no eyes may see. But Dionysus marshalled his women with flowing locks, and satyrs with horns. …To defend his face he carried a diamond, the gem made stone in the showers of Zeus which protects against the stony glare of Medusa, that the baleful light of that destroying face may do him no harm.” I also find it interesting that Dionysus had recently returned from a journey to India. Perhaps that was where he acquired the diamond. The siege of Argos was eventually lifted when Hermes brokered a peace. Soon after this, Perseus presented Medusa’s head to Athena. Athena accepted the trophy and embedded it on her shield. And so, finally, Medusa returned to serve Athena. Other Diamonds in Classical Greek Mythology Another weapon that is associated with diamonds is Zeus’ thunderbolts. They were made by Hephaestus, the god of

52


CHAPTER THREE – DIAMONDS IN WESTERN MYTHOLOGY

metalworking and volcanoes. He made these weapons using the two strongest materials available: adamastos and adamas (the Greek words for untameable and diamond). It’s interesting to note that his diamonds were found in a volcano, as volcanoes are needed to bring diamonds to the Earth’s surface. In some traditions, Prometheus was attached to his rock by chains made of diamond. Prometheus was the Titan who foiled Zeus’ plan to eliminate the humans (did I say the old gods weren’t very nice to us?). Zeus punished him by having him chained to a rock where an eagle would eat his liver every day and it would regrow every day, ready for another visit from the eagle. Prometheus talked his way out of that eventually, but that’s another story.

The Valley of Diamonds The story of Sinbad the Sailor is one of the tales from the Thousand and One Nights. In the story, Sinbad is left stranded on a deserted island. But he is able to escape by tying himself to the foot of a roc. A roc is a mythical bird, so big that its egg would take a person fifty strides to walk around. The giant bird flies away and takes Sinbad to a steep-sided valley where the ground is thick with diamonds “so that the entire valley blazed with a glorious light. Here and there among the glittering stones, however, coiled deadly snakes and vipers, dread keepers of the fabulous treasure”. Fortunately for Sinbad, the local people have a safe method of extracting the diamonds. They throw sheep carcasses down into the valley, and some diamonds stick to the meat.

53


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

“Dread keepers of the fabulous treasure.”

The rocs fly down and pick up the carcasses (with the diamonds attached) and carry them back to their nests. But “the merchants would rush at the birds and force them to drop the meat and fly away, after which it would only remain for them to look through the carcasses and pick out the diamonds”. Sinbad gathers up all the diamonds he can carry and escapes the valley by holding on to a dead sheep when it is carried off by a roc. He must have chosen a different roc to the one he came in on or he would have been taken back to the desert island where he started from. Although the Legend of Sinbad dates to about 850 AD, its origins can be traced back to antiquity, and many variations of the story are recorded. Some just describe the strange “mining” process with no protagonist, one features Alexander the Great as

54


CHAPTER THREE – DIAMONDS IN WESTERN MYTHOLOGY

the hero, some feature Marco Polo. Considering that Alexander died in 326 BC (the story was first recorded in the fifth century AD), this is a very long-held legend. The oldest written version of this story is by Epiphanius, a bishop of Cyprus who wrote in the late fourth century. But in his story it is the gemstone jacinth (red zircon), not diamond, that is in the valley. There is also an eighth-century Chinese version which locates the valley in a Mediterranean island, apparently a more exotic location for the Chinese than India. Or it might be that, because the Chinese imported diamonds from Europe, the Chinese didn’t realise the original source of diamonds was India. The stories usually describe the birds as giant eagles, and they don’t involve people being carried physically into the valley. In the Alexander version, the snakes have Medusa-like qualities, and terrify (turn to stone) anyone who looks at them. So he has his soldiers carry mirrors into the valley and the snakes die when they see their own reflections. This might be a way for the writer of the story to associate Alexander with the Greek hero Perseus, who slayed Medusa. In the Marco Polo version, the people wait until the birds have taken the carcasses up to their nests and eaten them, swallowing the diamonds as well as flesh. Later, the people climb up to the nests and find diamonds among the eagles’ droppings. Alternatively, they catch the birds and take the diamonds from their stomachs. Polo also said that Indian diamonds are plentiful and big, but the ones that were sold to Western traders were just the inferior stones. This was certainly true.

55


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

When Marco Polo returned home from his travels, he said that his clothes were threadbare and stinking, worn to rags from thousands of miles on the road. But then he tore apart the seams of his coat, and diamonds and rubies poured out on to the table. These gemstones didn’t come from India, though. He bought them in China because they were the easiest and safest way to transport a fortune. Gold is much too heavy to carry in large amounts. There have been some attempts to interpret the myth of the valley of diamonds. It has been proposed that the sheep’s carcass represents a sacrifice which the miners would have made before beginning a new mine. It has also been pointed out that diamonds tend to stick to fat (which is why diamond miners used to use grease traps to recover diamonds from the ore). Ancient people knew how to use sheep fleeces to trap the gold when they washed stream sediments. Wool is naturally greasy, so it would not be a difficult discovery. Interestingly, a hunting tactic of eagles has been observed in the mountains of Pakistan. An eagle will push a goat off a mountain path so that it plummets to the ground and dies. The eagle then scavenges the carcass. This behaviour is well known among people living in the region and it could easily have been incorporated into the myth. Another theory was that the myth of the snake-filled valley was spread by the mine owners to deter adventurers from looking for the source of the diamonds. The reality was that sometimes, diamonds were found by people wading into streams and washing the sediments in a pan, which is hard work under the tropical sun. But most diamonds would have come from digging a shaft into the sand

56


CHAPTER THREE – DIAMONDS IN WESTERN MYTHOLOGY

until they reached bedrock or a promising layer of sediment. This was the level at which most diamonds lay, at the bottom of ancient riverbeds, long covered by sediment. Next, they had to tunnel along that layer until the distance from any source of fresh air made it almost impossible to breathe. Then they would sink a new shaft and start again. That kind of work is both hard and dangerous. There are many people still doing that kind of work today.

57


CHAPTER FOUR PLINY AND HIS THOUGHTS ON DIAMONDS

Testing Diamonds with a Hammer and Anvil

T

he hardness of diamond was particularly admired in the ancient world, as it was thought that anyone wearing a diamond would have the same qualities. They would be invincible, brave and strong in

combat. There seems to have been a misunderstanding that hardness was equivalent to toughness. Pliny the Elder was an ancient Roman naturalist writing in the first century AD. This was a time when the trade routes to India were open and diamonds were arriving more frequently than at any other time before. Pliny says that a stone can be tested to check whether it is a diamond or not by hitting it on a blacksmith’s anvil with a hammer. If the stone is a diamond, Pliny says, it will not shatter. This story was told to prospectors in the South African diamond fields of the 19th century. Many of those adventurers had never actually seen a diamond, least of all knew how to

58


CHAPTER FOUR – PLINY AND HIS THOUGHTS ON DIAMONDS

recognise one in the field. The thing is, rough diamonds look very different to polished ones: their lustre is ‘greasy’, not at all like the sparkly polished stones you see in a high street jeweller’s window. So when those fortune hunters found something they thought might be a diamond, they tested it by smashing it with a hammer. In this way, many fine and valuable stones were destroyed, and their finders went home empty-handed. The same thing happened in Australia on the diamond fields of New England in New South Wales and in Nullagine in Western Australia. It happened most famously at the court of Louis XIV, where they should have known better. A when

extraordinary Charles

Burgundy

and

the

incident Bold,

great

occurred Duke

of

collector

of

A Roman blacksmith tests a diamond.

diamonds, was defeated by the Swiss in the Battle of Morat in 1476. The Swiss pikemen captured his baggage and found a hoard of diamonds. Which they tested to destruction with their war hammers. But my theory is, it was all the result of misreading Pliny. In chapter 15 of The Natural History, Pliny does say that a diamond can not only resist a hammer blow, but it will break the anvil. However, he also says there are six different types of diamond, and the hammer test only relates to one type of diamond those coming from Arabian gold deposits. He specifically says

59


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

that some kinds of diamonds cannot withstand a hammer blow. Let’s break down what Pliny said and see how much he got right: Diamond can resist a hammer blow and break the anvil To modern ears, it seems unlikely that an anvil could be split with a single blow, since anvils are always made of steel these days. But in ancient times, anvils were sometimes made from granite boulders. Iron was expensive in the old days, but rock was plentiful. Granite often splits from frequent heating and cooling. It probably didn’t happen often, but a granite anvil could definitely be split by a hammer blow. Also, refer to my essay on hardness vs. tenacity in the glossary section. Six types of diamond The notion that there are six types of diamond is surprising, until we remind ourselves that Pliny is the first Western writer we know of who tried to describe diamonds. Not many people had thought about it before Pliny came along. He was the first to try to classify them and other gemstones, so we should make some allowances. He separates diamonds by region, colour and size, not by their chemical composition, as we do today. Some of the diamond types he identified may not be diamonds at all but other minerals entirely, such as corundum and native iron, or even quartz. Some categories may be based on the form of the diamond crystal - most diamond crystals are… well… diamond shaped, but they can also crystallise as a cube, dodecahedron, sphere or as a flattish triangle known as a macle. It is clear that some of the six varieties of stones that Pliny describes under the category ‘adamas’, which we translate as ‘diamond’, are not diamonds at all. 60


CHAPTER FOUR – PLINY AND HIS THOUGHTS ON DIAMONDS

Arabian diamonds Arabia doesn’t have any diamond deposits, so Pliny was wrong about that. Merchants don’t like to give information that might lead a buyer to cut them out of their ‘middle man’ position in a trade. So they sometimes give misleading information about their sources - especially to enthusiastic Roman scientists. Perhaps Indian diamonds were purchased from Arab middle man traders who did not disclose their real source. Arabia does have ‘Arab diamonds’ which are clear quartz crystals. Well-formed quartz crystals can be very sparkly and some locations are famous for it. Crystals coming from those deposits often have ‘diamond’ in their trade name. For example Herkimer ‘diamonds’ from Herkimer County, New York. Perhaps an ancient deposit of quartz in Arabia was mistaken for diamond. Diamonds in gold deposits. Diamonds can often be found in the same places as gold. They form in different environments, but both of these minerals are heavy, so when they are transported by erosion they tend to collect in similar, and sometimes the same, places. If you ever go prospecting for alluvial gold, you should also keep an eye out for diamond crystals among the pebbles that aren’t gold. Only the toughest diamonds survive the weathering process, though. Diamonds that are likely to cleave easily will do so when they tumble down streams and rivers before they collect in the alluvial deposits. Another theory is that diamonds were being mistaken for platinum-group metals (ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium and platinum) in gold. Some of the platinum 61


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

metals are difficult to separate out when refining gold. Ancient gold jewellery sometimes has tiny beads of these metals visible on the surface. Because these metals are silvery and shiny they look very much like diamonds. Of course, if the tiny beads of metal were picked out from the gold they would be impossible to crush with a hammer. Other Ancient Writers The even more ancient Sanskrit text, the Arthasastra (Rules for Prosperity) from India’s Chandragupta period (4th century BC) states that diamond is ‘capable of bearing blows’. In closing, there is a degree of truth in Pliny’s statement. But it needs to be read in the context of the times. Any diamond will shatter if subjected to enough shock. Diamonds are tough enough for jewellers to tap them into their settings. But nearly all jewellers have a story about how they tapped a little too hard one time and paid the price of an expensive lesson.

Softening Diamonds with Goat Blood Pliny makes this assertion twice. In book 20 he says “the diamond, this rare joy of opulence, invincible and resistant to any other form of violence, can be broken by the action of the he-goat’s blood.” In book 37, after recalling the fact that adamas is synonymous with ‘invincible force’, he cites diamond as the example that allows us to grasp the laws of discord and harmony that govern the universe. “This invincible force, which despises the two most powerful natural elements, iron and fire, is broken by the he-goat’s blood. But only when

62


CHAPTER FOUR – PLINY AND HIS THOUGHTS ON DIAMONDS

the diamond is dipped in the fresh, warm blood of the animal and struck with many blows. For even then it breaks anything except the most solid anvils and iron hammers.” This symbolic interpretation of the universe was taken up by medieval theologians and eighteenth-century naturalists. For them, the goat was the symbol of primal urges and evil, and diamond was the incarnation of indomitable force. The purest and most indomitable heart (diamond) could be vanquished by the lusts of the flesh (goat’s blood). But they make a reversal of the symbolism when placed in a divine context: “Christ, the pure diamond, is shaken by the cup of suffering. But Christ’s blood has the power to soften the most hardened sinners.” A more prosaic explanation is that diamonds were placed in a bowl of blood before they were crushed to make abrasive grit or shards for inscribing seal stones. The idea was that the thick blood would keep the expensive bits together and stop them from flying off in all directions. Anyone who has spent hours searching for a tiny stone that has flown out of their gem tweezers will sympathise. I would be interested to hear of any experiments. But I would have thought fat would be a better substance to use for that purpose, as it can be melted away later to separate it from the diamond pieces. Blood would need to be burnt off. For whatever reason, Pliny was wrong about the goat blood.

The Power of Diamonds over Magnets Pliny says: “The adamas has so strong an aversion to the magnet that when it is placed close to the iron it prevents it from being

63


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

attracted away from itself. Or …if the magnet is moved towards the iron and seizes it, the adamas snatches the iron and takes it away.” It would be a simple matter to dismiss this belief as some strange old fable. But the idea is constantly repeated over the centuries by well-educated authors who must be taken seriously. The third century Roman writer Julius Solinus said: “There is a hidden, natural disharmony between adamas and the magnet, rendering magnets unable to attract iron when adamas is placed nearby.” St Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430), whose philosophical and theological writings would influence the West for the next thousand years and more, echoed the belief. By the 17th century, there was some confusion over whether diamonds caused attraction or dampened it. John Donne, metaphysical poet and churchman, had a university education. In his Holy Sonnet 1, published in 1620, line 14 reads: “And thou like adamant draw my iron heart.” Francois Rabelais (1494 - 1553), a French writer and monk known for his bawdy humour, was also a physician, scientist and the editor of several medical works. In his Gargantua and Pantagruel, after reaching the land of the lanterns, Pantagruel and his companions come to the kingdom of the “Dive Bouteille” and are invited to enter the underground temple of Bacchus. The doors are opened and closed by an invisible force, controlled by a device containing plates of polished steel, magnets and an “Indic diamond as thick as an Egyptian bean.” The system works based on the attraction of the iron to the magnet, but only when the diamond is removed. Possibly because of this association of diamonds with magnets, in Italy diamonds were regarded as the ‘stone of 64


CHAPTER FOUR – PLINY AND HIS THOUGHTS ON DIAMONDS

reconciliation’. They would reunite a husband and wife who had quarrelled. Some of the earliest synthetic diamonds are magnetic. Because they were made inside metal chambers, some of the metal would dissolve into the solution and become part of the diamond as it grew. It is possible to identify these fake stones by using a powerful rare earth magnet. As previously noted, siderite is one mineral which may have been misclassified as diamond by ancient people, because of its shape. Siderite becomes attracted to magnets when heated, so this might be how this whole ‘magnetic diamond’ idea came about.

Diamonds, Poison and Medicine The notion that there is a connection between diamonds and poison is one of the most curious and controversial among many curious notions about diamonds. Medicine In ancient times it was thought that diamonds contained healing powers and worked as an antidote to poison. Pliny said that diamond “prevails over all poisons and renders them powerless, dispels attacks of wild distraction and drives groundless fear from the mind.” So diamond powder was swallowed for these and other ailments. By the later Middle Ages, these claims came under dispute. Garcia de Orta, the very practical Jewish doctor who I mentioned earlier in this book, noticed how difficult it is to grind a diamond in a chemist’s mortar and pestle. A chemist 65


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

could spend hours grinding away at a few small diamonds only to find deep grooves where the diamonds had worn into the mortar, plenty of dust from those abrasions and the diamonds showing not much loss in size. De Orta concluded from this that if a diamond can’t be broken down mechanically after so much effort, they could surely not be digested. And so there was no way they could have a beneficial effect. The case for diamonds-as-medicine was not helped by its lack of success. In 1534, Pope Clement VII was gravely ill from an unknown stomach illness. There is a story that his doctors gave him a powder made from crushed gemstones, including diamonds, worth 40,000 ducats. A Venetian ducat is a gold coin weighing about 3.5 grams. If we estimate the price of gold at its current spot price of around $US1,250 per ounce, the gold value of a ducat is roughly $US440. Assuming that the prestige of the Venetian Mint would add a premium to the price of the coins, the price of Pope Clement’s treatment would be somewhat more than $US17.6 million. Unfortunately, this treatment did not cure him. Clement died shortly afterwards, no doubt with the diamonds tearing painful holes in what remained of his digestive system. Clement’s real misfortune, though, was to be pope at a very difficult time for the papacy. Religious wars were raging between Protestants and Catholics. He tried to balance the world powers of the time, France and the Holy Roman Empire, but his efforts led to disaster. Both his home city of Florence and his bishopric of Rome suffered siege warfare, defeat and looting. The Romans never forgave him for that. King Henry VIII asked him for a divorce which Clement refused to grant, resulting in the redistribution of English church lands to Henry’s favoured aristocrats. 66


CHAPTER FOUR – PLINY AND HIS THOUGHTS ON DIAMONDS

A similar deathbed story (although it doesn’t include diamonds) is told about Phillip II of Spain (1556-1598). Lying on his deathbed, he was given “the Most Noble Electuary of Jacinth.” This was a potion consisting of the powdered gemstones jacinth (either zircon or spinel), emerald, sapphire, topaz, pearl, red coral and twenty other vegetable and animal ingredients. The theory must have been that something out of all those rare items must work. But the cause of death was stomach cancer, which even modern medicine has trouble curing. Phillip II was not loved by the English. Not only did he threaten them with the Spanish Armada, but he also handsomely defeated the English Armada, sent by Elizabeth I. English history books are full of stories about how they defeated the Spanish Armada, but strangely silent about the English Armada which Elizabeth sent against Spain the following year. I strongly suspect that stories like the two set out above were based on propaganda circulated by the enemies of the people involved. Fake news is not a new invention, it has been with us as long as there has been news. Despite their lack of success as medicine, diamonds and other gemstones continued to be used to treat a variety of illnesses. There are reports proceeding into the nineteenth century of servants borrowing stones from their employers so they could be touched on the relevant body parts of a sick relative. In Colonial India, powdered diamonds were used as a treatment for tooth decay. I hope it was applied carefully, as teeth are much softer than diamonds. The same medicine was also supposed to prevent lightning strikes. Of course, the extremely sharp edge that can be achieved on a diamond, and their ability not to blunt, has allowed diamonds to be used as scalpel blades. Today they are the preferred choice 67


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

for eye surgery and cutting ultra thin tissue sections. In the past few decades, a movement has developed which uses diamonds and other gemstones and minerals for medical treatment by meditating with and/or placing gemstones on particular parts of the body. These treatments are based on ideas taken from Indian, Chinese and tribal medicines. But their claims are not scientifically proven, and the few scientific studies which have been conducted so far have shown that they provide no more benefit than can be achieved by a placebo. Perhaps one day they will be proven to be effective in some way. But if you choose to take a course of treatment which uses gemstones as the cure, you should do it in combination with other accepted medical treatments and you should inform your doctor. Poison While they were sometimes used as a cure, diamonds were more often considered to be poisonous, even when uncrushed. This notion may have come from the Valley of Diamonds myth. If diamonds were in continuous close contact with snakes, the theory went, the venom from those snakes would have been spilt over the diamonds in the course of centuries and gradually soaked into them, causing them to become poisonous. Another explanation of the myth is that it was circulated by mine owners to discourage their workers from smuggling diamonds by swallowing them. Again, it was Garcia de Orta who pointed out that swallowing diamonds is one of the most common methods of stealing them. A thief could easily recover the diamonds he stole when they passed through him within a few days. The diamonds

68


CHAPTER FOUR – PLINY AND HIS THOUGHTS ON DIAMONDS

would only be fatal if the mine owner caught the thief. The fact is that a diamond cannot be digested. Eventually, it will be eliminated from the body in the usual way. It was well known, however, that the splintered fragments of a crushed diamond are very sharp and quite capable of cutting skin, bone and any human tissue. Even microscopic fragments of crushed diamond contain many hooks and sharp edges. It can cause an itchy feeling when it’s rubbed against the skin. Some famous characters in the world of diamond poisoning are: The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (1194 - 1250), who managed to go on crusade between frequent wars against the Pope. He was rumoured to have died from eating diamond powder. However, his official cause of death was dysentery. The Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II (1447 - 1512), who took in Jewish refugees from Spain. He was said to have been poisoned by his son, Selim, who mixed crushed diamonds into his food. It seems he wasn’t a fussy eater, or perhaps he was forced to take it? Paracelsus (1493 - 1541), a notable chemist with a flair for dramatic self-promotion. His rivals criticised him for his theories about using poisonous chemical compounds in small, non-lethal, doses to cure disease. There is a legend that he died after swallowing diamond dust. Benvenuto Cellini (ca 1500 - 1571) was not only one of the great sculptors of his time but is also considered by some as the greatest goldsmith of all time. One of his most iconic works is a sculpture of Perseus Holding the Head of Medusa. He also claims to have shot Charles III, Duke of Bourbon, during the Siege of Rome (which happened during Pope Clement VII’s

69


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

reign). His life was filled with sex, violence and adventure. In his autobiography, he tells, without shame or remorse, of the murders and mutilations he committed. He was sent to prison a number of times, but was always released because of the influence of one patron or another who wanted him to create another artwork or fine piece of jewellery. During one period of imprisonment, a Mr. Durante of Brescia hired a soldier to poison Cellini’s food. The poison was intended to work slowly and painfully. He wanted Cellini to suffer. But the final result he wished was for Cellini to die within four or five months. “They decided to mix pounded diamond with my food,” Cellini says, and adds: “The diamond is not a poison in any true sense of the word, but its incomparable hardness enables it, unlike ordinary stones, to retain very acute angles. When every other stone is pounded, that extreme sharpness of edge is lost; their fragments becoming blunt and rounded. The diamond alone preserves its piercing ability, by which if it happens to enter the stomach together with food, the motion of the intestines needed for digestion brings it into contact with the coating of the stomach and the bowels, where it sticks, and by the action of fresh food forcing it farther inwards, after some time perforates the organs. This eventually causes death. Any other sort of stone or glass mingled with the food does not have the power to attach itself, but passes onward with the food.” A diamond was given to a jeweller, who was also an enemy of Cellini, to grind up. The resulting powder was then mixed into Cellini’s food and for a while he was eating it. You have to remember, in those days food was not as highly processed as it is now. So it was very common to find little pebbles and

70


CHAPTER FOUR – PLINY AND HIS THOUGHTS ON DIAMONDS

sand in your food. This was caused sometimes by poor storage and transport, but also by crafty merchants adding fill to their product. So Cellini ate his prison food with the poisonous powder mixed in. Until he noticed some tiny splinters in his salad, glistening when the sun’s rays touched them. He collected a few of these pieces and examined them closely, remembering that lately his meals were more crunchy than usual. He concluded that the splinters were pieces of diamond, and he was certain that he was going to die. But, having a lot of time on his hands and the curiosity of a genius, Cellini began experimenting with the diamond shards that he found in his food. He tried pressing the little pieces with the edge of his knife blade and noticed they were easy to crush. Knowing diamond’s reputation for invincibility, he decided they weren’t diamonds at all, but perhaps some other gemstone or glass. With that realisation, he decided that he wasn’t going to die after all, and spent the rest of his time in prison happily eating his meals until he was freed again. Although the jeweller who was supposed to make the diamond dust hated Cellini, he was also dishonest. So instead of crushing a valuable diamond, he substituted “a greenish beryl of the value of two carlins”, thinking it would perhaps do as good a job as a diamond. In fact, it could have worked. You might have heard of the ‘placebo effect’ where a doctor prescribes a medicine which he or she knows has no effect, but the patient’s brain convinces them that the medicine will cure them. In many cases the placebo works. There is an opposing ‘nocebo effect’ by which people convince themselves they will become sick or die. Cellini might have fallen for the nocebo effect if he hadn’t convinced himself that his poison was useless.

71


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

On a separate occasion, some of Cellini’s enemies tried to poison him with mercuric chloride. At that time, syphilis was raging through Europe, introduced from the newly discovered Americas. The decadent Cellini had been suffering from it for decades. People knew the disease could be cured using mercury but he hadn’t tried it, probably because he knew it was also a poison. When he was poisoned with mercury he became sick for a few days. But then he recovered, not just from the poisoning but also from the syphilis. The poisoner hadn’t quite given him enough to kill him, but more than enough to cure him. The devil looks after his own. Catherine de’ Medici (1519 - 1589), niece of Pope Clement VII, ruler of France as regent for three years and puppet master for many more years than that. Catherine has a reputation as a ruthless poisoner. She earned many nicknames for herself, including the Serpent, the Black Queen, the Maggot from Italy’s Tomb and, more usually, the Merchant’s Daughter (a dig at her origins as a commoner, even though her family owned half of Italy). But she suffered more than her share of humiliations and traumas in her life. It is said that she took a scientific interest in poisons, and would test out her concoctions on poor people while pretending to give them free food. She carefully recorded the amount of time it took them to die and the various reactions to different potencies and mixtures. Diamond powder was said to be one of the ingredients in her ‘powder of succession.’ However, another ingredient, arsenic, was the more likely cause of death. As a powerful queen, Catherine had many enemies. History has chosen to blame her for the oppression of the Huguenots, a French Protestant sect. This view of her ignores the decades

72


CHAPTER FOUR – PLINY AND HIS THOUGHTS ON DIAMONDS

of diplomacy she undertook to try to reconcile Catholics and Protestants and avoid the so-called Wars of Religion. Ivan the Terrible, Tsar of Russia (1530 - 1584), who started the process of turning Russia into an empire. Towards the end of his life he liked to sit among his treasures, enjoying his jewels and gemstones. On one occasion, he invited the English diplomat Sir Jerome Horsey, to join him. In the treasure room, he set out a number of precious stones and explained to Horsey some details about their value and qualities. He was showing Horsey some turquoises when he suddenly said “Look how they change colour! They are turning pale. That means I’ve been poisoned.” He called for his sceptre, which was made of unicorn horn. Narwhale ivory was long thought to have great medicinal uses. Ivan’s doctor used the sceptre to draw a circle on the table where some spiders had been scattered. Horsey records that the spiders inside the circle died immediately, while the ones outside ran away. “It’s too late, the unicorn’s horn can’t save me now,” and Ivan returned to look at his gems. Selecting a particularly large stone, he said “Look at this diamond. It’s the finest and most precious of all. I have never cared for it. It curbs fury and lust, it instills abstinence and chastity. The smallest parcel of a diamond in powdered form will poison a horse.” That last phrase might have been a pun on Sir Jerome’s surname. Ivan the Terrible may have been poisoned to death, but there is no evidence that diamonds were used. Sir Thomas Overbury (1581 - 1613) was poisoned by the Countess of Essex with a mixture of diamond dust and mercury while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. This was

73


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

because he had tried to warn his friend, Robert Carr (a favourite of the King), that the Countess was not the sort of girl he should marry. He wrote a poem titled The Wife, setting out all the virtues a man should look for when choosing a spouse, none of which she possessed. Most women like the idea of a poem being written about them, but not when it’s a satire. The Countess didn’t like Overbury interfering in her private business, and convinced the king to put him in jail. But she was not content to just have him imprisoned in the Tower, so she poisoned him. The unfortunate man suffered for three months before he died. Although the Countess was eventually convicted of the crime, her powerful connections at court arranged for a pardon. Her co-conspirators, lacking wealth or connections, were executed. ◊ There has not been any thorough study of the effects on humans of swallowing diamond dust. It is certainly deadly to inhale it and it should not be allowed to directly contact the skin as it will cause irritation. There are unpublished reports of dogs and cats being fed a mixture of food and five carats of diamond dust without any noticeable harm to the animals. However, dogs and cats are not humans. Studies of the effects of swallowing sharp objects such as glass, needles, wire and teeth show that even when they perforate the digestive walls they are usually not fatal unless they block the digestive tract. In about 85% of reported cases where non-food items were swallowed, they passed through the digestive system without any trouble. If you swallow a diamond or some diamond dust, you will probably survive. But don’t try it.

74


CHAPTER FIVE DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

W

hile mythology is mostly about the gods and is set in the distant past, folklore stories are set in a parallel universe where every supernatural creature can exist except the

gods. But they both tap in to a wisdom that is deeply rooted in our subconscious. A different set of themes is at work in this section, but some themes cross the boundary between myth and folklore. For example, snakes continue to make their presence felt in both. Sinbad’s Valley of Diamonds could have been included here. But I have already outlined the plot and its variations, so it would be dull to repeat it. I have selected these stories on the basis that they are interesting, they feature a diamond, or diamonds, as an important element of the plot, and they are sufficiently different from the other stories. I have tried to arrange the stories first by setting, from India across to Europe and secondly by time, oldest first.

75


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

Three Diamonds This is a story from Southern India. It carries the idea that honesty is the most important virtue.

We also have an

important character who isn’t always who he seems to be, which is a common theme in these folk stories. As in that other Tamil story, the Silappadikaram, the diamonds help to reveal the innocence of the accused. ◊ There was a young man who lived with his grandmother. Late one afternoon she shook his foot, “Get out of bed and find some work. You’re nothing but a thief, a gambler and a liar. If you don’t change your ways I’ll kick you out of the house and you can live in the gutter.”

“One diamond is enough for me to live a comfortable life.”

76


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

The young man got to his feet and after thinking a little while said, “I thieve so that we have food to eat and a roof over our heads. I gamble so I can dream about living the fine life. I have a lot of faults and I can’t change them all at once, but there is one thing I can start with - from now on, Granny, I promise never to tell a lie.” She seemed to really believe him, which made the young man regret making such a quick promise. But now he thought it might break her heart if he didn’t keep his oath. The young man left the house and started wandering away from the slum where he lived and towards the better end of the city, looking for an opportunity. Meanwhile, in the palace, the Rajah was scratching his chin. He remembered how his father had been overthrown because he didn’t keep an eye on popular opinion. Surely things could not be going as well in the kingdom as his courtiers said they were. Even his Grand Vizier (the Prime Minister) never brought him any bad news - he was the worst ‘yes’ man of all. So the Rajah decided to find out for himself. After the evening’s activities were finished and all of the court had gone to bed, he put on the clothes of a beggar and sneaked out of the palace. He was going to listen to the common people and observe what was happening outside. But the streets were dark, and there weren’t many people about. So when he saw the young man, he asked him where he was going. The young man was still thinking about his promise to his grandmother. Telling the truth wouldn’t hurt this time anyway, because none of the palace guards would listen to an old beggar if he was to tell on him. “I’m going to the Rajah’s palace to sneak in and see what I can steal.”

77


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

The Rajah stifled a laugh, but he thought it would be interesting to test out the palace security. He led the young man to a corner of the palace wall which wasn’t well lit because of a tree that was a little too close and a little too big. “Climb the tree and it will take you over the wall.” The disguised Rajah gave the young man directions on where the guards were, and how to get to the throne room. “Under the throne, you will find a silver box. Inside the box, you will find something good.” The young man climbed the tree, jumped over the wall, hid in the shadows until the guards moved along, tiptoed down many corridors and sneaked into the throne room. He was good at thieving. It was exactly as the beggar had told him. Under the throne was a silver box. He opened the box and found three big diamonds. He was about to put all three diamonds into his pocket when a thought came into his head, “Do I really need all these diamonds to live a life of incredible luxury? No, just two would be more than enough to live out my wildest dreams.” The young man was being honest. He was a good thief, but a life of poverty made his wildest dreams quite inexpensive compared to what you or I could imagine. So he kept two of the diamonds and put the third one back in the box. He slipped the box back under the throne. Newly rich, the young man sneaked back out of the palace the same way he came in. As he was walking away from the palace complex the beggar found him. “Did you have any luck?” “I made it into the throne room and I stole two diamonds from the box under the throne. I left a third diamond there. Now I expect you want something in return for your help? 78


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

To be honest, your information was very helpful, I couldn’t have succeeded without it. You really deserve half of the haul. One diamond is enough for me to live a comfortable life anyway.” He gave the Rajah one of the two diamonds and headed home. But the Rajah followed him secretly and took note of the location of the young man’s hovel. The Rajah got back to his royal bedchamber just as the sun’s light was promising the kind of dawn you only see in the deserts of North West India. “Guards! To arms! There’s been a robbery! Call my counsellors!” Soon the whole palace was in uproar as the guards searched for the intruder. The Grand Vizier came quickly to attend to the Rajah. “Go and check the throne room and see if anything has been taken from there.” The Grand Vizier went to the throne room and checked the box under the throne, which he knew should contain three diamonds. When he found that only two had been stolen, he decided to keep the one remaining and blame the thief for stealing all three. Who would believe a thief’s word over that of a Grand Vizier? He returned to the Rajah with the empty box. “See, your Highness? The thief has stolen all three of your magnificent diamonds.” “All three, eh? Guards! Go and fetch the thief!” The Rajah gave his guards directions to the young man’s hovel in the slums. They soon brought him back to the palace. The Grand Vizier said, “You stand accused of stealing the Rajah’s three magnificent diamonds. What do you have to say for yourself?” The young man had not had time to sell the diamond. It was 79


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

still in his pocket. He might as well tell the truth and hope for an easier sentence. “I cannot lie, I did indeed steal diamonds from the throne room. But only two. I left the third in the silver box.” “What sort of fool would steal only two diamonds and leave one behind?” “But it’s true. And to be completely honest, I gave one to the poor beggar who helped me, so I can only return this one that I still have.” “Who would believe a story like that?” said the Grand Vizier. “Call the executioner! The penalty for stealing from the Rajah is death.” But the Rajah stepped forward. “I would believe it, because I was the poor beggar last night. And here is the diamond he gave me. Now, where is the third? Guards, search the Grand Vizier!” The Grand Vizier’s purse and pockets were turned out, and the guards soon found the third diamond. “Now,” said the Rajah, “you consider death is the right punishment for theft? You can swap places with the young man. Go, take his place with the executioner. The young man will be my new advisor.” But the young man stepped forward. “As your new counsellor, my first piece of advice is not to execute the Grand Vizier. It could have been me who was to suffer execution. I was a thief, but now that I am assured of food and shelter, I will not thieve again. I was a gambler, but now I don’t need to dream of wealth, I have it now. Let the Grand Vizier go, but take away all his money and property. Let him live in poverty under the conditions which his policies have made for your people.”

80


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

Diamond Cut Diamond This is an Indian or Pakistani folktale from Andrew Lang’s fairy books. I wanted to include a story about diamond dealers in my book. Unfortunately, one of them turns out to be particularly wicked. In general, I’ve found gemstone traders to be scrupulously honest among themselves, but members of the public have a responsibility to inform themselves and conduct proper research before taking risks they can’t afford to lose on. Diamonds are still the best way to transport wealth unseen across borders (as long as you know how to sell them). ◊ There was once a merchant who lived in a village in Hindustan. Even though he worked long hours and very hard too, he stayed poor. Even when he seemed to be about to catch a break, it wouldn’t work out. Eventually, he decided to try his luck far away in another city. Sometimes being a stranger can give you an edge. Whatever the reason, he became quite prosperous and over the course of twelve years, he built his fortune. It was more than enough for him to live on comfortably even if he lived to a very old age. Sometimes the merchant would encounter a traveller from his homeland. It felt good and relaxing to be able to speak in his native language. But it reminded him of home, and how much he would like to live out his days among his own folk. So he decided to retire to his home village. The merchant sold his stock and all his possessions. In order to transport his wealth comfortably and safely, he bought diamonds. He locked the diamonds in a little box which he wore against his body, under his clothes. He swapped his fine

81


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

clothes for those of a poor man so that he would not stand out among the other travellers, in case he caught the attention of the many thieves along the roads who made their living from robbing travellers. And so, as he was travelling light he travelled swiftly. Before long he reached a city which was just a few days’ travel from his home village. By now his clothes were really rags. He decided that this was a good place to buy some fine clothes, so that he would make a good impression when he arrived home. Everyone would see what a great man he had become. But first, he wanted to secure his diamonds. Near the centre of the city was a grand bazaar with shops filled with silks, carpets and all sorts of exotic goods from every land, each shop competing with the others to offer the finest goods. But one shop stood out from the rest. In that shop, with his goods spread out around him, sat the owner smoking a long silver pipe. The merchant approached the owner and greeted him politely, and sat down to start making some purchases. The owner of this shop was a man named Beeka Mull. He was a very cunning trader and, as the merchant spoke, he formed the opinion that this customer was more wealthy than he looked. When the purchases were settled, Beeka Mull invited the merchant to take some refreshments, and very soon they were engaged in pleasant conversation. As the merchant finished his story, Beeka Mull asked him which particular village he was going to. When the merchant told him its name, he commented, “All I can say is, you’d better be careful on that road. It’s a well-known haunt for thieves.” The muscles in the merchant’s chest tightened. “How bitter would it be,” he thought, “to lose my fortune of twelve years so

82


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

“I would be most honoured and would guard the box with my life.”

close to the end of my journey. Maybe this Beeka Mull will help me, he seems a respectable businessman.” He asked, “Sir, would it be possible for you to hold this box for me until I can organise some strong young men from the village to escort me safely home?” “Out of the question. I’m a trader, not a bank. This sort of thing is none of my business. I’m sorry, but it would cause me too much anxiety holding goods for another man.” The merchant pleaded with him. “I don’t know anyone else in this city. You’re the only person I trust. Surely you have a safe or a strong room where you store your valuables. Just put it in there for now as a favour to me.”

83


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

Beeka Mull still refused, politely but firmly. But the merchant felt he had already gone too far in revealing that he was richer than he looked. He had made too much fuss over the box. So he continued to press Beeka Mull until he finally relented. They went to Beeka Mull’s strong box, where he kept his own jewels, his gold and all his important documents. The merchant watched as he carefully placed the little box among his treasures and closed the door with a satisfying, weighty thud, and then turned the key in the lock. After many reassurances, congratulations and compliments, they parted company. As he stepped out on the street without his box, the merchant felt unburdened but also, somehow, naked. It was the first time in weeks that he had been separated from that object which had been his constant companion, whether walking, riding, washing, or sleeping. But now he felt the emptiness of the space it had once occupied. It was an uncomfortable feeling that would not go away. The shopkeepers in the bazaar knew everything that went on there. They watched discreetly as the merchant haggled with Beeka Mull, they knew how many minutes the pair were in the back of the shop taking refreshments and whatever else. Those who weren’t watching soon heard about it from those who were. Survival in that bazaar was hard, and they were all shady dealers in their own ways. But the shadiest of all was Beeka Mull. He was famous for never letting a customer leave his shop without fleecing him in some way. But the merchant didn’t know anything about that. He wandered down the narrow street, stopping from time to time to buy things for his homecoming. He took the opportunity to inquire about Beeka Mull, to reassure himself that he had left

84


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

his life’s earnings with an honest man. Of course, every trader praised Beeka Mull as a fair dealer. It amused them because his enquiries indicated that something had gone on in the shop of Beeka Mull, and they speculated among themselves about what it could have been. So the merchant set aside his worries and set off on the final leg of his journey, back to his hometown. A week or so later, he was back at the city gate with half a dozen strapping young nephews and men of the village, who had agreed to guard him on the way home again with his precious box of diamonds. The merchant left the men at a tavern near the gates so they wouldn’t disperse while he went alone to the bazaar to collect his jewels. He marched up to Beeka Mull’s shop and saluted him. “Good day, Sir,” he said. But Sir pretended not to notice him. So he repeated, “Good DAY, Sir!” This time Beeka Mull turned to him and glared. “What do you want?” he snapped. “I’ve had your good day twice. How about telling me your business?” “Don’t you remember me?” “Remember you? Why should I remember you? I have enough to remember with my good customers without having to remember every whiny beggar who comes to my door asking for charity.” The merchant felt a wave of heat pass through his body as confusion gave way to a realisation that his world was about to collapse. “But sir, you must surely remember the little box I gave you to keep for me. You promised to mind it… yes, you kindly promised when I returned to claim it… you…”

85


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

“You scoundrel,” roared Beeka Mull. “Get out of my shop! What do I look like? A pawn broker? A bank? Everyone knows I don’t hold goods for people, I have enough trouble minding my own goods. Now go on, get out of here!” Beeka Mull started pushing the merchant out of his shop. The merchant tried to resist, but a few bystanders came to help Beeka Mull and they threw him off the steps like a bale of straw. The merchant landed hard on the dusty road. He picked himself up. Even though his body was bruised and bleeding, he felt nothing. Nothing at all. His body and hands were numb. The raucous sounds of the bazaar were muted, the vibrant colours faded. He no longer noticed the reeking stench that came out of the gutter. His only feeling was that he was ruined. He backed away from the shop where the fat Beeka Mull was putting on a wounded, angry display for his fellows. As if he was the victim. The merchant’s shoulder came to rest on the wall of a shop across the way from Beeka Mull’s. He leant against the wall and, putting his head in his hands, gave himself over to misery and despair. The merchant stayed there, immobile, like a statue. Eventually the traders packed up their stalls, and the shopkeepers shuttered their windows and doors. The glaring sun gave way to shadow and darkness. But the merchant remained where he was. The men he had brought from the village were simple folk. When the money he had given them ran out and he hadn’t come back, they thought he must have gone home by himself. So they decided that they should do the same, and off they went without another thought. Around eleven o’clock, a small group of revellers passed through the markets on their way to the seedy side of town. 86


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

Chief among them was a robust young man named Kooshy Ram. He noticed the merchant standing alone in the moonlight and shouted “Look, a thief!” But one of his friends said, “It can’t be. Thieves don’t just stand around in the open like that, even at night.” So they passed him by without harassing him. About five o’clock the next morning, Kooshy Ram was passing through again from the opposite direction, on his way home. He was astonished to see the merchant still there, in the same position. Concern and curiosity overtook his need for sleep, so he went up to the merchant and gently shook his shoulder, “Who are you? And what are you doing here? Are you sick?” “Sick?” said the merchant, in a hollow voice, “I’m sick at heart. Sick from an illness no medicine can cure.” “Ah, what nonsense!” cried Kooshy Ram. “I’ve got medicine that will cure every sickness known to man. Come along with me, I’ll soon have you sorted out.” With that, he took the merchant by the arm and marched him to his lodgings. The first thing he did was to give him a big glass of wine. Then he gave him a breakfast fit for a champion. When the merchant had eaten his fill, Kooshy Ram prevailed on him to tell his whole story. Kooshy Ram had inherited a fortune when he was still a boy and he had nobody to advise him what to do with it. So he spent his time and money doing whatever came into his head, which was usually going to or hosting parties, exploring the nightlife areas of the city and buying expensive toys to play with for a month or so before disposing of them. It was a pity, because he actually had a shrewd mind. But fortunately for the merchant, he was kind-hearted and his attention was now turned towards helping him. 87


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

Kooshy Ram couldn’t help but laugh out loud and long at the idea of someone trusting Beeka Mull with all his wealth. “But he’s the biggest crook in the city!” he howled, “after me, of course! Well, we can’t do anything about it right now. Just stay here for the time being and rest yourself. I’ve got an idea for some medicine that might cure your sickness.” A full stomach, good company and a little wine had calmed the merchant. Now a little bit of hope warmed his heart, and he accepted Kooshy Ram’s hospitality gratefully. That evening, some of Kooshy Ram’s friends came to visit, and they talked late into the night. The merchant couldn’t hear what they were saying, but he heard their shouts and raucous laughter. But the laughter just made the merchant more aware of the disaster he had suffered. The more he thought about it, the more he felt his chances of ever reclaiming his fortune slipping away. The next morning, after breakfast, Kooshy Ram went to see the merchant. “Do you remember that wall where I found you the other night, near Beeka Mull’s shop?” “Of course I do,” said the merchant. “This afternoon you have to go back there and stand in the same spot and watch. When someone gives you a signal, you have to go up to Beeka Mull and say, ‘Oh Sir, would you be so kind as to return the box that I left on trust with you?’” “What’s the use?” said the merchant, “He’s no more likely to give it back to me now than he was when I asked him before.” “Don’t you worry about that,” answered Kooshy Ram. “Just do as I said exactly the way I told you, word for word. I’ll handle the rest of it.” That afternoon, the merchant went to the place by the wall where Kooshy Ram had found him. He could see Beeka Mull, 88


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

and he knew Beeka Mull saw him, but neither spoke to the other. After a while, he heard a disturbance coming from the end of the street. He looked, and saw a finely appointed palanquin, the kind used by fine ladies and high ranking courtesans, pushing its way through the crowd. Attending the palanquin was a serious-looking man who the merchant recognised as one of Kooshy Ram’s friends from the night before. Behind him came a servant bearing a box covered with a cloth, which he carried on his head. The palanquin made its way down the narrow street, causing some commotion as food and drink vendors noisily moved their portable kitchens to make way for it. Its bearers set it down in front of Beeka Mull’s shop. Immediately, the portly shopkeeper sprang to his feet and gave a deep bow, very graceful for such a big man. He addressed the serious-looking attendant, “Might I enquire who it is in the palanquin who favours my shop with a visit, and what may I do for her?” The attendant whispered at the curtain covering the window of the palanquin. Then he explained that the occupant was his relative, who was travelling. Her husband had been accompanying her, but he could not continue the journey. So she wanted to leave her box of jewels with Beeka Mull for safe keeping. The shopkeeper bowed even more deeply than before, “It is not my normal business, but if it would serve the lady I would be most honoured, and would guard the box with my life.” The servant carrying the box was called up and the box was unlocked. Beeka Mull’s usually placid face lit up when he gazed on the colourful mass of jewels inside: diamonds scattering the sunlight into rainbows and reflecting the light in all directions, emeralds and rubies that seemed to glow with a light of their own. 89


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

The merchant, standing across the street, couldn’t help but watch all of this with interest. But now he saw… was he seeing right? Yes, he saw a hand waving at him through the curtain on the side of the palanquin away from the shop. Could this be the signal he had been told about? He wondered. The hand started waving furiously at him now. So he stepped forward and went up to Beeka Mull, who was gazing into the box, his fat fingers toying with the amazing contents of this box that this pair of fools were now passing into his care. The merchant spoke up, “Oh Sir, would you be so kind as to return the box that I left on trust with you?” Beeka Mull instantly gave him a nasty look. But, suddenly, the thought crossed his mind that the merchant could drive away this bigger prize if he caused a commotion. So he held himself back and said, “Why of course, my good man! You have only to ask once and it is delivered.” Off he went to the back of the shop, and retrieved the little box. The merchant trembled as he took it into his hands. He unlocked the lid with a key that dangled from his neck, and counted the diamonds inside. When he was satisfied that they were all there, he ran out on to the street and started dancing around like a madman, yelping and whooping. Just then, a messenger came running up and saluted the man attending the palanquin. He said, “The lady’s husband is much recovered and is able to travel with her after all. So there will be no need to deposit the jewels.” At that, the attendant snapped the lid of the big box shut, turned the key in the lock to seal it, and handed it back to the servant. From the palanquin came a roar of laughter and out stepped, not a lady, but Kooshy Ram. He bounded over to the merchant and whooped and danced just as madly as him. Meanwhile, 90


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

Beeka Mull just stood silently, speechless for the first time in his life, taking in what had just happened. But then, with a shrill cackle, he threw off his turban and leapt out on to the road with the others and took to dancing along with them, his belly wobbling, fingers snapping in the air, panting at the exertion. “Hey, Sir!” called the man who had pretended to be the relative attending to the palanquin, “The merchant is dancing because he has his diamonds back, Kooshy Ram is dancing because he has tricked you and because he uses any excuse to dance anyway. But you? Why are you dancing?” “I dance;” gasped Beeka Mull, glaring at him with a bloodshot eye, “I dance because I have mastered the thirteen ways to deceive people by means of confidence tricks. Nobody thought there were any more. But I have just learnt a fourteenth! That’s why I dance!”

Charlemagne and the Diamond Connections between diamonds and attraction, and diamonds and snakes are explored in this strange story. ◊ Fastrada was the third wife of Charlemagne, (Charles the Great: 742 AD - 814 AD), the greatest emperor Europe has ever known. When he lived in Zurich, they stayed in a house known as ‘the Hole’. In the Hole’s courtyard was a pillar with a bell at the top of it. Anyone who had a grievance could ring the bell and demand justice. One day, while eating his dinner, Charlemagne heard the bell ring. He sent his attendants to see who it was demanding justice. But they came back saying there was no-one there. 91


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

“Everyone is entitled to justice, man or beast.”

The bell rang a second, and then a third time, with the same result. Finally, the Emperor himself went out to see who it was. He found a huge snake winding around the column in the act of pulling the rope with its tail to ring the bell. “Everyone is entitled to justice, man or beast,” said the Emperor. “Let this, the lowest of all creatures in my realm, be brought before me so that I can hear its case.” The snake was brought in to the royal court, where Charlemagne addressed it in exactly the same way as he spoke to his human subjects. The snake didn’t speak, but it made movements which suggested that it wanted Charles to follow it.

92


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

It led him to the lakeside, where it had made its nest among the reeds. The nest was full of eggs, but sitting on top of it all was a huge, ugly, vicious toad. The snake attacked the toad with all her strength, but it snapped back at her, apparently immune to her venom. Charlemagne knew that toads don’t lay eggs on land. As soon as he saw the situation, the Emperor made his judgement: “Throw the toad onto the fire, and let the snake have her home and children returned to her.” So the toad was burnt on the fire, and the serpent coiled herself around her eggs. The Emperor returned to his court, shaking his head at this strange adventure. Three days later, while Charles was in his banquet hall enjoying a feast, the snake found its way in, unseen and unannounced. He was surprised and a bit shaken to see it appear with such stealth. “What can it be now?” the Emperor wondered. He ordered his courtiers to stand back as the serpent approached him. When it was before him, it raised itself up on its tail and dropped a large diamond that it was holding in its mouth onto an empty plate in front of Charles on the table. Then it bowed its head and turned, and quickly slithered away. Charles had the diamond set in a gold ring and gave it to his wife, Fastrada. It is said that he married her because she was the daughter of one of his most powerful dukes and he wanted to strengthen his alliance. Although Charles had plenty of concubines, there is no reason to think that he didn’t love his wife. But once he had given the diamond to her, he became obsessed with her. It was more like a madness of passion than what we today would consider love. He could not bear to be

93


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

apart from her. When he went on campaign he wrote to her every day (Charlemagne dictated his letters to a monk. He never learnt to read and write, although he tried very hard). In one of his letters which survive today, he even asked Fastrada why she wasn’t writing to him more often. But death eventually separates even the most ardent lovers. The Emperor himself was powerless to stop its chill hand. Fastrada fell victim to an incurable disease. She knew there was some special power that the diamond held over her husband. She couldn’t bear the thought that her husband’s love would be transferred to someone else who might be an enemy, so she slipped the ring into her mouth on her deathbed when nobody was looking. She died at Ingelheim Palace before she reached the age of thirty. Charles was devastated. He refused to have her buried, but sat by her body weeping for days. Even as her flesh began to rot and a stench rose from her corpse, he would not be moved from her side. Her once beautiful face and body were now a pile of rotting meat. Sometimes, a country can manage quite well for a long time without a leader, sometimes it can even do better without one. But Charlemagne had conquered a vast territory. His Kingdom of the Franks now included Lombards, Saxons and other peoples who weren’t happy to be ruled by a foreigner. Things were getting out of control without Charlemagne to guide them. Eventually, Archbishop Turpin of Rheims remembered the diamond given by the snake, which Fastrada still had when she died. Turpin was a good archbishop; he never caused bloodshed because he always used a mace to kill his enemies. He was a good man to have beside you on a battlefield, which was why Charlemagne liked him. 94


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

Turpin knew about the legend that diamonds create an attraction. So when visiting the Emperor at the tomb, he arranged to have one of his servants cause a diversion. With Charles distracted, Turpin searched for the ring. It wasn’t on Fastrada’s finger. It wasn’t visible anywhere else on the outside of her body. No stranger to death, he held his breath and risked putting his fingers between her crusted lips. After fishing around for longer than he had hoped to in that slimy mouth, he felt the ring under her tongue. He lifted it out and slipped it into his pocket before Charles noticed anything. As soon as the diamond was away from Fastrada’s body the spell was broken. Charles’ love towards the rotting corpse turned to a horrified disgust and he ordered the body buried immediately. But the diamond continued to hold power over Charles. Now the attraction switched to Archbishop Turpin. In the beginning, Turpin enjoyed the limelight caused by his promotion in the Emperor’s esteem. Having Charles’ undivided attention gave him an opportunity to push his favourite policies and projects. But weeks of daily fireside chats lingering into the early hours, followed by being woken early to attend to the Emperor, soon became tiresome. He couldn’t attend to his own business at Rheims. One morning, the Archbishop woke to find Charlemagne sitting by his bed, watching over him. That settled it. Every Winter, the court would engage in a hunt. This year it was held near the ancient town of Aachen, or as the French call it, Aix-la-Chapelle. Turpin managed to separate himself from the hunting party, and took the opportunity to throw the ring into a mineralised spring, thinking that nobody would ever find it there. 95


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

But where Turpin went, Charlemagne was never far away. Even as he searched for Turpin, he realised that his horse must be thirsty. Hearing the noise of water bubbling from a spring, he brought his horse to drink there. The horse put one foot in the mud and withdrew it quickly, shying away. Charlemagne dismounted to investigate the horse’s strange behaviour and, putting his hand on the horse’s hoof print, he found that the mud was hot from the thermal spring water. After taking a rest near the spring, Charlemagne decided that he really liked that location. So that is where he made his capital. Charles loved Aachen, and spent every winter there until he died. He showered public works on it, building there his royal palace and the Palatine Cathedral, which still stands today, over a thousand years later. The Cathedral is built in the shape of a horseshoe, in tribute to hoofprint made by the horse who discovered the site. If you ever visit Aachen, for its history or its spa and wellness centres, you might go for a mud bath. If you do, let me know if you happen to find an old ring there. But be careful who you give it to. ◊ This story was written in the sixteenth century, many years after Charlemagne’s time. You might have noticed that the story is in two parts, one concerning the snake and the other about the attraction. The first part very closely resembles a story from the Gesta Romanorum (The Deeds of the Romans) which is a collection of stories compiled about a hundred years previously. In the Gesta Romanorum, the emperor is the Roman Emperor Theodosius, who is blind. When the snake returns with the

96


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

diamond, the emperor is in bed and the snake touches the stone to his eyes, immediately giving him back his vision. This emperor keeps the stone and treasures it, but there is no mention of it having other magical powers. This interpretation of the story comes from Charles Swan’s (circa 1906) translation: “My beloved, the emperor is any worldly-minded man who is blind to spiritual affairs. The bell is the tongue of a preacher; the cord is the Bible. The serpent is a wise confessor, who brings forth young -- that is, good works. But prelates and confessors are often timid and negligent, and follow earthly more than heavenly matters; and then the toad, which is the devil, occupies their place. The serpent carries a stone -- and the confessor the Sacred Writings, which alone are able to give sight to the blind.”

Biancabella and the Snake Little is known about the life of Giovanni Francesco Straparola (ca1485 - 1558) because “Straparola” is a pen name. It’s a nickname which comes from the Italian verb “strapalare” which means to talk too much or to talk nonsense. Whoever he was, he wrote the first collection of fairy tales to be printed, and had a strong influence on the early development of the fairy tale as a literary form. I have posted a translation made in 1901 to my website as I have slightly altered some of the events in the following version of the story, to better suit current tastes. ◊

97


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

There was once a marquis of Monferrato who was rich and powerful. But he was unhappy because he did not have a child to carry on the family name. One day the marchioness, his wife, was wandering through her secret garden, enjoying the flowers and hedges, when she began to feel a little weary. So she settled herself by the foot of a tree and took a rest. As she was resting, a small snake came to visit her. A few months later, and to everyone’s delight, the marchioness found that she was pregnant. Nine months after the encounter with the snake, she bore a child, a beautiful girl. But the midwife and the ladies attending the birth were shocked to find that a snake had been delivered along with the girl, and it was wound around the child’s neck three times. While they were panicking, the snake uncoiled itself and made its way swiftly to the door and out into the garden. The people attending the birth checked every part of the baby to make sure she was perfect in every way. They could find no defect, but they noticed around her neck, just visible under her skin, three gold strands, like delicate filigree. The girl was named Biancabella because of her beauty and her pale skin. The years passed quickly, and it was after she reached the age of ten that she escaped from her nanny one day, and discovered the garden where her mother had slept, many years before. It was a beautiful place, and she was so charmed by it that she ran from one part to the other, gathering blossoms and flowers until she grew tired and sat down under the shade of a tree. She had hardly settled down when a tiny snake emerged from a nearby flower bed and crawled up beside her. At first, Biancabella was startled, but the snake spoke:

98


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

“Please don’t call out, I don’t mean you any harm, for we are sisters, born on the same day from the same mother. My name is Samaritana and if you do as I ask, you will have a happy life. But if you betray me, your life will be filled with misery, and you will be the most pitiful person on Earth. You can go now, but come here again tomorrow and bring two barrels: one filled with pure, fresh milk, the other with the finest rose water. And come by yourself, don’t bring anyone else.” The next morning Biancabella returned to the garden at the same time, with the vessels that had been requested. As soon as she arrived at the place where they last met, the snake came to her and ordered her to remove all her clothes and pour the milk over herself. Every part of her skin was made pure and any natural fault became perfect by this washing. Next, the snake asked Biancabella to wash herself in the rose water. Now, her body became fragrant and energized with new life. Moreover, she became even more graceful and charming than she had been before. When the bathing was finished and she had dressed herself, the snake swore her to secrecy - not a word about this, even to her mother and father. Later that day, the marchioness noticed the change in her daughter and questioned her as to whether anything had happened. But Biancabella could not give her an answer. Her mother gave up asking, but could not resist taking a comb to Biancabella’s beautiful golden hair, which was now even more lustrous. To her amazement, diamonds, pearls and other precious stones fell from Biancabella’s hair as she pulled the comb through it. More than this, though, when Biancabella washed her hands, flowers of all types and colours sprang from the water, and a lovely scent filled the room so that anyone

99


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

present felt as if paradise had returned. News of Biancabella’s supreme beauty and extraordinary nature soon spread and knights, princes and kings from every corner of the world came to try to win her as their wife. But the Marquis questioned each one and investigated them in detail. In every case, he was able to find at least one minor defect, whether in the suitor’s character, in his person, his education or even in some obscure area most people would not worry about. The marquis was convinced that nobody was good enough for his daughter. But then Ferrandino, the King of Naples, arrived. In a hall filled with men, all eyes were drawn to his commanding presence. Athletic, scholarly, wealthy, powerful, majestic in appearance, this man stood out from the rest. The Marquis agreed that the two should marry and Biancabella readily agreed. As soon as the betrothal ceremony had been completed, Biancabella felt in her heart that something was wrong. She remembered the promises she had made to her sister. As soon as she could leave the party, she went to the garden, to the place where she usually met with Samaritana. She called for her, but no snake appeared from beneath the leaves or among the flowers. She searched every part of the garden, but could not find any trace of her sister. After the wedding, Ferrandino brought Biancabella to his home city of Naples and the couple was greeted by a delighted population. There were parades, festivals, feasts, fireworks, trumpet salutes. The people left their workplaces and poured into the streets to get a glimpse of the beloved couple. Not everyone was delighted to see the happy pair. Ferrandino’s stepmother had a daughter, a weak, sickly, ugly thing. But even

100


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

so, she was determined that her daughter should have been the one to marry the king. Now that this plan had been shattered she could hardly bear to look at Biancabella, her hatred was so strong. Even so, she managed to disguise her feelings and expressed only love and friendship towards the King’s wife. It wasn’t long before court life was interrupted by war. The King of Tunis had invaded with a powerful army. He believed that he should have been the one to marry Biancabella, not Ferrandino. So Ferrandino had to raise his own army, requisition supplies and put his affairs in order before heading off to defend his lands. Part of putting his affairs in order included placing his (now pregnant) wife into the protection of his ‘loving’ stepmother. After Ferrandino left, the stepmother wasted no time in starting to plot against Biancabella. She gathered together some courtiers - worthless men, too unreliable for Ferrandino to bring on campaign, but strangely loyal to the stepmother. She arranged for them to escort Biancabella to some scenic place away from the city on the pretext of recreation. When they found a lonely spot they were to kill her, and bring back some body parts as proof when they had done the deed. The plot went according to plan. Mostly. Although they usually took pleasure in undertaking crimes of the worst violence and cruelty, the courtiers were so charmed by Biancabella’s beauty and grace that they could not bring themselves to kill her. But they still feared the stepmother. So as a compromise they put out Biancabella’s eyes and cut off her hands. They showed these body parts to the stepmother as proof that they had killed Biancabella. When the stepmother opened the gore-filled box, any

101


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

observer would have thought it was filled with chocolates, not body parts. Her heart was filled with a joy that bubbled up to light her face, which was normally as sour as vinegar. For a little while, she became like a little girl, her head filled with ideas of how to take advantage of her new opportunities. Her first action was to spread the story that her own daughter had died of fever. Then she put it about that Biancabella had miscarried her child because of the distress caused by her husband’s absence. The miscarriage had led to complications, and Biancabella was confined to bed, where she was wasting away. All that was to disguise the fact that the stepmother had put her own daughter in the king’s bed, pretending that she was, in fact, Biancabella, shrunken and deformed from sickness. In

the

meantime,

through

strategy

and

deceptive

manoeuvering, Ferrandino brought the King of Tunis to commit to a decisive battle, and defeated him completely. Returning home in glorious victory, he looked forward to being greeted by his lovely wife. Instead, he found in his bed a deformed husk of a woman, whom he believed to be Biancabella. Hoping to make her comfortable and perhaps restore her to health, Ferrandino called on the ladies-in-waiting to comb her once lustrous hair, which was now like straw. But instead of combing out pearls and diamonds, worms that had been eating the unfortunate woman’s scalp came out, wriggling. Then he asked them to wash her hands. Instead of flowers and sweet perfume, a filthy scum filled the water and a foul stench arose. It caused anyone who caught a sniff of it to retch. The stepmother consoled Ferrandino, “Maybe your wife will recover… With a little love and attention, she will come good…

102


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

Try to act like you did in your early days of marriage, another baby will be good for her.” Meanwhile, Biancabella was left abandoned, with no eyes and no hands, in a scenic but remote location. She cried out for her sister, Samaritana, to come. But there was no response. Eventually an old, but kindly, man who was poaching in the woods heard the pleading from far away. When he saw Biancabella’s situation his heart was moved to pity. He could not bear to leave someone to end their life wandering among the thorny bushes and sharp rocks of that lonely place. So he brought her home. The old man had a wife and three daughters, and he put Biancabella under their care. The idea of this did not appeal to the wife. “How can you do this to us? Bringing this helpless and useless creature for us to keep? She’s obviously been blinded and maimed as a punishment for some wickedness, not as a reward for doing good. Where can we find food for yet another mouth when we already have to go without?” But this complaint only angered the old man. “Do as I say. Give her the proper care she needs, or the next time I enter the wild woods I will not return to this house!” So Biancabella was left in the care of the women of the old man’s house. After they settled her and explained where she was, she asked if one of the daughters would comb her hair for her. The wife was moved to anger. She would not have her daughters leave their duties, wasting their time on a cripple. But one of the daughters sought to comfort Biancabella; she feared her father’s threats about leaving, and perhaps she noticed something of the grace and charm of the woman in her charge, which was still evident despite her wounds. When

103


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

her mother was busy somewhere else, she took up a comb and attended to Biancabella’s hair. The comb barely passed through Biancabella’s blond locks three times before pearls, rubies, diamonds and other gems began to fall. When the mother saw this she was terrified, but this feeling soon gave way to joy. Her attitude to her maimed patient changed entirely. She embraced Biancabella and the three daughters, announcing that their time of desperate poverty had finally passed. Biancabella now asked for them to bring water to wash her face and limbs. When they saw the roses, violets and other flowers tumbling from the basin, they were astonished. They were sure that Biancabella was some kind of divine presence, not a human at all. Some time later, after she had somewhat recovered, Biancabella asked the old man to bring her back to the place where he had found her. The whole household begged her not to leave. Not only had she changed their fortune, but they had grown to love her in that short time. But Biancabella promised that she would come back, and so they reluctantly let her go with the old man. He guided her back to the place and she asked him to leave her there, but to seek her out again that evening. After the old man left, Biancabella searched up and down the wild woodlands, calling for Samaritana. In fact, Samaritana had never left her side in all the time since her betrothal. But she did not act to help or hinder in any of the events that had befallen Biancabella. Even now, she did not respond to Biancabella’s calls. Frustrated and in despair, Biancabella found herself at the shore of a lake. Realising this, the idea came to her that she should end her misery by letting the waters take

104


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

her. But as her foot tested out the water she heard a thundering voice in her head. “Wretched creature, step back and don’t even think of ending your life! You need to preserve yourself for a more worthy end.” Biancabella was startled out of her despair by the booming voice, and came away from the shore. It was a commanding tone, but there was something familiar in it. “Who are you that wanders around the wild wood, shouting in people’s ears?” Then the same voice replied, but in a gentler tone, “I am your sister, Samaritana. The one you have been calling for so long and so pitifully.” “Alas, my sister, help me. If I offended you, please forgive me. Understand that it was not my intention to go against your wishes or preempt them. Surely I have suffered enough, being brought down from such a lofty place, now to be in constant pain and misery.” Samaritana gave her some words of comfort, then told her sister to wait while she left to forage in the woods. She returned with some leaves of great medicinal power which she placed on her sister’s eye sockets. Next, she brought two hands which she placed on Biancabella’s wrists, again applying medicinal leaves. Biancabella was immediately made whole again. When she had finished these wonderful feats, Samaritana cast away the scaly serpent’s skin that had previously bound her, and revealed herself as a beautiful woman, the equal of Biancabella. But while Biancabella’s hair was golden blond, hers was jet black. Her skin was of darkest bronze while her sister’s was pink and pale almost to being translucent. The old man came looking for Biancabella as the sun began to

105


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

set. He was amazed to find her restored to her former glory, and accompanied by her beautiful sister. And so they all returned to live in the old man’s house with his wife and daughters. But it wasn’t long before the group decided to leave their humble cottage in the woods and find somewhere more suited to their new circumstances. So they set off for Naples. When they reached the city they wandered around for a while until, just as the sun was setting, they came across a fine plot of vacant land in a nice neighborhood. So nice, in fact, that it was directly across the road from the palace. The old man and his family were about to set up camp when Samaritana stepped forward holding up a laurel branch. She uttered a mystical formula in a language none of them had ever heard and, almost as soon as the last word was finished, a sumptuous mansion sprang up. It was the most exquisite building you could imagine, with beautiful stonework, columns and portico. They all moved in there and found everything spacious, furnished and complete. Perfectly suitable for them. The next morning, when Ferrandino opened his curtains he noticed the lovely new building where there had been nothing the day before. He was so excited that he called over his (supposed) wife and his stepmother. They looked at it but did not share his enthusiasm. Instead, they somehow felt a sense of foreboding. As the king gazed on the wonderful new building, he noticed in one of the windows two ladies, the most beautiful he had ever seen. His passion stirred within him when he saw in the manners of one of them something that reminded him of how his wife had been. He sent a herald to find out more about the house and the people living there. The herald came back with

106


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

the reply that they were two ladies who had been exiled from their home. They had told him that they had travelled all the way from Persia with their possessions, and planned to settle in Naples. After further courtesies, the two young ladies invited Ferrandino and the ladies of the court to a banquet. At first the stepmother and her daughter refused, but eventually they had to relent for fear of seeming ridiculous. Entering the house, they found its halls and rooms to be wide and high vaulted. The walls were panelled with stone of porphyry. There were columns of the finest marbles and many statues, urns and other features of intricate detail, formed from precious stones of agate, blue john and malachite, among others. The feast was indeed sumptuous: turtle soup, roasted pike, peacock seasoned with saffron and expensive spices from the far East, truffles, artichokes and asparagus were just some of the fine foods they sampled. A selection of little cakes was brought out. They were so artistic and so perfect and yet so delicious. Some of the guests wept because they could not both keep them and eat them too. As they were concluding the meal, Samaritana suggested to the group that they might like to hear some music. The crowd was agreeable to that. She called on one of the old man’s daughters, who had a particular talent for singing. The lyrics of her song followed exactly the story of Biancabella, from her birth until just before she decided to move back to Naples. Only the names of the people and places were changed. When the song came to an end, many in the audience were moved to tears. Ferrandino stood up and demanded, “What punishment would be enough to deal with someone who would

107


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

undertake such a vicious plan against an innocent woman?” Hoping to defer suspicion from herself, the stepmother immediately called out, “Certainly they should be thrown into a red-hot furnace! Even that would not be punishment enough for such a wicked crime.” Samaritana turned to her and said “You’ve condemned yourself with your own words, for it is you who are the culprit! Look, my king, here is your Biancabella.” At these words, the second of the old man’s daughters began combing Biancabella’s hair and, as usual, diamonds and all sorts of gemstones began to tumble down. Then the third daughter placed a bowl of water under her hands, and flowers and fragrant perfume came forth. Ferrandino realized that this was indeed his true wife. He wept for joy as he embraced the woman his heart longed for. But the next thing he did, even before he brought her back to his palace, was to heat up a great furnace that stood in the courtyard. When the fire was at its maximum heat, he caused his stepmother and the imposter wife to be thrown in. The other guests all thought this was a most entertaining way to end an enjoyable outing. King Ferrandino returned to his palace with Biancabella, where they ruled Naples well for many years. The old man and his wife lived comfortable lives until they died peacefully. Samaritana and the three daughters were married to fine husbands of noble birth and manner. Ferrandino’s son succeeded him to his kingdom after he died.

108


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

“You seem very unhappy, what’s the matter?”

The Enchanted Ring This fairy tale was first recorded by Fenelon (1651 - 1715) for Louis XIV’s grandson, the ‘Little’ Dauphin. The diamond in this story grants very specific and powerful benefits, depending on how it is manipulated in its ring. It’s easy to imagine that a diamond ring can make a man look like a prince. Some people did, in fact, believe that diamonds could make the wearer invisible. I wonder how often people wandered around thinking they were invisible, when it was just that their friends were playing along for a laugh.

109


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

Like the Syamantaka, this diamond benefits those who use it well, but punishes those who use it for the wrong reasons. ◊ Once upon a time, there were two brothers. The older was as ugly as he was wicked. His name was Bramintho. The younger was exactly the opposite of his brother, he was handsome and good. His name was Rosimond. Their mother did not try to hide the fact that she loved Rosimond more than Bramintho. Perhaps if Bramintho had treated her better she would have liked him just as much as she loved Rosimond. But this thought never crossed his mind. Bramintho was jealous of Rosimond. He went to their father and told him to be careful, because Rosimond was plotting with their neighbours to poison him. The father didn’t bother to ask Rosimond if it was true. He was stirred up by Bramintho’s words, and he set upon Rosimond with a stick. He beat Rosimond so hard that blood started to flow. He locked the boy in the cell where they usually fattened their pigs before they slaughtered them. But Rosimond was treated worse than any pig, he wasn’t given any food for the three days they kept him there. His mother was too afraid to help him, all she could do was sob and pray for him. Eventually, the father manhandled him out of the cell and kicked him out of the house. He told Rosimond that if he ever returned he would kill him. The young man stumbled away from the farm, tears flooding his eyes. Before long, he realised that he had wandered into a dark forest, and it was getting late. In the distance, he could hear the bubbling waters of a stream, and he made his way towards it. Hungry and tired, he settled down on the soft grass

110


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

next to the stream, and fell asleep. He woke the next morning to find a beautiful woman before him, dressed for the hunt and seated on a fine grey horse with a harness and other equipment all made of gold. She asked him if he had seen a stag and some deer pass by, and he answered, “No madam.” Then she bent down to take a closer look at him. “You seem very unhappy, what’s the matter? Here, take this ring. It will make you the happiest and most powerful of all men. But you must take care to use it only for good. If you turn the diamond inside you will be invisible. If you turn it outside you will be visible again. If you put it on your little finger you will take the form of the king’s son, with a splendid court. If you put it on your third finger you will return to your normal self.” Rosimond realised that it was a fairy who was talking to him. He listened carefully to everything she told him. When she was sure that he understood how to use the ring, she spurred on her horse and was soon out of sight in the forest. The young man was eager to try out his ring, so he raced back to the village. He found out that when he turned the diamond inside the ring nobody could see him, but he could hear and see everything. He imagined all the fun he could have while being invisible. But then he remembered the fairy’s warning to use the ring only for good. Next, his thoughts turned to his family. So he went home and told his mother everything that had happened. While they were waiting for his father and brother to come home, Rosimond put the ring on his little finger. He immediately looked exactly like the Crown Prince. Guards, footmen, bearers,

111


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

a hundred horses with their grooms, all dressed in regal finery, all gathered at the simple cottage to attend on him. When the father came home, he was astonished. He didn’t know what to say or do in the presence of such an important guest. Of course, he was also flustered, wondering why the Prince himself would deign to visit him. Rosimond asked how many sons he had. “Two, lord.” “Bring them here. I want to see them both. I will bring the two of them to court and they will make their fortunes.” “Here is my older son, Bramintho. He’s a strong lad and will serve you well.” “Very good,” said Rosimond, “where is the younger?” “Well, um… he ain’t here right now. I had to punish him and he ran off.” “You should never have hit him,” Rosimond answered. “You should have just told him what you wanted him to do. I require both of them, but this one will do for now” he said, pointing to Bramintho. “He will come with me. As for you, these guards will escort you where you need to go.” Two of the guards led the father away into the forest. They took him to the place where the fairy was. She had him beaten with golden birch rods. Then she had him thrown into a deep, dark cave and placed an enchantment on him so that he couldn’t get out. “You can stay there until your son comes for you,” she said. While this was happening, the son took his brother to the King’s palace. Now, as luck would have it, at that time, the real Prince was not at the palace or even in the same country. He had gone on a journey across the sea. There had been a big

112


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

storm and his ship was wrecked on a strange shore. The people on that island were hostile, and they enslaved the Prince. So when Rosimond turned up at the palace, looking exactly like the Prince, attended by his entourage, the whole court was overcome with joy. The Queen wept to see her son. The King declared a national holiday, and ordered street parties and fireworks for every town in the realm. After a little while, when the celebrations were over and things had started to settle down, Rosimond called his brother to his chambers. “Bramintho,” he said, “you know I wanted both you and your brother to be at court and make your fortunes together. Well, I have managed to find your brother. But he had some interesting things to say about you.” Bramintho panicked at what he thought his brother might have told the Prince (even though this Prince was his brother, he didn’t know that). He confessed everything about how he had set Rosimond up as a poisoner. He also owned up to a few other things, some of which Rosimond himself hadn’t known about. Bramintho earnestly begged him not to punish him for these crimes against his brother. “It’s no use telling all this to me” said Rosimond, still appearing to be the Prince. “It’s up to your brother whether to forgive you or not. If it were up to me, I would have your head cut off. But Rosimond is nearby, maybe he has a softer heart than I have. You’d better confess everything to him and hope he will spare you.” With that, Rosimond in the guise of the Prince left the room, put the diamond ring on his little finger to transform himself into his real self, and came back into the room again. Bramintho flung himself at his brother’s feet and again confessed all the

113


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

crimes he had committed against him. He repeated his plea for mercy with such emotion as would melt a heart of stone. Rosimond wept as he embraced his brother, “You have treated me so grievously, you deserve to be executed or at least thrown into the dungeon. But you are my brother and I intend to be as good and kind to you as you were evil and wicked to me.â€? The next day, Rosimond (who was again pretending to be the Prince) let it be known that he was setting off on a secret mission to a nearby kingdom to meet a princess who he planned to marry. In fact, he only went to visit his mother, to tell her what had been happening and to make sure that she was well provided for. In his role as Prince, he could take what he liked from the treasury. But he was always careful to take no more than he absolutely needed. He knew how hard the peasants worked to fill that treasury with the money it held. When Rosimond returned to court, he found that the country was at war with another nearby kingdom. The King of the other country had been killing his own citizens, who were rebelling against him. New artistic sketches (there were no photographs or photoshop in those days) and reports of the atrocities committed by the neighbouring kingdom were arriving every day and circulating among the people. This violation of human rights could not be tolerated. Rosimond went straight to the foreign court, and used his ring to disappear and infiltrate into the royal council chambers where he could hear all the plans of the enemy. In this way, he was easily able to counter every trick they tried against his kingdom. Then he took command of the army and led it into the foreign country. Since he knew all their troop placements

114


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

and tactics, he defeated them quickly and with a minimum of bloodshed. The enemy quickly sued for peace, and the terms Rosimond made were fair. He did this even though he already knew the enemy’s strategy for the peace talks, and what harsh terms they would have been willing to accept. After the peace was concluded, the King decided that it was time for the Prince to be married. There was a Princess who was heir to another neighbouring kingdom. She was beautiful, and marrying her would join the two kingdoms together, making the King even more powerful. One day, while this marriage was being negotiated, Rosimond was hunting in the forest and happened to pass by the place where he had met the fairy, when suddenly she was before him. She didn’t look happy. “Beware that you don’t marry the Prince’s bride,” she said, “You are only pretending to be the Prince, you cannot just take for yourself what is his. It is the Prince’s destiny to succeed his father when the time comes. The kingdom rightfully belongs to him. You are to go and seek him in the distant land across the sea where he is lost. I will send fair winds to guide your ship, and the sea will be calm. Bring him back to rule his people. When you have done this, you can return to your former life. If you don’t do it, you will eventually become wicked and unhappy and I will no longer help you.” When Rosimond returned to the palace, he quietly let it be known that he would be leaving again on another of his secret missions. He hired a ship, and the winds took him directly to the island where the real Prince was being held. His captors had forced him to work as a shepherd. Rosimond used his diamond to make himself invisible while he searched for the pasture

115


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

where the Prince was tending his flock. When he found him, he covered the Prince with part of his mantle so they would both be invisible, and they made their way back to the ship that way. Again, the Fairy sent good winds to bring the ship home. On the way, Rosimond was able to tell the Prince all about what had happened while he was away. When they arrived at court, Rosimond confessed to the King, “It was I, not your son, who was the one who conquered your enemies and forced them to make peace. But I have brought him back to you.” The King could not believe it, and asked his son “Is it true that it was Rosimond, not you, who defeated our enemy? Were you really shipwrecked, and Rosimond brought you back from captivity?” “Yes father, he sought me out on that distant island and rescued me. He was the one who won those great victories against our enemies, while I was being forced to watch the sheep.” The King thought they were playing some kind of game. But then Rosimond put the ring on his little finger and changed himself into the image of the Prince. The King looked at one and then the other, but he could not tell which was the real Prince. The King offered Rosimond all sorts of treasures as a reward for the services he had done. But Rosimond refused them all. His only request was for his brother, Bramintho, to be given a position at court. All he wanted for himself was to be allowed to return to the farm, his mother and his village and spend the rest of his life working the soil. In his time at court, he had seen what money and power had done to others, and he wanted none of it.

116


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

The years passed by. One day, Rosimond was wandering through the woods when he met the Fairy again. She took him to the cave where his father was being kept, and told him the words he needed to say to release him. Rosimond immediately said the words, and he clasped the old man in his arms, pleased to be able to bring him home to spend his last days in happiness. So Rosimond was the saviour of his family. He was proud of the fact that he had been able to do good to those who wanted to do him evil. He was glad to be far from the corruption of the court and city life. The only thing which made him uneasy was the ring. He was worried that he could be tempted one day to wear it again and win back the elevated position he once had, when he was conquering nations, negotiating with kings, worshipped by courtiers, enjoying the best food and drink. But he knew what intrigue and jealousy hid behind those kind words and closed-mouth smiles of the court. He made up his mind to return the ring to the Fairy. For days, Rosimond searched the woods for the Fairy. Eventually, he found her. He implored her to take the ring back. “This gift of yours is powerful, but it is also dangerous. As long as it’s within my reach I can never rest easy. There is always the possibility that I will be tempted to put on the ring once more and satisfy my base desires.” The Fairy smiled, “Do you know, even as we talk, Bramintho is speaking against you to the Prince, who has now become the King? He wants you to be ruined, and he is poisoning the King’s mind against you. For this he deserves to be punished; in fact, he must die. So I will give him the ring so that he can destroy himself.”

117


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

Rosimond was astonished, “But how can that be a punishment? If you give him the ring he will use its powers to lord it over everyone. He will be unstoppable.” “A drug which is medicine to one person can be a deadly narcotic to another,” said the Fairy. “If you want to punish a scoundrel, the first thing to do is to give him power. It’s a way of giving him enough rope to hang himself, as you will see.” At this, the Fairy disappeared. She made her way directly to the palace in the form of an old woman dressed in rags. When she found Bramintho she gave him the ring saying, “This is the ring that I lent to your brother. It was with this ring that he found fame and glory. I give it to you now. But be careful with it, it contains great power.” Bramintho laughed, “I will certainly be careful not to be as stupid as my brother. He was a fool to bring back the Prince when he could have simply taken his place and now he would have been King!” Bramintho was true to his word. He used the ring to listen to people’s private conversations so that he could betray them later. He committed many thefts and other crimes, even murders, all to gain wealth and improve his position. But Bramintho went unpunished: nobody could trace his crimes back to him. Eventually, things reached such a state that it came to the King’s attention. Although there was no evidence, his suspicions fell on Bramintho, mostly because of his rapid gain in wealth, but also due to his terrible insolence. But without any evidence, the King could do nothing against Bramintho. Fortunately, a stranger from a hostile country had recently arrived at court. The King paid the stranger to visit Bramintho in secret and offer him honours and rewards in return for the kingdom’s secrets. 118


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

Bramintho

wasted

no

time

in

accepting the downpayment for his treason. He boasted to the stranger that he had a ring that made him invisible and he could get into any place he wanted, even the most private. The next day, the King ordered his guards to seize Bramintho. They searched him and found papers on him that proved his guilt. Rosimond came to court in person to beg for his brother’s pardon. But he was refused. Bramintho was put to death. The ring had proven itself to be fatal to him, as the Fairy had said it would. As a way of consoling Rosimond, the King awarded him the enchanted ring. But Rosimond did not look on it as a blessing. His only thought was to go home and seek out the Fairy in the woods once more. “Here is your ring,” he said, “Seeing what happened to my brother made me understand a lot of things I didn’t know before. It has only led to his destruction. Without it, he would be alive now, and

“A cascade of diamonds, pearls and flowers fell from her mouth.”

my father and mother would not have to bear the burden of shame and grief in their old age. Maybe my brother would have become wise and happy if he had never had the chance to gratify his desires so easily. It is dangerous for one person to have more power than anyone else in the world. 119


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

Please take back your ring, and I beg you, as a personal favour, that you never give it again to anyone who is dear to me.”

Diamonds and Toads This is another fairytale from France. It was recorded by Charles Perrault (1628-1703), who wrote the original Mother Goose to keep himself busy in retirement. The wicked step-parent is one of the most common folktale characters in a society where life expectancy was low. Orphaned children were often inherited by adults who did not care about them because they had no blood connection. The child sent out to die among the blossoms of Spring was also not uncommon in a Europe where people starved until the first fruits could ripen. The moral is also mundane, even though it is very true. But the counterpoint of diamonds, pearls and flowers against toads and snakes is interesting. ◊ There was a young girl whose mother died when she was still a baby. Her father didn’t know what to do with a baby, so he married a woman who already had a little girl of her own. This stepmother looked after the father’s girl, but she didn’t love her as she did her own. Soon after, the father died, and as the girl grew older the stepmother used her as a servant for her own daughter. Life went on like this for a long time. The little girl did all the cooking, cleaning and washing. And if the other two wanted anything else they didn’t hesitate to ask. There was no plumbing or piped water to people’s houses in those days, so every day, the girl had to carry all the water her household

120


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

would use each day to her house. One day, the girl went out as usual to fetch water. As she was drawing the water from the village well, an old beggar woman limped up to her and asked if she could spare a cup of water. “With all my heart,” the young girl replied with a smile, and she drew a fresh pail of water from the sweetest part of the well for the old beggar. “You are a delightful person,” said the beggar woman, who now revealed herself as a fairy. “In return for your kindness and fair words, whenever you speak, diamonds, pearls and flowers will fall from your mouth.” The girl started to thank the fairy, but as she spoke flowers and gemstones dropped from her mouth. She was so startled that she quickly gathered up her buckets and hurried home. When the girl returned to her house she was met by her stepmother, “What’s taken you so long? I’ve got a lot more jobs for you to do.” The girl started to apologise, but as she spoke, the fairy’s blessing came into force again and diamonds, pearls and flowers tumbled from her mouth. The stepmother was astonished, and asked her what was happening. The girl told her all about the old beggar woman and the small kindness she showed her, how the old woman had turned into a fairy and given her the blessing. This gave the stepmother an idea. She worked herself up into a jealous rage and drove the girl out of her house, telling her never to come back. The girl ran from the village, weeping. In running away blindly, she didn’t follow any road or path, and when she stopped she found herself lost in the forest. She wandered around for a while. It was cold and dark.

121


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

The moss and mud was slippery and she was too frightened to grab anything to steady herself, as the branches were thorny and sometimes carried ants or spiders or caterpillars. She tried to comfort herself by talking. But the petals and diamonds that cascaded from her mouth only reminded her of her terrible situation. Eventually, she gave in to exhaustion and settled to sleep among the roots of a huge tree. In that same forest, a prince was hunting for deer when he saw diamonds, pearls and flowers scattered on the ground. He started picking them up and, looking for more, he found himself following the path taken by the girl. Before long he discovered her, and brought her back to his hunting lodge. After she had recovered, he wanted to know who she was and how she came to be alone in the forest. As she started to tell him, of course, a cascade of diamonds, pearls and flowers fell from her mouth. The Prince was delighted by this beautiful girl with such a unique talent. He took her back to his castle, and they were married. If she ever thought of her stepmother or stepsister again, she assumed that they were doing well. In any case, she was too busy to find out. She had a happy life, the Prince was always interested to hear her thoughts and ideas, and they would have long conversations every day and late into the night. Meanwhile, as soon as the girl had left, the stepmother called for her daughter and instructed her to go to the well and find the old beggar woman. She was to give the old woman a drink and do everything she could for her. The daughter went to the well, but she did not see an old beggar woman. Presently, a finely dressed lady came to the well. She was too refined to draw water for herself, so she politely asked the stepmother’s daughter if she would be kind 122


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

enough to do it for her. “Get it yourself, you lazy cow! And be quick about it, I’ve got important people to meet here and I don’t want you getting in my way.” Indeed, she used choicer words than that. The well-dressed lady revealed herself to be, in fact, the fairy. “I thought that by presenting myself as a person of quality I was giving you a better chance than your sister of doing me a kindness. Now, I will give you a gift that fits with how you spoke to me.” The stepmother’s daughter started to answer back, but every word she uttered came out from her mouth as a slimy toad or a snake. She ran back to her mother’s house and started to tell her what had happened, but a stream of snakes and toads came vomiting out when she spoke too quickly. Long, oily reptiles emerged when she spoke slowly. They lived together for a while. But eventually, the mother got sick of the sight of disgusting toads clawing their way out of her daughter’s mouth whenever she uttered a word. She kicked her out of the house just as she had the other one. Nobody in the village wanted to take in the daughter. When she asked for help they shunned her, because any conversation came with a mess of amphibious sludge. She became such a pest that they finally chased her out of town with broomsticks and pitchforks. Her last refuge was the forest, but nobody cared to follow a path strewn with vipers and toads. Mercifully, she died from the cold that same night. The stepmother continued to live in the family house. She died many years later, a lonely, bitter old woman. ◊ You might have noticed that the blessing given to the young girl was very similar to one that was given to Biancabella 123


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

in her tale. Fairy boons aren’t always welcome. In this case, the girl might have been almost as happy without it. In The Enchanted Ring, Rosimond eventually found the fairy’s gift to be a burden. The motives of fairies are beyond our understanding, they don’t always seem to care about the consequences of their gifts. In Rosimond’s, case the fairy’s purpose seems to be political. She doesn’t seem to care that people are hurt because of Bromintho’s use of the ring. There are quite a large number of stories where a fairy boon is given to a good girl and a curse is put on a wicked one. In addition to this and Biancabella and the Snake, a third type involves our heroine diving into a well to enter a fairy world. I find it interesting that water is a feature in all four of these tales.

Mr. Fox Joseph Jacobs (1854 - 1916) is almost forgotten in his home country of Australia. He left its shores when he was young and became one of the best-loved writers of folktales for children of his time. He was well known and admired among London’s literary elite, did much to promote the interests of his coreligionists and became a highly regarded Hebrew scholar. Some people say that engagement rings are a post-World War II invention of De Beers. But there is plenty of evidence that they were used much earlier, as seen in this Victorian Era story. However, I don’t think they were intended to be recycled in the way Mr. Fox tries to do. The way I see it, the diamond ring ‘finds’ Lady Mary in a similar way to how the ring in Tolkien’s epic finds its way to whoever best serves it. But in this case, it becomes an agent of justice.

124


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

I have preserved much of Mr. Jacobs’ style in this story, but I have also partly updated the language and included some events which occur in other versions from England, Scotland and Northern Europe, but not in his. Our morals have changed, so that some things which the Victorians found distasteful are now quite acceptable. On the other hand, things which I needed to alter in Biancabella and the Snake were completely fine at the time that story was originally published. The original versions can be found on my author website or in numerous other places online. ◊ Lady Mary was young, and Lady Mary was fair. She had two brothers, and more lovers than she could count. But of them all, the bravest and most gallant was a Mr. Fox. She met him when she was staying at her father’s country-house. No one knew who Mr. Fox was; but he was certainly brave, and surely rich. Of all her lovers, Lady Mary cared for him alone. At last, they agreed to marry. Lady Mary asked Mr. Fox where they would live, and he described to her his castle, and where it was. But, strange to say, he never invited her or her brothers to come and see it. One day, close to the wedding-day, when her brothers were away visiting friends in another county, Mr. Fox said that he was leaving for a day or two on business. Lady Mary took the opportunity to secretly leave her home early in the morning, when the servants were still sleeping, to visit Mr. Fox’s castle. After many searchings, she came to it at last. It was a fine strong house, with high walls and a deep moat. And when she came up to the gateway she saw written on it: BE BOLD, BE BOLD.

125


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

As the gate was open, she went through it, but found no one there. So she went up to the doorway, and over it, she found written: BE BOLD, BE BOLD, BUT NOT TOO BOLD. Still, she went on, till she came into the hall, and went up the broad stairs till she came to a door in the gallery, over which was written: BE BOLD, BE BOLD, BUT NOT TOO BOLD, LEST THAT YOUR HEART’S BLOOD SHOULD RUN COLD. But Lady Mary was a brave one, she was, and she opened the door, and what do you think she saw? Why, bodies and skeletons of beautiful young ladies all stained with blood. So Lady Mary thought it was high time to get out of that horrid place. She closed the door, went through the gallery, and was just going down the stairs, and out of the hall, when who should she see through the window? It was Mr. Fox and a young boy dragging a beautiful young lady dressed in white along from the gateway to the door. Lady Mary rushed downstairs and hid herself behind a cask. She was just in time, as Mr. Fox came in with the poor young lady who begged him most prettily to spare her life. If only she could leave now, she would never say a word against him. But it was no use. They pushed her across the hallway, and Mr. Fox began dragging her up the stairs. In a desperate attempt to delay her fate, the young lady clutched the bannister post. So Mr. Fox cursed “It is so, and it was so. Here’s hand and ring I have to show.”

126

and swore, and drew his sword, raised it, and brought it down upon the hand


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

of the poor lady. The sword cut off the hand, which jumped up into the air, and fell, of all places in the world, into Lady Mary’s lap. Mr. Fox called to the boy: “Fetch that hand, cur, there’s a ring attached to it.” The boy climbed around the cask and saw Lady Mary. But she put her finger to her lips and he backed away. “It lies too far behind, I can’t reach it,” he cried. Mr. Fox cursed the boy, but the young lady was still struggling. “Then leave it till tomorrow and I’ll fetch it myself.” So, at last, he went on dragging the young lady up the stairs into the Bloody Chamber. As soon as she heard him pass through the gallery, Lady Mary crept out the door, down through the gateway, and ran home as fast as she could. She told her brothers just what kind of man Mr. Fox was. Now it happened that the very next day Lady Mary and Mr. Fox were going to sign their marriage contract, and there was to be a splendid breakfast before that. When Mr. Fox was seated at table opposite Lady Mary, he looked at her. “How pale you are this morning, my dear.” “Yes,” said she, “I had a bad night’s rest last night. I had horrible dreams.” “Dreams are never true,” said Mr. Fox; “but tell us your dream, and your sweet voice will make the time pass quickly till the happy hour of our wedding comes.” “I dreamed,” said Lady Mary, “that I went to your castle yesterday, and I found it in the woods, with high walls, and a deep moat. Over the gateway was written: BE BOLD, BE BOLD. “But it is not so, nor it was not so,” said Mr. Fox. “And when I came to the doorway, over it was written: BE BOLD, BE BOLD, BUT NOT TOO BOLD. 127


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

“It is not so, nor it was not so,” said Mr. Fox. “And then I went upstairs, and came to a gallery, at the end of which was a door, on which was written: BE BOLD, BE BOLD, BUT NOT TOO BOLD, LEST THAT YOUR HEART’S BLOOD SHOULD RUN COLD. “It is not so, nor it was not so,” said Mr. Fox. “And then—and then I opened the door, and the room was filled with bodies and skeletons of poor dead women, all stained with their blood.” “It is not so, nor it was not so. And God forbid it should be so,” said Mr. Fox. “I then dreamed that I rushed down the gallery, and just as I was going down the stairs, I saw you, Mr. Fox. You, coming up to the hall door, dragging after you a poor young lady, rich and beautiful.” “It is not so, nor it was not so. And God forbid it should be so,” said Mr. Fox. “I rushed downstairs, just in time to hide myself behind a cask, when you, Mr. Fox, came in dragging the young lady by the arm. She begged and prayed so prettily that you would spare her life. But instead, Mr. Fox, it seemed to me in my dream, that you took out your sword and hacked off the poor lady’s hand and sent your boy to fetch the ring that was on her finger.” “It is not so, nor it was not so. And God forbid it should be so,” said Mr. Fox. He was going to say something else as he rose from his seat when Lady Mary cried out: “But it is so, and it was so. Here’s hand and ring I have to show,” and pulled out the lady’s hand from her dress and pointed it straight at Mr. Fox. At once her brothers and her friends drew their swords and cut Mr. Fox into a thousand pieces. 128


CHAPTER FIVE – DIAMONDS IN FOLKLORE

If you enjoyed this book, please leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads or any other social media you prefer. Don’t forget to visit us at speculatorsjourney.com, where you can subscribe to my newsletter and discuss some of the things you found interesting.

129


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

GLOSSARY This book (and the future books in this series) contains a few words and ideas that relate only to diamonds. Because some readers might not already know this terminology, some of it is set out here. They are printed in bold text.

How Diamonds Form Natural diamonds are ancient stones. They formed more than 1.5 billion years ago. 200 kilometres underground (where the temperature was 1250 degrees Celsius), and under enormous pressure, vast carbon-rich graphite deposits melted and the carbon atoms recrystallised into a completely different material. The process transformed the softest mineral in the world into the hardest; from the blackest and most opaque to the transparent, even colourless, and the most lustrous. Usually, the crystals take the form of octahedrons, the classic ‘diamond shape’ most people recognise and associate with diamonds, like two Egyptian pyramids joined at their bases. But they can take many other shapes: cubes, spheres, flattened triangles (macles), among others Sometimes two or more crystals grow into each other. This is called twinning, or intergrowth. Two macles could grow into each other and form a Star of David shape. That is a very rare form, and keenly sought by collectors. The triangular macles are themselves the result of twinning, but they are comparatively common.

130


GLOSSARY

131


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

Although we say that diamonds are pure carbon, usually some nitrogen atoms sneak in and take the place in the crystal lattice where a carbon atom should be, because nitrogen atoms are almost the same size as carbon. Too much nitrogen will cause the diamond to be yellow. Boron atoms are also similar in size to carbon, and they can cause the rare blue colour. It only takes one boron atom among a million carbon atoms to give a diamond its blue colour, but it’s still very rarely that it happens. Other elements can cause other colours. Even the absence of a carbon atom that leaves a hole in the crystal structure can cause one of several colours. The rarest diamond colour is red. The cause of red, and pink, colour in diamonds is not fully understood. As the diamond crystal grows, it might swallow other small crystals that are growing near it, such as garnets, olivine, zircon… but usually it swallows bits of graphite that have not yet turned into diamond. These inclusions and other forces might cause internal stresses in the structure of the diamond, which can cause trouble later when a gem cutter tries to work on it. The internal stress could cause the diamond to crack, shatter or even explode when the cutting releases that section of the crystal. Eventually, the constant movement of rock and magma that goes on under our feet caused the diamonds to be lifted into locations where the heat or pressure weren’t right for diamonds to crystalise. So the diamonds stopped growing. The baby diamonds lay sleeping in their nursery far beneath the surface of the Earth, until perhaps 400 million years later, the liquid magma began to rise underneath them. Magma is liquid rock when it is below the Earth’s surface. When it reaches the surface we call it lava until it cools and becomes solid rock 132


GLOSSARY

basalt, kimberlite or lamproite, depending on the minerals and structure. The magma punched a hole through those 200 kilometres of Earth, forming a volcano. In the process, it carried along everything it passed through, including the diamonds. After the eruptions stopped, the magma that remained inside the volcano cooled and solidified, usually turning into a rock called kimberlite. Sometimes the magma turns into lamproite, a rock with a different chemical composition to kimberlite but which can also yield diamonds. Usually, the kimberlite or the lamproite is shaped like an enormous carrot, like a solid tube that’s wide at the top but narrowing gradually as you go deeper down. This formation is called a pipe. Frozen inside the kimberlite are the diamonds that didn’t quite make it all the way to the top. Of course, not all kimberlite pipes contain diamonds. The diamond beds don’t occupy the entire area of the Earth that lies 200 kilometres below the surface. In fact, only one in ten kimberlite pipes contain any diamonds. The diamonds in their beds also need to be big to survive being carried up the pipe. They lose some of their weight as they melt into the hot magma. Fortunately, the magma travels very fast up the pipe, but who knows how many diamonds are lost to the magma? About 7,000 kimberlite pipes have been discovered in the world so far. Of those, 700 contain diamonds. Of those that have diamonds, about 70 have enough diamonds of a quality high enough to support a mine. Of those that could support a mine, there are about 35 actual mines. Some have already been worked out (mined to a depth where it’s too expensive to continue), others are in countries which don’t have the necessary infrastructure, political or legal system to make it worth the expense and risk of building a mine. 133


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

When a volcano stops erupting, the forces of erosion start to work on it. Rain, wind and sun work away at the mountain. Over millions of years, the mountain is reduced to a flat plain and the kimberlite pipe is visible only as a circular depression on the plain (kimberlite weathers more quickly than most other rocks). The kimberlite that was in the volcano has weathered too, releasing the diamonds, which are carried into streams and rivers. Diamonds are heavy for their size, heavier than most other stones. The comparative heaviness of things is called specific gravity. Specific gravity, or SG, is a ratio which compares a thing’s weight with the weight of an equal quantity of water. The SG of water is 1, so a drop of water weighs the same as another drop of water. The SG of rubber is 0.96, which is lighter than water, which is why rubber duckies float. Anything with an SG above 1 will sink in water. The most common rocks, quartz and feldspar, have an SG of 2.65 and 2.56 respectively. Diamonds have an SG of 3.52 so they will sink below the level of most other rocks. As the diamonds tumble downstream from their original location in the diamond pipe, they are naturally sorted and find their way under rock shelves and into potholes in the bedrock that have been made by the flow of water. These are called alluvial deposits. The diamonds in these types of deposits are better quality than those found in the pipes, because any that are cracked or poorly formed smash against the other rocks and are ground into dust, leaving only the most perfect crystals to survive. But even these alluvial deposits can become deeply buried. The river might change its course, more soil can be washed

134


GLOSSARY

down from mountains other than those the diamonds came from, covering over the original river beds. The deposits can get buried so deeply that the gravels start to bind together. They can bind so tightly that they become rock again. This rock is called conglomerate. When they are in a conglomerate, it’s very hard to win the diamonds without damaging them. Many good diamonds have been lost in the crusher, or broken when a crowbar or chisel was used too roughly.

Carats or Karats? Diamonds are usually measured in weight and by the carat. One carat weighs 0.2, or one fifth, of a gram. Five carats is equal to a gram, one thousand grams equals a kilogram. A kilogram weighs 2.2 pounds. Very roughly, a one-carat diamond will cover about half your little finger-nail. The word ‘carat’ comes from the ancient word for carob seed. These seeds were used for measuring small weights because they were easy to get and their weight didn’t vary much. This arrangement was suitable for ancient times when allowance could be made for regional variations. But since the industrial revolution brought increased worldwide trade and more precise weighing tools there has been an increasing need for regularity. Yet the carat weight wasn’t standardised until 1907. Until then every country had its own carat weight, ranging from 0.187g to 0.21599g. So historic weights for big diamonds can be a bit inaccurate. When I quote the size of an historic diamond, I round it to the nearest carat because some of the exact weights are contentious.

135


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

‘Karat’ is used to describe the purity of gold. 24 karat gold is 100% gold (or as near as the refinery can make it, 99.99% is a gold industry standard for pure gold). 12 karat gold is 50% pure, 18 karat gold is 75%. This word can also be spelt with a ‘c’, but we can usually tell from the context when someone says ‘carat’ whether they’re referring to weight or purity.

Diamond Hardness Versus Toughness Diamonds were found, in the early twentieth century, in the alluvial goldfields of Nullagine in Western Australia’s Pilbara region. These diamonds were discovered embedded in the stamp pads that the gold miners used to crush the rock containing the gold. A stamp pad creates a much greater force than a hammer blow because it has to crush the gold-containing rock into dust. Yet the Nullagine diamonds were surviving the process. I have spoken to a lapidary (a gemstone cutter) who has cut some diamonds from Nullagine. He said that the diamonds he was given to cut were spherical in shape because they were the result of multiple twinning. In the case of the Nullagine crystals, there were more than twenty twins - twenty or more crystals were growing into each other. He believes it was this multiple twinning which caused these diamond crystals to bond so tightly and be able to withstand such heavy pressure as the stamp pad produced. These stones were, indeed, so tough that it took him a day’s work to grind one facet and he refused to finish the job. Usually, a lapidary can ‘manufacture’ a diamond (process it from rough to marketable) in less than a day. The gold miners at Nullagine, back in the old days, were generally uninterested in diamonds. They seemed to think 136


GLOSSARY

it was too hard to deal in gemstones. A newspaper article from the time reports that a diamond merchant from South Africa heard of the diamond finds and travelled to Nullagine with the intention of setting up a trading post. But he came home empty-handed. He said the gold miners simply weren’t interested. Today the Nullagine field is still dominated by small gold prospectors who have dug the ground backwards and forwards in the hope of finding nuggets. The ground where the diamonds were found is too broken up now for alluvial diamond mining to have any real chance of commercial success. Diamonds from the Copeton deposits in New South Wales are also known for their particular hardness. In his autobiography, diamond expert Albert Joris said: “They have what we in the trade call ‘naats’ crisscrossing all over the stone. Basically, naats are seams, just like welding seams and invariably they have a grain structure which runs in a herringbone pattern. Now, when facetting a diamond, you must cut at right angles to the grain, so that when you strike one of these naats, it becomes virtually impossible to cut the stone.” Despite their hardness, Mr. Joris did not believe Copeton diamonds could withstand a hammering. A popular YouTube video shows two diamonds being tested with a hydraulic press. The first one is pressed with the pavilion (the pointy end) down and the stone pushes into the anvil until it is embedded, but not broken. The second diamond is placed with the crown or table (the top) down and this time the stone pushes into the anvil a little way but it quickly shatters. Other videos show diamonds being struck with hammers. Where the YouTuber uses industrial diamonds they shatter

137


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

quite easily. Striking gem quality diamonds on the pavilion end also shatters them. But when the diamond is struck on its crown it is much more likely to sink into the anvil than to shatter. The De Beers Research Laboratory reported on an interesting experiment. A ball mill (a revolving cylindrical tank) was filled with 265 pounds (120 kilograms) of steel balls, beach and river gravels and water. It was then seeded with industrial diamonds. After seven hours tumbling, the diamonds were crushed to fine dust, along with the gravels. They repeated the experiment using six natural rough diamond crystals without any flaws in their structure. But this time the treatment was prolonged for 950 hours. The diamonds were reduced in weight by only 100th of 1 percent (0.01%). This weight reduction probably represents the times when the diamonds rubbed up against each other. This experiment also explains why diamond alluvial deposits tend to have a higher proportion of gem quality diamonds than diamond pipes have. Brazil’s alluvial fields in the Bahia district are famous for a variety of diamond known as ‘carbonado’. Carbonados are ‘conglomerate masses of small, impure diamond crystals, locked together and lying in different directions’. This is what gives carbonados exceptional strength, they are harder than any other industrial quality diamonds. But I don’t know of any hammering tests being done on carbonados. Most mineralogists are fascinated by carbonados as they have no idea of how they formed. There is a theory that they came from meteorite debris from the broken up remnants of other planets, but nobody knows for sure.

138


AUTHOR’S NOTE

T

he idea for this book began with a conversation I had with an old geologist friend about the origins of the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme. My baby boy was at an age where he could engage with nursery rhymes,

so I was very interested in them at the time. I explained to my friend the story of how Humpty Dumpty was the name of an English Civil War cannon which was mounted on the walls of an important town being defended by the Royalist faction. He was fascinated by the story and suggested I write a book about the hidden meanings behind all the nursery rhymes. I thought that was a great idea. But when I started to research the story, I was disappointed to find that the ‘secret history’ of Humpty Dumpty was made up by an Oxford history scholar in the 1950s. There is no factual evidence of any cannon having been mounted on any English city walls. In addition, many books have already been written on the subject of nursery rhymes - some factual, some whimsical at best. So I decided to abandon that idea. But the notion of writing a book had been planted in my mind. I’ve always loved gemstones and had so much to do with them throughout my life, that it seemed an obvious theme for a book. I thought - why not write a book on the mythology and history of gemstones? There are only about 250 different

139


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

types of gemstones in the world (far less than the varieties of most kinds of plants), so I thought it would not take too long to write a comprehensive book. I started my research with diamonds and quickly realised I had enough material for a very big book indeed, even if it only covered diamonds. After more research, I knew it would be a major project to include all the interesting stories about diamonds throughout history. So I limited my scope to myths and stories from the discovery of diamonds until the ‘age of discovery,’ when everything in the diamond world began to change. One of the things that kept me going through the long, lonely days and nights of writing this book was the insights I found along the way. I was surprised to discover the strong association in the human psyche between diamonds and snakes, which emerged when I brought these stories together in one place. I also found out that the historical literature on diamonds is almost as problematic as that of nursery rhymes. There is no clear distinction between fact and fiction. Many historians are reliable but some will gleefully relate a false story as fact just to make their book seem less dry. This is why I have not included a bibliography, but I will review most of my sources on my website in the coming months. Personally, in my writing, I always try to use original sources or at least confirm every fact by checking two or more secondary sources. I have always believed that non-fiction books should be as factual as possible. Readers mustn’t be misled. It has been over a year from the time I seriously decided to write this book until now, the last step before I give it to the printer. Writing a book means spending a lot of time researching, typing-up the good bits and editing, editing, editing.

140


AUTHOR’S NOTE

So I know the four walls of my office very well now. (Yes, and the ceiling too, which I have often searched for inspiration.) There isn’t much opportunity to talk things over with other people because they haven’t encountered these stories in the same way I have… until now. With that in mind, I would like to thank you for going along on the journey I’ve mapped out for you as a reader. If you would like to share your thoughts, ask a question or just say hello, I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me through speculatorsjourney.com.

141


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

INDEX Adamas 44, 53, 60, 64 Akrura 30 Alexander the Great 55 Arthasastra 17, 62 Athena 50, 52 Bala 24f Bayezid II 69 Beeka Mull 82f Beggars 41, 77, 121, 122 Bible 8, 44, 97 Birds, eagles, rocs 41, 53, 55, 56 Birthstones 48 Borneo 8, 10, 12, 16 Breastplate of Judgement 45 Buddhism 24, 40

Fairies 111, 115, 117, 119, 121f Fenelon 109 Fire 26, 27, 37f, 108 Forest, woodlands 28, 35, 101,

Gesta Romanorum 96 Gold 11, 26, 27, 30,31, 34, 56, 59,

De’ Medici, Catherine 72 De Orta, Garcia 16, 65, 68 Diamond Sutra 41 Donne, John 64 Dragons 10, 22, 52 Drought 22, 27

142

61, 84, 98, 105, 111

Hardness 6, 39, 45, 46 58f, 70, 136 HarpĂŠ 49, 51 Hinduism 24, 26, 39, 41 Hunting 10, 28, 56, 95, 103, 111 India 12, 14, 16, 17ff, 32, 39, 43, 52,

Caste 17f Cellini, Benvenuto 69f Chandragupta Maurya 17 Charlemagne 91f Charles the Bold 59 Charles III, Duke of Bourbon 69 China 13, 43, 55, 56, 68 Christianity 47, 48, 63, 66, 72 Clement VII 66, 69f, 72 Cronus 49 Cunningham, Alexander 42 Cursed stones 30, 93, 111

103f, 110, 115, 117, 119, 121f

Frederick II 69

55, 56, 58, 62, 67, 68, 76, 81

Indra 21f, 26, 34, 39 Industrial diamonds 13, 18, 43, 46 Isidore of Seville 14 Ivan the Terrible 73 Jacobs, Joseph 124 Jambavan 28f Jerusalem 47 Joris, Albert 137 Judaism 45, 48, 65, 69, 124 Kannagi 33 Kings 7, 14, 26, 28, 31, 33, 37, 38,

51, 59, 67, 74, 77, 100, 112f, 121

Kooshy Ram 87f Krishna 27f, 36 Lang, Andrew 81 Lightning 21, 67 Louis XIV 59


Macle 60, 130 Marco Polo 55, 56 Medicine 8, 65f Medusa 50, 55, 69 Merchants, jewellers 33, 36, 52, 54,

62, 69, 70, 81

Nullagine 59, 136f Octahedron 14, 18, 60, 130 Overbury, Sir Thomas 73f Paracelsus 69 Perrault, Charles 120 Perseus 51, 55, 69 Phillip II 67 Pilgrimage 23, 34 Pliny the Elder 8, 14, 18, 44, 58f, 65 Poison 7, 8, 65, 68f Poseidon 50, 52 Prometheus 53 Puhar 32, 34, 38 Quartz 14, 60, 61 Rabelais, Francois 64 Rain 7, 21, 41, 42 Ratnapariksha 17, 24 Rings 14, 93, 109f, 124, 127f Rivers/streams 10, 11, 22, 23, 26,

Sacrifice 23, 26, 56 Satrajit 26 Sea, lakes, beaches 27, 32, 34, 38,

49, 52, 104

Silappadikaram 31f, 76 Sinbad 53, 75 Snakes, pythons, etc. 7, 8, 21, 26,

27, 41, 46, 50-53, 55, 68, 72, 75, 92f, 97f, 123

South Africa 12, 26, 58, 137 Straparola, Giovanni Francesco 97 Surya 26f, 37 Swan, Charles 97 Syamantaka 26, 110 Theodosius, Emperor 96 Thieves 27, 28, 29, 31, 36, 76, 103 Toads, frogs 93, 97, 120, 123 Uranus 49 Vajra 21ff, 41 Vajrapani 41 Vajrasana 42 Volcanoes 7, 53, 131-133 War 22, 52, 69, 73, 114 Yama 18, 21

42, 95f, 110

Rome 8, 13, 14, 43, 47, 58, 66, 69

Zeus 24, 43, 51-53

143


K N O W N O N LY T O K I N G S

144



ISBN 9780648490708

9 780648 490708