The words offered for amber in classical times often suggest not only the characteristics for which it was valued, but likewise theories the its origin and the offers to i m sorry it was put. Today, although amber is still commonly sought out for jewelry, magic, and also medicine, that floral and faunal inclusions may be its greatest attraction (as reflect in the location of the 1996 exhibition and also book Amber: home window to the Past Amber: home window to the Past.

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brand-new York, 1996.>). There is scarce textual evidence prior to Roman time to indicate an old fascination through the creature and plant stays interred in ~ amber; however, its usage in burials might be evidence enough.

The standard Greek word because that amber to be elektron.52 The derivation of this word is uncertain, although scholars have argued that it could have connections with helko, meaning “to draw or attract,” or through aleko, meaning “to ward off evil.”53 words is certainly connected with elektor, provided in the Iliad to typical “the beaming sun,”54 and also is many likely obtained from one Indo-European verb through the root definitions “brilliant” or “to shine.” This quality of beaming, or reflecting the sun, is also suggested by the germanic word because that amber, glaes or glese, tape-recorded in some old Latin resources as glaesum, the very same word offered for glass in this period.55 The Indo-Germanic root for this word, ghel, method “lustrous, shimmering, or bright” and also gives us words such as glisten, glitter, glow, and yellow in English. The existing German word because that amber, going ago to thirteenth-century middle Low German, is likewise evocative: Bernstein way “burning stone.”56

When Pliny the Elder or among his contemporaries admired a beneficial piece that amber, the very first thing to strike their eyes would have actually been the tip of fire (imagine igneam) or the material’s tenderness glow (mollis fulgor). The amber’s color was absolutely evocative—of wine, honey, wax, embers, or fire—but to be of an additional importance to its shine. This glow had been the specifying characteristic that amber for centuries.

Brilliance in amber, ice, absent crystal, or any stone was possible only because of that transparency. The ancients thought that transparency was feasible because light to be let through a material: hence transparent materials had actually performative powers.57 The brilliance of amber, intensified by the wealthy connotations that its names, guarantee it a place in old literature alongside various other rare, prized, and luminous materials—sight-arresting products such as gold, silver, and ivory, who magnificence regularly was connected with something past the simply human, v the heroic or divine.58 This combination is evident from the first extant cases of elektron, in Homer’s Odyssey.59 when Telemachus visits Menelaus’s palace in book 4, that is awestruck: “Mark the flashing of bronze throughout the echoing halls, and the flashing the gold, that amber, of silver, and also of ivory. Of such sort, methinks, is the court the Olympian Zeus within, together untold wealth is here; amazement holds me together I look.”60

It is the flashing the the jewels, an ext so than the jewels themselves, the puts Telemachus in mind of Zeus; the word he uses is steroph—the flash of a lightning bolt. Telemachus’s association of the brightness, the shine, the brilliance of Menelaus’s palace with divinity seems practically instinctive.

Elektron wake up two various other times in the Odyssey: once in book 15, when the swineherd Eumaeus, informing the story that his kidnapping come Odysseus, remembers the cunning Phoenician mariner that turned up at his genealogical home v an eye-catching gold necklace strung v amber pieces.61 In addition, in publication 18, when the suitors vie v one one more in the extravagance of their gifts to Penelope, Eurymachus’s donation is “a richly crafted necklace of gold adorned with sun-bright amber” (figure 19).62 another early occurrence of elektron is in the Pseudo-Hesiodic Shield the Herakles. In this passage, together in Homer’s description of Menelaus’s palace, amber take away its ar in a list of rare and also precious materials, to dazzling effect: “He took his glittering shield in his hands, nor had anyone ever damaged it or damaged it through a blow; it to be a marvel come see. The entirety orb glowed through enamel, white ivory, and amber, and it shone with gleaming gold.”63


Necklace through a pendant scarab, Italic or Etruscan and Greek, 550–400 B.C. Amber, gold, and carnelian. L: 39.5 centimeter (159⁄16 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul centregalilee.com Museum, 77.AO.77.1. Gift the Gordon McLendon.fullscreenFigure 19Necklace with a pendant scarab, Italic or Etruscan and also Greek, 550–400 B.C. Amber, gold, and also carnelian. L: 39.5 cm (159⁄16 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul centregalilee.com Museum, 77.AO.77.1. Gift the Gordon McLendon.

In every of this passages referring to the usage of amber—the ornamentation the a look at Olympian palace, necklaces intended because that elite women, and the shield that a hero—amber is inextricably bound up through the light of the sun, and also it is linked with gods, heroes, and also a society elite. The have fun of sunlight, in the halls the a king or on the armor the a hero, was a powerful reminder of the heavens and also the heavenly; brilliance and also luster to be primary qualities to be tried to find in a precious material such as gold, ivory, silver, or amber. The brilliance of the amber and other materials in Herakles’ shield, merged with the perfect craftsmanship the it represented, dubbed attention come its poikilia, the accessory and embellishment all fine works must display, and also made that a thauma idesthai, a “marvel to behold”—what Raymond Prier has defined as “an intermediation between the polarities the men and also gods, visually linguistic symbols of power.”64

Although the many common, elektron was not the only Greek surname for amber. That is most likely that the substance referred to as lyngourion (there are other variants the the spelling—liggourion, for example) was a type of amber. Its derivation and its connection to amber (elektron) were much debated in antiquity and also continue come be disputed today. The earliest proof for lyngourion is in Theophrastus’s late-fourth-century B.C. Lapidary, wherein he note similarities in between lyngourion and elektron yet does not think about them the exact same material.65 He seems to have had straight knowledge of some amber, which was dug increase in Liguria and which he apparently thought about a nonorganic substance. Theophrastus’s lyngourion is as difficult as amber, which he includes amongst stones own a power of attraction, and also possesses the very same powers that magnetism, but, follow to him, it has a different origin: that is the hardened urine of wild lynxes, i beg your pardon “is uncovered only once experienced searchers dig it up” (figure 20).66 This beginning story is certain the an outcome of a cool attempt to define the etymology of words (lyngourion = lynx urine), a story that would have actually been in addition convincing due to the fact that of the substance’s color.


Lynx to pee hardens right into a stone. In Bestiarius GKS 1633 4º, 6r, English, 15th century. Parchment, H: 21 centimeter (81⁄4 in.), W: 13.5 centimeter (53⁄10 in.). Courtesy the The imperial Library the Denmark.fullscreenFigure 20Lynx pee hardens into a stone. In Bestiarius GKS 1633 4º, 6r, English, 15th century. Parchment, H: 21 centimeter (81⁄4 in.), W: 13.5 cm (53⁄10 in.). Courtesy of The imperial Library of Denmark.

It was probably another attempt at etymology that persuaded Strabo that too much quantities the amber could be discovered in Liguria.67 Strabo renders no difference between lyngourion and also elektron, using the state interchangeably. Pliny the Elder is together unimpressed through Strabo’s talk of Liguria as he is through the lynx-urine story. Pliny list a variety of resources containing sports on one or both of this themes, however his last word top top lyngourion is that “the entirety story is false, and no gemstone bearing this name has been known in ours time.” although Pliny may have been justification in his uncertainty (Liguria to be no more a producer that amber than the lynx was of gemstones), lyngourion appears to it is in a term used to very transparent ranges of amber, if elektron was used an ext generally. Gemstones that lyngourion are first attested in third-century inventories the the Asklepieion ~ above the southern slope that the Acropolis and in the temples of Artemis and Eileithyia (goddesses associated with childbirth, light, and the moon) at Delos.68

Several various other terms because that amber take place in Pliny the Elder’s treatise: he cites Philemon together referring to a white, waxen form of amber indigenous Scythia together electrum, and a tawny selection (from another component of Scythia) as sualiternicum. Pliny additionally attributes come his modern-day Xenocrates the Aphrodisias the claim that sucinum and thium room the Italian words for amber, and also sacrium the Scythian word. Nicias, Pliny tells us, claims that the Egyptians referred to as amber sacal (perhaps meaning simply “rock”), and that the Syrian word was harpax (because that its magnetic qualities; the Greek harpax method “a thief” or “one who snatches”).69 Pliny additionally singles the end Callistratus as the first to distinguish chryselectrum, or “gold amber.”70 Dioscorides, in his A.D. First-century Materia Medica, describes two varieties of amber: elektron chrysophoron (golden amber) and elektron pteruyophoron (“because it draws feather to it”); and he uses the word aigeiros, which method “poplar,” as a synonym for amber.71 The poplar is connected not just with Herakles (the hero brought earlier poplar branches indigenous the underworld), but likewise with the tale of Phaethon—the most prevalent myth about the origin of amber (see “Ancient Literary resources on the beginnings of Amber,” below). Some authors, such as Pliny, use more than one term for the material, depending on the context.


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