9. Elusive Stones: Reading Posidippus’ Lithika through Technical Writing on Stones

Martyn Smith, Emory University
Posidippus [1] writes with an acute sense of the exceptional. In several places within the Lithika section of the new papyrus he highlights the “marvel” or “wonder” resulting from a stone. [2] The stones selected by Posidippus include sapeiron (AB 5.1), beryllion (AB 6.3), xanthe (AB 7.1), sard (AB 8.1), anthrax (AB 8.5), margaritis (AB 11.3), smaragdos (AB 12.3), iaspis (AB 14.1), kyanus (AB 14.4), the snakestone (AB 15.2), krustallon (AB 16.1), the touchstone (AB 16.4) and the magnet (AB 17.4). If we had the complete text for the fragmentary sections from the Posidippus papyrus, no doubt this list would grow. [3] The names for these stones are not used ornamentally by Posidippus; rather it is often the case that the nature of the stone, some exceptional quality, is tied directly to the meaning of the epigram.
K. Gutzwiller has pointed out this close tie between the nature of the stone and the epigram in her discussion of the Pegasus epigram (AB 14). [4] Posidippus notes that the craftsman has done well to carve on blue chalcedony the riderless horse disappearing into the blue sky. Posidippus is not simply applying a fanciful adjective to the iaspis when he calls it ἠερόεϲϲαν, ‘airy’. Rather, he is making reference to an actual variety of the gem which was recognized by technical writers on stones (cf. Pliny XXXVII 115). When Posidippus praises the craftsman for carving well according to hand and mind he is pointing out the skill of the craftsman not only in depicting the horse, but also in selecting a singularly fitting stone for his subject, one that mimics the air into which the real Pegasus flew.
This careful use of stones and their qualities connects Posidippus to technical writers on stones, who were drawn to the same unique characteristics. Theophrastus was one of the earliest of these technical writers, and certainly the earliest writer whose work on this topic has survived largely intact. [5] In his On Stones, he is concerned with stones that are rare or have some special quality:
εἰσὶ δὲ πλείους καὶ ἄλλαι κατὰ ταύτας <διαφοραί>. αἱ μὲν οὖν κατὰ τὰ χρώματα καὶ τὰς σκληρότητας καὶ μαλακότητας καὶ λειότητας καὶ τἆλλα τὰ τοιαῦτα, δι᾿ ὧν τὸ περιττόν.
Numerous stones, then, posess characteristic differences in respect of colour, hardness, softness, smoothness, and other such qualities which cause them to be exceptional (δι᾿ ὧν τὸ περιττόν). [6]
Nearly all of the stones mentioned by Posidippus are also treated by Theophrastus, the exceptions being the snakestone (AB 15), the conjectural reading of Beryllion (AB 6.3), and of course the great boulder used at the end to praise the power of Poseidon (AB 19).
This coincidence of material leads me to question the nature of the relationship between the epigrams found in the Lithika and the technical writing of authors such as Theophrastus and Pliny. We have already seen how Posidippus could use a technical name for a variety of stone, but there are other more subtle uses of technical writings hidden in the Lithika. At AB 8.5 Posidippus implies that the gem anthrax has an especially brilliant glow. When Theophrastus turns to this gem he mentions this same characteristic:
ἐρυθρὸν μὲν τῷ χρώματι, πρὸς δὲ τὸν ἥλιον τιθέμενον ἄνθρακος καιομένου ποιεῖ χρόαν.
It is of a red hue and when placed towards the sun produces the color of live charcoal.
(III 18)
From parallels such as this it is clear that Posidippus is relying to some degree on technical writing. One or two instances of such technical correctness could be explained by personal experience or hearsay, but for the whole we need to posit the presence of technical sources from which Posidippus could mine his details about stones and their exceptional properties.
There are two works which are by far the best witnesses to ancient technical writing on stones. First is the On Stones by Theophrastus, already mentioned above. The second is book XXXVII of the Natural History by Pliny. These books stand as bookends for a long history of technical writing on stones. [7] Theophrastus stands toward the beginning of technical writing on stones, and Pliny is the later inheritor of the knowledge collected by many writers (he lists 40 sources in his introduction to the Natural History, including Theophrastus). On Stones is important because its probable date of composition around 314–15 BCE [8] means that Posidippus could reasonably be expected to have known this work, and thus any parallels with it have an assured value. Pliny’s work, although much later than Posidippus, is also essential to our reading of Posidippus because of his frequent use of older sources. Pliny often preserves information not present in Theophrastus, but which could well have an early source or reflect much earlier knowledge.
The On Stones is also important since it gives a realistic view of the range and scope of works on stones available in the time of Posidippus. Pliny’s work by its very encyclopedism obscures the humbler size of the On Stones. Pliny mentions upward of two hundred stones, and when Posidippus is approached from this vantage point he appears to have chosen merely a random sprinkling of possible stones. Theophrastus’ On Stones, on the other hand, mentions perhaps two dozen stones. [9] When considered alongside this smaller work on stones the Lithika section takes on a more programmatic appearance, as if Posidippus were attempting to cover most of the important stones by mentioning them at least once.
In order to clarify the relationship between Posidippus and technical writings such as we possess by Theophrastus and Pliny, I will examine four of the epigrams in the Lithika section, noting the intersections between the epigrams and technical writing. The goal of the readings will be not only to find these references, but further to note how this technical information allows us to update or deepen our interpretation of the epigram. We begin with the first epigram in the collection that is reasonably complete (AB 5):
Τιμάνθ̣ηϲ ἔγλυψε τὸν ἀϲτερόεντα ϲάπειρον
     τὸνδε χρ̣υϲίτην Περϲικὸν ἡμίλιθον
Δημύλωι· ἀνθ᾿ ἁπαλοῦ δὲ̣ φιλήμα̣τοϲ ἡ κυανόθριξ
     δῶρον Ν̣[ι]καίη Κῶια ἔδ̣[εκτ᾿ ἐρατόν.

Timanthes carved the starry sapeiros,
     This gold-dusted Persian semi-stone,
For Demulos. In return for a gentle kiss, the dark-haired
     Coan Nikaie received it as a lovely gift.
Theophrastus gives a slightly different spelling for this stone (which we know as lapis lazuli), but any doubt as to whether he refers to the same stone is allayed by the brief description: ‘[it] is speckled with gold’ (αὕτη δ᾿ ἐστιν ὥσπερ χρυσόσπαστος) (IV 23). In a later mention of the stone Theophrastus adds that the stone is ‘dark’ (μέλαινα (VI 37). It is also (IV 23) classed among ‘stones, of which signets are carved’ (ἐξ ὧν καὶ τὰ σφραγίδια γλύφουσιν).
Theophrastus has not provided a lot of information, but it is striking that Posidippus has encapsulated all the information contained in Theophrastus within this brief epigram. The sapeiros is correctly portrayed as a stone that is carved. His adjective ἀϲτερόεντα, ‘starred’, incorporates the sprinkled look of the stone, as well as implying the stone’s relative darkness by calling to mind the nighttime ground of the stars. The second line gives us the adjective χρυϲίτην, ‘gold-containing’, which completes our picture of the stone since we now understand that the stone is not simply starred, perhaps with white stars like the nighttime sky, but is golden-speckled. The adjective Περϲικὸν adds a further touch of the exotic to the stone, going along with the evocation of nighttime and gold. This is not a piece of information present in Theophrastus, but lest we imagine that Posidippus has arbitrarily decided that Persia suits his poetic interests, Pliny assures us that Persia is indeed the best site for sapeiros: “The best are in Persia” (XXXVII 120). [10]
We encounter in the epigram about the sapeiros a re-fashioning of scientific description into an evocation of a beautiful object. Its equation of the gift of a stone with a tender kiss imbues the stone with all the emotional warmth of that exchanged kiss. The stone is on its way to becoming what Pliny, at the beginning of his book on stones, professes that some people find in stones: “… for many people a single gemstone is sufficient for a high and perfect contemplation of the things of nature” (XXXVII 1). [11] That is, the stone is no longer a point of scientific interest, but rather a matter of aesthetic, even passionate, experience.
In highlighting the process of exchange, this short epigram becomes a useful entrance to the poetic project of Posidippus. In the Lithika, but also notably in the Oiônoskopika section, Posidippus is taking over knowledge whose natural domain might be thought to rest in didactic poetry or scientific treatises. But the manifest lack of scientific system, and the presence of the long epigram on a great boulder (AB 19), betray the fact that Posidippus did not intend to write a poetic textbook on gems in a way parallel to Aratus’ poetic translation of a textbook on constellations and weather signs. Rather, in the same way that the stone is worked by a craftsman and transformed into an object exchanged for a kiss, the technical writing of a scientific philosopher such as Theophrastus is skillfully re-worked until it becomes a work that gives aesthetic pleasure.
Because the Lithika often relies on technical sources, the more knowledge a reader has of those sources, the more pleasure can be derived from the short epigrams. In trying to demonstrate this I will now consider two epigrams in which the meaning may be dependent on a correct understanding of the stone at hand, as it is represented in technical writing on stones. The first is an epigram that has already drawn some attention (AB 7). [12]
ἐξ Ἀράβων τὰ ξάνθ᾿{α} ὀ̣[ρέων κατέρ]υτα κυλίων,
     εἰϲ ἅλα χειμάρρουϲ ὦκ᾿ [ἐφόρει ποτα]μόϲ
τὸν μέλιτι χροιὴν λίθ̣[ον εἴκελον, ὅ]ν̣ Κρονίο[υ] χ̣είρ
     ἔγλυψε· χρυϲῶι ϲφι<γ>κτ̣[ὸϲ ὅδε γλυκερ]έ̣ι
Νικονό̣ηὶ´ κάθεμα τρη[τὸν φλέγει, ἧ]ϲ̣ ἐπὶ μαϲτῶι
     ϲυ<λ>λάμπει λευκῶι χρω̣τὶ μελιχρὰ φάη.

Out of the Arabian mountains rolling the fallen yellow stones,
     the storm-rushing river brought swiftly to the sea
the stone, honey-like, which the hand of Cronius
     carved. This stone, bound with gold for delicate Niconoe,
flames as an inlaid necklace, as on her breast
     its honey-sweet light shines along with her white skin.
Again we find in this epigram a noteworthy technical correctness. To begin with, xanthe (ξανθή) is a precious stone mentioned by Theophrastus (VI 37). [13] I argue that the use of the neuter plural adjective in this epigram, ta xantha (τὰ ξάνθα), results from his evocation of the unvariegated yellow detritus, the end result of which will be the precious stone xanthe. Posidippus has gotten the general source of this stone correct. In Theophrastus, xanthe is mentioned among a group of precious stones which are ‘rare and come from only a few places’ (οἱ περιττοὶ σπάνιοι καὶ ἐξ ὀλίγων τόπων). No locale is connected to xanthe by Theophrastus, but an exotic and foreign place, such as Arabia, would be expected. Perhaps contemporary accounts of the Ptolemaic exploitation of gem resources in Arabia [14] provided the means by which Posidippus learned of this specific source. Finally, Cronius is no fictional craftsman, but an historical figure whom Pliny mentions as one of the great engravers of the Hellenistic period (XXXVII 8). The use of a well-known gem carver such as Cronius here and elsewhere in the Lithika (cf. AB 2.2 and possibly AB 6.2) adds a link to the real world that increases the expectation of technical accuracy in the epigram, and this also looks forward to the multiple references to important sculptors in the section Andriantopoiika.
Posidippus goes further than mere correctness in this epigram, he may also be interested in critiquing an earlier opinion on the stone xanthe. In a short note Theophrastus takes issue with the color of xanthe, writing that it is ‘not so much yellow in color as whitish’ [or ‘off white’] (οὐ ξανθὴ μὲν τὴν χρόαν, ἔκλευκος μᾶλλον) (VI 37). He buttresses this with an explanation that the word xanthos means ‘whitish’ for speakers of Doric Greek, not yellow.
When we turn back to the epigram we notice that color gets emphasized to an unusual degree. Both the third and sixth lines describe the stone as ‘honey-colored’, as if he could not quite trust the word xantha to stand by itself for the color. Then perhaps to prove his point, he sets the stone on the truly white skin of Niconoe’s breast. Given this beautifully white background, the yellowness of the stone stands out vividly in the reader’s imagination, and the doubts of the scholar who might remember the description of Theophrastus are banished.
The next epigram is unique among its neighbors in that it obstinately refuses to name its described stone (AB 13). [15]
κ̣[ερδα]λ̣έη λίθοϲ ἥδε· λιπα[ινομένη]ϲ̣ γε μὲν α̣ὐ̣τῆϲ,
     [φέγγο]ϲ̣ ὅλουϲ ὄγκουϲ θαῦ[μ᾿ ἀπάτη]ϲ̣ περιθεῖ·
ὄ̣[γκων] δ̣᾿ ἀ̣ϲ̣κ̣ελέων, ὠκὺ γ̣[λυπτὸϲ λ]ὶ̣ϲ ὁ Πέρϲηϲ
     [τε]ί̣ν̣ων ἀϲτράπτει πρὸϲ καλόν ἠέλιον.

This is a crafty stone. First, when it is rubbed with oil,
     a light runs around the entire mass, marvel of illusion.
Then, when the mass is dry, a carved Persian lion
     flashes sharply, stretching to the beautiful sun.
Although the number of conjectures in this epigram is quite large, it is clear that Posidippus is contrasting two states, first oiled or wet, then dry, and two different ways that light responds to this stone.
The terse opening to this epigram, “This is a crafty stone”, calls attention to the fact that this is a specific kind of stone, and further, it highlights the author’s crafty silence as to its identity. This riddling quality in the epigram provides an example of what Bing has called Ergänzungsspiel, referring to the kind of play and literary association required from the reader in order to arrive at an understanding of a poem. [16] In this case the epigram pointedly does not provide all the necessary information, but rather the reader must supplement the information from other sources if any answer to this riddle is to be located.
I would like to suggest that the stone smaragdos, a name for a class of green precious stones, is a possible solution to this riddle epigram. Theophrastus twice singles out a remarkable power: its ability to lend its color to a body of water that surrounds it.
The smaragdos, on the other hand, possesses also certain powers (δυνάμεις τινάς). For, as we have mentioned, it imparts its color to water (τοῦ τε γὰρ ὕδατος … ἐξομοιοῦται τὴν χρόαν ἑαυτῆ).
(IV 23)
This optical power is remarkable enough to Theophrastus that he mentions the stone in company with both the magnet and the touchstone, [17] i.e. it is a stone with an actual power, not just an optical quality.
When Pliny writes about the stone he also lingers over the unique optical power of the smaragdos, though applying the effect to the air rather than to water:
praeterea longinquo amplificantur visu inficientes circa se repercussum aëra.
Besides this, being viewed from a distance [the smaragdi] appear larger because they color the air which has rebounded around them.
The mechanism may be suspect, but his meaning is quite clear: the air that bounces up against the stone is colored, and thus when viewed from a distance the stone naturally looks larger.
The second quality that Pliny describes is its power of blazing. He tells an odd story about the statue of a lion, set up next to a tunny-fishery, which had eyes fitted with smaragdos from Cyprus. [18] The eyes of this lion flashed so brightly into the depths of the sea that the tunny-fish fled the vicinity, to the obvious consternation of the fishermen (XXXVII 66). [19] One could add this to Pliny’s discussion of the Persian variety of the smaragdos. He writes, citing Democritus as his source (likely a work falsely attributed to him):
… felium pantherarumque oculis similes, namque et illos radiare nec perspici, eosdem in sole hebetari, in umbra refulgere et longius quam ceteros nitere.
He compares them to the eyes of cats and leopards, which likewise shine without being transparent, and mentions, moreover, that the stones are dimmed in sunlight, glisten in shadow and shine farther than other stones.
Oddly, the eyes of cats, real or statue, figure in both of these examples from Pliny, and it is interesting that in the editorial restoration of line 31 we find a lion.
It thus seems plausible to understand this short epigram as a reference to the stone smaragdos. The optical quality of light literally ‘running around’ (περιθεῖ) the mass, as described by Posidippus, seems closely connected to the optical effect of the stone in both Theophrastus and Pliny. And the second quality of blazing solves nicely the last two lines of the epigram. And these dual optical effects seem sufficient to earn for a stone the title ‘crafty’ (κερδαλέη).
Perhaps in order to give the reader another hint to the answer of this riddle, Posidippus, or whoever compiled our poems, sandwiched this epigram between two suggestive epigrams. In the previous epigram we can make out the word smaragdos, and the first line of the following epigram mentions the stone iaspis, which Theophrastus tells us is closely related to the smaragdos. [20] This may seem a quite bookish hint, but if it is correct to see Posidippus as working with and commenting on technical writings, then these are the kinds of hints to which we must become sensitive.
In conclusion we will look at the epigram on the snakestone, one of the two previously known epigrams attributed to Posidippus that turned up in the new papyrus. In his commentary on this epigram Gow called it “undistinguished” and doubted its authenticity. [21] By considering once again the possibility that Posidippus is working from technical sources, we may be able to set this epigram in a more positive light.
Unlike the other stones mentioned above, the snakestone does not correspond to an actual stone. Pliny starts off with a general account of the supposed origin of this stone:
Draconitis … e cerebro fit draconum, sed nisi viventibus absciso capite non gemmescit invidia animalis mori se sentientis, igitur dormientibus amputant.
The “draconitis” (snakestone) … is obtained from the brains of snakes, but unless the head is cut off from a live snake, the substance fails to turn into a gem, owing to the spite of the creature as it perceives that it is doomed. Consequently the beast’s head is lopped off while it is asleep.
(XXXVII 158)
As Gow dryly noted, “Stones in the heads of snakes however are like jewels in the heads of toads; they do not exist.” [22] The question for us is what to make of this non-existence: is this an actual class of stones recognized at the time but to which a false origin had been ascribed, or did the snakestone never exist except in the world of technical writing on stones? [23]
Having described briefly the origin of the snakestone, Pliny defers to an earlier source in order to give us more details about the stone. By so doing he preserves the account of Sotacus, one of the earliest writers on stones, and one whose work could have been known by Posidippus. [24]
Sotacus, quo visam eam gemmam sibi apud regem scripsit, bigis vehi quaerentes tradit et viso dracone spargere somni medicamenta atque ita sopiti praecidere. esse candore tralucido, nec postea poliri aut artem admittere.
Sotacus, who writes that he saw such a gem in the possession of a king, states that those who go in search of it ride in two-horsed chariots, and that when they see the snake they scatter sleeping-drugs and so put it to sleep before they cut off its head. According to him, the stone is glossily-white and transparent, and cannot be polished or submitted to any other skilful process.
(XXXVI 158)
This account of the snakestone, the earliest we know about, we can now compare with the epigram by Posidippus (AB 15):
οὐ ποταμ⌋ὸϲ κελάδων ἐπι χείλεϲιν, αλλὰ δράκοντοϲ
     εἶχέ ποτ᾿ εὐπώγων τόνδε λίθον κεφαλ̣ή̣
πυκνὰ φαληριόωντα· τὸ δὲ γλυφὲν ἅρμα κα̣τ̣᾿ α̣ὐ̣τ̣[ο]ῦ̣
     τοῦθ᾿ ὑπὸ Λυγκείου <βλέ>μματοϲ ἐγλύφετο
ψεύδεϊ χ<ειρ>ὸϲ ὅμοιον· ἀποπλασθὲν γὰρ ὁρᾶτα̣ι̣
     ἅρμα, κατὰ πλάτεοϲ δ᾿ οὐκ ἄν ἴδοιϲ προβόλουϲ̣·
ἧι καὶ θαῦμα πέλει μόχθου μέγ̣α̣, πῶϲ ὁ λιθουρ̣γ̣όϲ
     τὰϲ] ἀτενιζούϲαϲ οὐκ ἐμόγηϲε κό̣ραϲ.

No river rolled this stone onto its banks, but at one time
     the well-bearded head of a snake held it,
streaked with white. The chariot engraved upon it,
     resembling a white mark on a nail, [25] was carved
by Lynceian eyes. For after an imprint is taken
     the chariot is seen, but on the surface you do not see any projections.
In which fact resides a great marvel of labor,
     how the craftsman while straining did not damage his eyes.
We should imagine a stone smaller than the head of a snake, streaked with white, and with one streak containing an engraved chariot which is impossible to see with the naked eye but which shows up clearly when an imprint is taken.
It is immediately apparent that there are a couple of similarities between the poetic account given by Posidippus and Sotacus. Most notable is the presence of a chariot in both accounts. Noting this similarity, K. Gutzwiller writes: “In all likelihood, then, the tiny chariot carved on the gem provided a reference to the difficult process by which the gem had been ostensibly obtained.” [26] A second similarity is in the color, or colorlessness, that is attributed to the snakestone. Posidippus writes, using a couple of rare and poetic words, that the snakestone has white streaks and that it resembles to some extent the nail of a hand. This description is comparable to Pliny’s note that Sotacus described the stone as candore tralucido, ‘transparent glistening-white’. The idea of whiteness is present in both, and by the allusion to a fingernail, a degree of transparency is also introduced by Posidippus. Pliny gives us no hint that Sotacus mentioned any streaks or marks on the stone, but these do not contradict the brief description by Sotacus, and can be read as an elaboration of that description by Posidippus. As we saw with the epigram on the sapeiros, Posidippus often uses technical sources and re-states their flat descriptions in a more poetic manner. The epigram on the snakestone appears to be another case of this re-statement, as Posidippus has taken the same basic elements and made them more vivid.
One major difference stands out between these two earliest accounts of the snakestone: its ability or inability to be carved. Sotacus is quite clear on the matter, writing that the stone “cannot be polished or submitted to any other skilful process.” This directly contradicts the insistence by Posidippus that the stone is carved. Gow explains this by assuming that since this is not a real stone, but simply a name ascribed to some group of stones that have a similar size and color, Posidippus must know of a variety that was “evidently not too hard to work.” [27] But this explanation assumes that Posidippus was working from an actual precious gem, instead of relying, in a more bookish fashion, on a technical source.
Since we have already had cause to note the accuracy of Posidippus when it comes to his descriptions of stones, we should be cautious in asserting a contradiction between Posidippus and his sources. The Byzantine writer Tzetzes read this epigram differently and calls snakestones αὐτόγλυφοι (‘self-carved’) and then supposed that on this particular snakestone a chariot had been engraved on its own, or naturally (ὧν ἐν ἑνὶ καὶ ἅρμα ἐγγεγλυμμένον κατιδεῖν αὐτοφυῶς . . .). [28] The idea of an elaborate design such as a chariot being self-carved or naturally appearing may seem fantastic to the modern reader, but this is simply another exceptional feature that a stone may have. Toward the beginning of his book on stones, Pliny mentions an agate upon which could be seen the nine Muses with Apollo holding the lyre. He goes on to explain the origin of this complex design: “This was due not to any artistic intention, but to nature un-aided [non arte, sed naturae sponte]; and the markings spread [discurrentibus maculis] in such a way that even the individual Muses had their appropriate emblems allotted them” (XXXVII 5). This famous stone was reported by Pliny to be a possession of Pyrrhus, who lived only slightly before Posidippus (319–272 BCE). A stone that contains a natural carving would fit nicely into this category of wonder, a category which we know existed during the time of Posidippus.
The internal references to the eyesight of a stoneworker are compatible with this reading. There are two references to the eyesight necessary for this kind of carving: line 4 with the reference to the incredible vision of the Argonaut Lynceus, and lines 6–7 with the note that it is a ‘wonder’ (θαῦμα) that the stoneworker did not damage his eyes by such minute attention. The reader encounters the stone through the eyes of the narrator, and follows the narrator’s reasoning about the necessity of superhuman eyesight and miraculous craft in order to make such a carving. But the reader may well begin to wonder about the conclusions drawn by the narrator, since the conclusions seem to point to a level of skill that is impossible for a human being. One begins to question the reliability of the narrator since this stoneworker is too skilled, the vision required is too great, for an actual stoneworker to have carved the invisible chariot upon the streak of white. Then if the reader recalls the note by Sotacus that this is a stone which cannot be carved, the true nature of this stone appears: it is a natural wonder, a self-carved stone. The hidden riddle mirrors the hidden carving present on the snakestone.
It is also possible to read this in a different way. One could argue that this is another case of Posidippus subtly correcting his source, either by the use of information gained from some other technical source, or by personal knowledge of some stone that was purported to be a snakestone. Posidippus, on this reading, affirms the basic facts about the origin and color of the snakestone as presented by Sotacus, but then differs by presenting a case where the snakestone has been successfully carved. As with the Xanthe discussed earlier, the point is to be aware of Posidippus’ subtle correcting of his sources.
By my reading, which Tzetzes also stumbled upon, the poem becomes another case of a riddle within the Lithika. The challenge for the reader is to perceive rightly the actual nature of this marvel. In this light an “undistinguished” epigram may become elusive and brilliant. This makes the snakestone epigram similar to the epigram on smaragdos, in that they both demand playful work on the part of the reader if they are to be understood. And this demand for work on the part of the reader is a trait of Hellenistic poetry. Bing notes: “… the authors of the age ask their readers to supply a great deal. They are expected to recognize, and bring to the text an understanding, not just of literary allusions … but of those to history, geography, medicine, religion, etc.” [29]
The snakestone contains a design invisible to the eye glancing upon it, a design that appears only after an imprint is taken. It is a picture of the process that a reader must go through in understanding these epigrams: there is a brilliance invisible at first, but which becomes visible as soon as one is willing to delve into its more elusive aspects.


[ back ] 1. Throughout this chapter I refer to Posidippus as the author for the sake of convenience. Also for convenience I use AB numeration, while retaining the BG text.
[ back ] 2. Cf. AB 8.7; AB 13.2; AB 15.7; AB 17.5; AB 19.10.
[ back ] 3. Four fragmentary sections seem especially to demand the name of a stone: AB 1; AB 2; AB 4; AB 10.
[ back ] 4. Gutzwiller 1995:383–398.
[ back ] 5. For an overview of ancient studies in mineralogy, see Halleaux and Schamp 1985:XIII–XXXIV.
[ back ] 6. Theophrastus On Stones I 6; text and translation by Eichholz 1965:6.
[ back ] 7. Compare Wellmann 1935.
[ back ] 8. The date is based on the argument worked out by Eichholz 1965:8–11.
[ back ] 9. An exact count depends on whether sub-classes are counted or not, i.e. whether one counts the “male” and “female” varieties of kyanus as separate stones.
[ back ] 10. Caeruleae perlucidae et sappiri, rarumque ut cum purpura. optimae apud Medos, nusquam tamen perlucida. My text for Pliny throughout this chapter is drawn from Eichholz 1971.
[ back ] 11. ut plerisque ad summam absolutamque naturae rerum contemplationem satis sit una aliqua gemma.
[ back ] 12. Cf. Bing 2002a.
[ back ] 13. Eichholz 1965:114, tentatively identifies this as yellow jasper or brown hematite.
[ back ] 14. Nenna 1998:156–61.
[ back ] 15. Line 3 of this epigram has a significant gap, and the reading supplied by the editors is highly conjectural. What is missing is the noun that accompanies the adjective ‘Persian’. One might want to supply the word smaragdos here, which would be attractive since ‘Persian’ is a variety of the smaragdos that is mentioned by Pliny (cf. XXXVII 69). But the trace of a “Γ” at the beginning of the gap precludes that option, and makes something like what the editors arrived at the most likely reading.
[ back ] 16. Bing 1995:115–131.
[ back ] 17. On Stones I 4.
[ back ] 18. Cyprus happens to also be the place that Theophrastus knows as the origin of the stone (VI 36).
[ back ] 19. oculos et smaragdis ita radiantibus etiam in gurgitem ut territi thynni refugerent …
[ back ] 20. “It is stated that in Cyprus a stone was once found one half of which was smaragdus and the other half an iaspis, as though the transformation of the stone from water were not yet complete” (IV 27).
[ back ] 21. Gow 1954:197.
[ back ] 22. Gow 1954:198.
[ back ] 23. An example of this separate book existence can be glimpsed in the case of the lyngurium, literally: “lynx-urine.” Theophrastus, on the authority of a Diocles, maintains that this stone has its origin as the buried urine of a lynx (V 28). Later Pliny, having quoted Theophrastus, was ready to dismiss this stone as simply a legend: “I for my part am of the opinion that the whole story is false and that no gemstone bearing this name has been seen in our time” (XXXVII 53). The stone lived only in texts, and Pliny recognized this and was ready to banish it.
[ back ] 24. Sotacus was a Greek writer whom Pliny calls one of the very oldest of his sources (XXXVI 146). His date may be as early as the beginning of the third century BCE (as estimated by Eichholz 1965:7). See also Kind 1927:1211.
[ back ] 25. These three words (ψεύδεϊ χ<ειρ>ὸϲ ὅμοιον) have been variously translated. Gow argues strongly for the reading that I have adopted, which makes these three words refer to blemishes on fingernails (Gow 1954:198, and GP:500–501). This reading has been accepted by recent commentators (Fernandez-Galiano 1987:128).
[ back ] 26. Gutzwiller 1995:388.
[ back ] 27. Gow 1954:198. Fernandez-Galiano 1987:127 writes similarly “Segun Sotaco en Plinio … la piedra no podia ser tallada, pero evidentemente Posidipo pensaba lo contrario …”
[ back ] 28. GP:2.500.
[ back ] 29. Bing 1995:131.