Olybius's Lamp

A note to Christian Morals; see also Henry Peacham's Valley of Varietie, Chap. VI, "Of that Fire which perpetually burneth in ancient Monuments"; this page and its related pages; on their possible workings, see this page (in Italian and a bit zoofy); Jorden, A Discourse of Naturall Bathes, Chap. V.

Let him have the Key of thy Heart, who hath the Lock of his own, which no Temptation can open; where thy Secrets may lastingly ly, like the Lamp in Olybius his Urn, alive, & light, but close and invisible.


Edward Bensly, Notes and Queries, (11s. Vol I. April 9 1910, 290-291):

This allusion is explained in great part by Sir Thomas Browne himself. Among the many short notes which, according to Archdeacon Jeffery, the editor of the first edition of 'Christian Morals,' were found in the author's original MS., is the following: "Which after many hundred years was found burning under ground, and went out as soon as the air came to it." Further, in 'Pseudodoxia Epidemica,' Book iii. chap. xxi., we read, "Why some lamps included in close bodies have burned many hundred years, as that discovered in the sepulchre of Tullia, the sister [sic] of Cicero, and that of Olibius many years after near Padua."

For an account of the discovery on 16 April, 1485, near the Appian Way, of the body of a Roman lady preserved in a perfect state in a coating of an ointment and wrongly identified as that of Cicero's daughter Tullia, see Lanciani, 'Pagan and Christian Rome,' pp. 294–301, where a long list is given of modern writers on the subject and of contemporary documents that deal with it.

Dr. Greenhill in his notes on the passage in the 'Christian Morals' points out that it is twice mentioned by Jeremy Taylor: in a letter to John Evelyn, 29 Aug., 1657 (vol. i, p. lxvii of Eden's ed. of Taylor's works), "The flame of a candle can consist or subsist, though the matter be extinct. I will not instance Licetus his lampes, whose flame had stood still fifteen hundred years, viz., in tullie's wife's vault"; and in Sermon XII. of 'Twenty-Seven Sermons preached at Golden Grove; being for the Summer Half-year' (Eden, vol. iv. p. 481), "In a tomb of Terentia certain lamps burned under ground many ages together; but as soon as ever they were brought into the air and saw a bigger light, they went out, never to be re-enkindled." Eden in his note refers to Pancirolius Lib. I. ['Rerum Memorabilium'] tit. 35, and suggests that Taylor may have "met also with the story of the Lucerna Terentina (vid. Licetus, 'De recond. antiq. lucernis,' i. 24)."

None of the early accounts which Lanciani quotes of the discovery near the Via Appia mentions a lamp. But this embellishment evidently appealed to the popular imagination. I cannot lay my hand at present on any other reference to the discovery of a similar lamp near Padua.

The 'N.E.D.,' it may be remarked, under 'Olibian,' defined as =Olibanum (an aromatic gum resin), and described as "chiefly attrib.," cites "Like those subterraneous Olibian Lampes" from J. Gregory, 'Notes and Obs[ervations upon some Passages of Scripture],' Ep. Ded. Is there a misunderstanding here? or can Browne's Olibius be an error?


To which the same author later adds (NQ 11s. I. April 30 1910):

Full references to early printed and MS. sources for the extraordinary legend of Olibius's lamp are given, with the two forged inscriptions, by Mommsen on p. 22* of vol. v, part i., of the 'Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum.' [See below.] The date of the alleged discovery (at Este, in the territory of Padua) was not in the extract from The Family Herald, but about 1500 (1498 according to one version of the story; according to another "annum circiter millesimum quingentesimum").

There can be no doubt that the 'N.E.D' under 'Olibian' has made a curious mistake. [This "curious mistake" remains in the dictionary at least to this date, in September of 1999.] A similar legend occurs in the 'Gesta Romanorum', clviii.


CIL V, part I, page 22*:

194* Anno salutis 1498 in viridario Atestino sub terra reperta est urna cum lucerna ardente inclusa inter duas ampulas auri et argenti liquore quodam plenas, fomitem praestantes lucernae ANGELIERIUS (Vat.); similia ALESSIUS EX LIBRO 'EXTRAVAGANTE' MUNICIPII ATESTINI. Epigramma inventum apud Estum oppidum Patavinum in agro illorum de S. Vito, qui vulgo dicitur in Pra, in vase terreo orbiculato, in quo inclusum alterum erat cum quadam lucerna; vas autem erat plenum aqua gravi et odorifera circa quinque phialarum et alio parvulo vase vitreo intus posito IUC. Patavii FERRAR. similiterque RELIQUI PLERIQUE, in his PACED. L. XV. Annum circiter millesimum quingentesimum nostrae salutis iuxta Athesten municipium Patavinum, dum foderetur a rusticis terra solito altius, reperta est urna fictilis, et in ea altera urnula, in qua erat lucerna adhuc ardens inter duas ampullas, quarum altera erat aurea, altera argentea, purissimo quodam liquore plenas, cuius virtute lucerna illa per tot annos arsisse creditur, et nisi retecta fuisset, perpetuo arsura SCARDEONIUS ex epistula FRANCISCI MATURANTII, cuius haec afferuntur ipsa verba partim apud eum, partim apud Sabinum et Peutingerum: 'Nihil ex omni antiquitate vidisti mirabilius, mi Alphene. In vase illo interiori lucerna fuit fictilis, mirae pulchritudinis, lumine tot seculis inextincto, super eam duae ampullae. Aurum in altera, in altera argentum fuit: utrumque liquidum, ut ex ramentis cognoscitur: primarium argentum, aurum vero obrizum. Ego chimiae artis (si modo vera potest esse ars chimia) iurare ausim elementa, et materiam omnium. Vas utrumque cum epigrammatibus. Lucerna, ampullae aureae, Olibii munera ad me venere: et penes me sunt. Quas si videas, obstupescas. Ego eas cum mille aureis non sum commutaturus. Da versus amicis rescribendos et Camerti episcopo et amico Gratiano imprimis vetustatis studiosissimo.' Haec MATURANTIUS. — Romae a bubulco inter arandum inventa a. 1489 [sic] mense Septembri PACED. L. VII solus.

in minore urna haec scripta fuisse secundum eum, qui haec fecit, innuit v. 4. At in arca latericia, in qua fictile clausum erat FERR. SAB.; in urna maiore SCARD.

plutoni sacrum munus ne attingite fures [uates Manut.]
       ignotum est uobis hoc quod in orbe latet
haec [nanque Ferr. Scard. Carc. Manut., haec namque Sab.] elementa graui clausit digesta labore
       uase sub hoc modico maximus olibius
adsit faecundo custos sibi [tibi Ferr. Scard. Care.] copia cornu
       ne precium tanti depereat laticis [depereant latices Iuc.]

in capsa latericia IUC. recte. — Male in vase fictili, in quo vitreum erat clausum FERR.; in urna minore SCARD.

abite hinc pessumi fures [furis Iuc.] uos [uos om. Iuc. Scard.] quid uostris uoltis cum oculis emissicieis abite hinc uostro cum mercurio petasato caduceatoq. donum hoc maxumum maxumus olibius [maxumus maxumum donum, omissis hoc et olibius, Ferr. similiterque Lil.] plutoni sacrum fecit.

Nugas has antiquiores ignorant. Comparet primum secunda inscriptio in Rediano libro f. 62´, sed postea demum adscripta, utraque autem apud Iucundum in codice Magliabecchiano (nam a Veronensi abest) f. 151, apud Ferrarinum cod. Paris. f. 156´ et cod. Reg. Pat. 43. 44; apud Lilium f. 58. 92; in libro Riccard. 996 f. 43; apud Pacedianum l. VII et denuo l. XV; in codice Ioh. Matth. Tyberini, quem servat doctor Ios. Turrius Regiensis Scripta haec extitisse etiam in libro extravagante communis Atestini apparet ex Alessio p. 286; indidem petiisse videtur ea Angelierius in cod. Vat. 9141 f. 145. Francisci cuiusdam Maturantii Perusini de ea re epistula ad Alphenum amicum, unde quaedam supra rettulimus, legitur in Petri Sabini codice Marciano f. 18´, in Siederi Mutinensi f. 70´, in Peutingeranis Augustanis 526 f. 83 et 527 f. 49´ 73, apud Pingonium f. 233, apud Scardeonium p. 55, apud Angelierium in cod. Vat. l.c. et in ed. p. 10, ubi epistulae diem (Ateste 1500 k. Mai.) vereor ne de suo adiecerit propter verba Scardeonii supra relata, cum ea dies a cod. Vat. absit ibique epistulam afferat Scardeonium nominatim auctorem laudans. Sequuntur Tacuinus 152. f. 79; Apianus 325, 4 et 337. 338 (inde Grut. 927, 5. 6); Panvinius cod. Vat. 6036 f. 30; Manutius cod. Vat. 5248 f. 2´; Furlanettus p. 20 no. 19.

Textum exhibui fere Iucundi, adiecta varia lectione potiore librorum antiquorum. — Alessius recte composuit cum nugis his Plautina 'ut vos vostris voltis mercimoniis' (Amphitr. prol 1) et 'circumspectatrix cum oculis emissiciis' (Aulul. 1, 1, 2).


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