Henry Peacham (1638) The Valley of Varietie, Chapter XV, pp. 133-140.

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Of an artificiall kinde of guilding amongst the Romanes, which they called Pyropus, as also of Electrum.

PYROPUS, is commonly taken for a bigger sort of Rubies, called a Carbuncle, from the resemblance of a burning coale, but falsely: for Pyropus was, as Plinie telleth us, lib. 34. cap. 8. a kind of Copper, to every ounce of which, sixe scruples of gold were added, and so beaten into thin leaves: tops of Piramids, Towers, and the like, were guilded therwith, which when the beames of the Sun tooke hold of, it shone like fire; thence had it the name of Pyropus. But this Art of making it is utterly lost: so is that mettall called Electrum, which was a composition of gold with a fift part of silver added thereunto; and herewith the Ancients beautified their beds, sielings, and tables, as Homer testifieth. With Pyropus Stage-players used to guild their Coronets, being first drawn or beaten into thin sheets or leaves, and after steeped in the gall of a Bull sayth Pliny;1 wherefore our Schole-masters, and ordinary Grammarians may see their errour, in taking Pyropus in Ovid for a Carbuncle, where Ovid describing the house of the Sunne, saith it was,2

— sublimibus alta columnis,
Clara micante auro, flammasq; imitante Pyropo.

And that it was no kind of mettall, but was to be layd on as we doe our leafe-gold, Propertius will affirme, where hee saith,

Picta nec inducto fulgebat parma Pyropo.

Isidore supposeth Electrum was so named, by reason of the brightnesse from the Sun, called by many Poets (as Pliny testifieth3) Elector; whereof there are three kindes: The first proceedeth from the fatty substance of a Tree, which is a kind of Pine, and runneth downe, as we see the Gumme upon Cherry Trees, and is hardned with the coldnesse of the Aire, or the working of the Sea; for when great Tides flow up into those Ilands where it groweth, carrying it away, they cast it upon other Shores, giving the forme of roundnesse thereunto, by often rouling the same. The Ancients called it, Succinum, quod ex arboris, succo distillante congelasceret. Now from what Tree it falleth, it is a question, Aristotle names not any Tree. Dioscorides saith, It is the teares, or distilled humour of Poplar Trees, growing neare to the River Po in Italy; & being hardned in the Streame, becometh Electrum, which is no other then our Amber. S. Ambrose saith,4 It is the teare, or dropping of a little low shrub: and true it is, at the first it is liquid, and runneth down as teares from the eyes, since oftentimes many kinds of small creatures are found buried in Amber, as Flies, Bees, little Wormes, &c. which were intangled in the same when it was liquid. Martial hath a most elegant Epigramme of a Bee inclosed within a piece of Amber:5 which is,

Et latet, & lucet, Phætontide condita gutta,
Ut videatur Apis nectare clausa suo:
Dignum tantorum, pretium tulit illa laborum;
Credibile est ipsam, sic voluisse mori.

The like, and altogether as good, or better, hath the same Poet of a Viper, buried in the same manner, where hee willeth Cleopatra, not to esteeme so highly of her royall and stately Monument, when the Viper found a more rich and magnificient Tombe then her selfe. I over-passe that Poeticall Fable of Phaëton, who by Lightning, was cast downe from his Charriot, into the River Po, or Eridanus; whose fall, when the Sisters Heliades continually wept & bewail'd, they were turned into Poplar Trees:6

Unde fluunt lachrymæ, stillataq; sole rigescunt;
De ramis electra novis —

A second sort of this Electrum, is a Mettall which anciently was digged out of Pits, and deepe Ditches, as Isidore reporteth, perhaps out of Plinie, lib. 33. cap. 4.7

The 3d and last kind, is this artificial Electrum we spake of, a quantity of Gold mixed with five times as much silver. This Mettall, or matter for Gilding, was highly esteemed from all Antiquitie. Homer reporteth, That the Palace of Menelaus shone, and glistened with Gold Electrum, Silver and Ivorie. And at Lindos, an Iland belonging to Rhodes, was the Temple of Minerva; to which Temple, Helen of Troy consecrated, and gave a Cup or Bowle made of this Electrum, of the just bignesse of one of her Papps or Brests; say Trebellius, Pollio and Pomponius, of Electrum, money anciently was made and coined: so were also Rings to be worne in eares, and upon fingers, saith Savaro in Notis ad Appollinarem, carm. 24.



1. Plin. l. 34 cap. 8. [Pliny HN 34(20) 94]

2. Metam. 2. [1-2]

3. Pliny l. 37 cap. 2. [Pliny HN 37(11) 31]

4. Ambrose Hexameron. lib. 2. cap. 15.

5. Marti. l. 4. Epigr. 32. [Martial IV, 32]

6. Ovid Metam. 2. 4. [Ovid: Metamorposes II 364-365]

7. [Pliny 33(4)80, Isidore 1624.

This page is by James Eason.