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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces some of the
Carmina Minora


published in the Loeb Classical Library,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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 p263  On a Crystal enclosing a Drop of Water

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] XXXIII (LVI)

This piece of ice still shows traces of its original nature: part of it has become stone, part resisted the cold. It is a freak of winter's, more precious by reason of its incomplete crystallization, for that the jewel contains within itself living water.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] XXXIV (LVII)

Ye waters, who confine waters in a prison akin to them, ye that are liquid still and ye that were so, what wit has united you? By what trick of freezing is the marvellous stone at once hard and wet? what containèd heat has protected those enclosed waters? what warm wind melted that heart of ice? How comes it that the jewel in whose heart the water ebbs and flows was either made solid or liquid by frost?  p265 

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] XXXV (LVIII)

Alpine ice was becoming so hard that the sun could not melt it, and this excess of cold was like to make it precious as diamond. But it could not imitate that stone in its entirety for at its heart lay a drop of water which betrayed its nature. As crystal its value is enhanced, for this liquid rock is accounted a miracle and the water enclosed within it increases its rarity.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] XXXVI (LIX)

See this vein which runs in a bright streak through the translucent ice. This hidden water fears not any blast of Boreas nor winter's chill but runs this way and that. It is not frozen by December's cold, nor dried up by July's sun, nor wasted away by all-consuming time.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] XXXVII (LX)

Safely hidden away in this round covering is a stream, an errant spring, enclosed within frozen waters. Mark you not how the crystal is all awash in its cavernous heart where living waters surge this way and that, and how, when the sun penetrates its frozen depths, the hues of the rainbow are reflected in it? Wonder­ful stone, wonder­ful water: stranger than all rivers and all stones because it is a stone and yet fluid.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] XXXVIII (LXI)

Children love to handle this shining crystal and turn its chilly mass over and over in their little hands;​a they see imprisoned in the transparent rock the water which alone winter forebore to freeze. Placing the dry sphere against their thirsty lips they press useless kisses on that which guards the waters they desire.  p265 

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] XXXIX (LXII)

Do not despise this sphere of rock-crystal. Kings' palaces contain no rarer jewel, nor are the Red Sea's pearls of greater value. It may be shapeless ice, unpolished rock, a rough, uncarven mass, yet is it accounted among the most precious of riches.

Thayer's Note:

a Children love to handle this crystal and turn it over and over in their little hands: If there is a drop of living water in this frozen poetry, here it is. I do have the feeling that Claudian actually saw such a chunk of rock crystal, probably in Stilicho's curio cabinet; he may even have seen real children somewhere.

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Page updated: 19 Jan 04