MURRHINA : Μορρία : the China Agate.
substance is continually alluded to by the writers of the Roman
imperial times as the material of the most costly vases, yet the only
description of its appearance and nature is that to be found in Pliny
(xxxvii. 8). " The East sends us the Murrhina. They are found in
several places, all little known, and within the Parthian dominions,
but principally in Carmania. They are supposed to be formed from a
liquid hardened by subterraneous heat. In superficial extent they
never exceed that required for a small dish (abacos), and in thickness
seldom suffice for a drinking-cup, like that just mentioned. They have
a lustre without any strength, or rather a polish (nitor) than a
lustre. But their value lies in the variety of their colours, the spots
suddenly turning themselves around into purple and opaque-white, and a
third made up of both ; the purple as if by a transition of colour
becoming fiery, or the milk-white part turning red. Some principally
admire the extreme parts in them (i. e. the edges of the
vases), and a certain play of colours like that seen in the rainbow."
Hence Martial makes his amateur cry for " maculosm pocula
murrhse " (x. 80). " Others like the spots to be opaque and fatty
(pingues) : any transparency or paleness is considered a defect. So are
marks like salt, and warts, which do not indeed project, but are
embedded in the substance, and that very often. The substance is
somewhat recommended also by its agreeable smell."
a description would appear definite enough to enable a mineralogist to
identify with ease the exact material intended, nevertheless upon no
one point in the science have so many diverse theories been propounded.
De Boot, alluding to the then prevailing notion that they were Chinese