AGATE, p. 15.
first amongst these "nature-pictures" would stand the celebrated Agate
of King Pyrrhus, if the description of it given by Pliny (xxxvii. 3)
from tradition ("dicitur") was indeed correct. It displayed Apollo
holding his lyre, and surrounded by the Nine Muses, each with her
proper attribute ! all exactly depicted by the native shades and veins
of the substance, and without the least assistance from art. Λ
suspicion irresistibly obtrudes itself that such a group, though
actually existing in the royal ring, was nothing more than a
cameo-engraving, but passed off by the jocose Greek, sporting with
their simplicity, upon the Roman envoys, utter novices then in art, as
an unparalleled miracle of Nature. By a singular coincidence, when
camei first came into fashion for ornaments in this country, they went
by the name of Agate-stones. Shakspeare, for example, has the simile—
" If low, an agate very vilely cut,"
besides the well-known description of Queen Mab as
" In shape no bigger than an agate-stone On the forefinger of an aiderman."
In the last quotation the comparison as to shape, involving also the idea of size, necessarily refers to the shape cut
on the Agate stone, the tiny cameo nymph or bacchante, the so favourite
theme of the artists of the day. In the list of Queen Elizabeth's
jewels occurs, " an agath of her majesty's visnomy : "
Vanderdort similarly calls his catalogue of Charles I.'s gallery " A
list of the pictures, coins, and Agates," &c.
it must be owned by all mineralogists who have attended to this
particular that Nature has sometimes drawn such artistic pictures on
the Agate as to dispose us not altogether to reject as a mere fable the
description of that, the boast of the Epirote king. One indeed was
lately presented to me which contains within a circular frame a
charming little sea-view taken by moonlight. In the foreground lie
craggy rocks, then comes the sea receding softly in parallel lines,
duly shaded ; in the far distance rises a rocky island supporting a
pharos; the crescent moon riding high