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Diamonds have been at the heart of myth and legend since their discovery. Medieval knights wore them uncut on their armor in the belief that they could make a person invincible, a myth no doubt related to the stone's hardness. There are legends of a diamond that could reveal the guilt or innocence of a person. Diamonds could also drive away the devil, and in the days when gems were believed to cure disease and ill fortune, diamonds were thought to amplify the magical powers of other stones a person wore.
Almost universally, diamonds have been associated with virtue, purity, strength, wealth, power, and love - and, not surprisingly, diamonds have been associated with sex, too. So it was a small jump for diamonds to become the modern symbol of love - diamond wedding rings have been popular for hundreds of years. They were believed to ensure fidelity and strengthen emotional bonds. Today, they are the preferred gift for all manner of romantic occasions.
There is one important footnote to the magic of diamonds: the magic was lost if the stone was acquired by purchase. When found or given as a gift, however, it would convey its power to the recipient, which no doubt accounts for how diamonds became such a popular gift between lovers.
The Greeks and Romans revered diamonds. They were actively traded in the 4th Century AD. Their taxation was a source of royal revenue. In the 6th Century AD, the octahedron was the most valued shape for diamonds, because of its optical qualities of light dispersion. The Hindus and Romans believed these optical qualities had magical and religious significance, and they also valued its hardness and cutting power. In India, the white octahedron diamonds were dedicated to Indra the god of storms, thunder and lightening and black diamonds to Yama the god of death. Diamonds were believed to protect the wearer from serpents, fire, poison, sickness, thieves, flood or evil spirits.
As Christianity spread, the diamond lost its magical and religious qualities. In the 16th Century it was valued less than the emerald and ruby.
Very large diamonds have been considered to attract misfortune. In ancient lore, the mystical power of the gem could only work when it had been freely given and would lose its power when stolen or taken by force. A six-sided diamond was considered the most lucky; a square to be handled with care. A large triangular shaped diamond was thought to create disharmony in the household, and to lose a diamond was very bad luck.
In antiquity, it was usually favored to wear diamonds on the left side. In the Roman Empire, there was a belief that diamonds could neutralize a magnetic force. This arose from the fact that all octahedral stones were once classified as diamonds by Indian lapidaries. Romans wore diamonds on the left arm as a talisman against cowardice. It was also worn as a safeguard against insanity, and when worn constantly, was though to maintain marital constancy.
Ancient kings sent their subjects to collect diamonds by throwing meat to the depths of a valley, where the diamonds would adhere to it. Birds of prey swooped down and seized the meat, taking it back to their nests. The birds of prey were then tracked down, and the recovered diamonds taken to their King. Pliny the Elder (1st Century AD) states that the, "diamond which is invincible can only be broken by the fresh blood of a he-goat and struck by many blows," and, " the diamond is the example that best enables us to grasp the laws of discordance and harmony (or in the language of the Greeks themselves, of antipathy and sympathy) that govern the universe." (Legrand, p.18).
In India, diamonds were associated with the Caste system. The priestly Brahmin caste could possess white diamonds, landowners (Vaisyas) yellow diamonds, knights and warriors (Kshatnyas) red diamonds, labourers and artisans (Sudras) dark grey diamonds. The dark grey diamonds were probably magnetite, a natural magnetic iron oxide.
Indian mythology describes the legend of the Kor i Noor diamond. The name means" mountain of light." Karna, the son of Surya the Sun God, had a dazzling stone of light on his forehead. When Karna was killed in a battle, the stone was taken to the temple of Siva and placed in the middle of the forehead of Siva's statue. The Brahmin said that whoever owned the diamond would possess the world but would also suffer the worst misfortunes and only a god or a woman could wear it. In 1850, the Koh i Noor diamond was given to Queen Victoria. It weighed 186 carats (uncut) and 108.93 (cut). In her Will she specified that if a male inherited the diamond it should only be worn by his wife. In 1937, George VI had it placed in Queen Elizabeth's crown, and only she has worn it.
In Europe, diamonds were worn by military men as symbols of power, courage and virility. Agnes Sorel (1422-1450), mistress of Charles V11 is reputed to have been the first woman ever to wear a diamond.
In medieval Italy, "the diamond was regarded as the stone of reconciliation that would unite a husband and wife who had quarreled,"(Legrand) because for centuries, magnetite was considered to be equivalent to a diamond.
" Often referred to as, ' the stone or reconciliation,' it has, of course, from the very earliest times been a favorite stone for lovers." (Hodges)
Diamond is related to the astrological sign, Aries.
THE LEGEND OF THE DIAMOND VALLEY
Herodotus 3.111 (of the cinnamon of Arabia): "Their method of collecting cinnamon is even more remarkable. Where it grows and what sort of land produces it they cannot say, except that they declare, with a show of reason, that it grows in the places where Dionysus was reared. They say that great birds carry these dry sticks, which we have learned from the Phoenicians to call cinnamon, and that the birds carry the sticks to their nests, which are plastered with mud and are placed on sheer crags where no man can climb up. The Arabians have found the following trick to deal with this. They cut out the limbs of dead oxen and asses, taking as much of the limbs as possible, and carry them to the part of the country where the nests are, and there they put them near the nests and themselves withdraw to a distance. The birds swoop down and carry off the limbs of the beasts to their nests, and the nests, being unable to bear the weight, break and fall down, and the Arabians approach and collect what they want. Thus is cinnamon gathered in these parts, and so from there it comes to other countries."
This legend from the Father of History, of course, never mentions the word 'diamond'. The story itself, though, should be familiar to anyone who knows the Arabian nights; this is the adventure of Sindbad and the Roc, and the precious stones that Sindbad steals from the Roc's valley are, in Herodotus' version, precious cinnamon. Here is another version, from the writings of Epiphanius, Bishop of Constantia in Cyprus circa 315-403 AD; while discoursing on the nature of the twelve precious jewels which decorate the breastplate of the High Priest of Jerusalem, he relates the following tale of the hyacinth:
The hyacinth stone, most precious, is found in a deep valley in a desert of great Scythia, entirely ringed by rugged mountains which rise straight on every side--steep as the walls of a fortress--and the valley floor cannot even be glimpsed clearly from their summits--indeed, all that can be seen of it is a sullen mist like chaos. On the valley floor, the hyacinth stones lie strewn. Those who search for it, sent by the kings of neighbouring domains, slay sheep and flay them, and fling the bloody meat into the abyss. The stones stick to the flesh of the carcasses. The eagles that loiter on the cliffs above take note, take flight, and pounce upon this meal; they carry the sheep off to devour them, to the very tops of the mountains. Then convicts condemned to this lonely labor, climb to the eyries of the eagles and collect the hyacinth stones lying like litter amidst broken bones. All these stones, whatever the diversity of their color, are precious and valuable, but remember this: they have this unique quality, these eagle-stones: when placed over a charcoal fire, be the flames never so violent, the hyacinths are never damaged but the coals are immediately extinguished. Also, these stones are reputed to be useful to women in aiding parturition, and to all in dispensing pesty phantoms.
Here, the legend is obviously confused with the ancient belief in the lapis aetites or "eagle-stone", found in the nests of eagles, invaluable to women in labor. Philostratus (Life of Apollonius from Tyana) says that eagles never build their nests without first placing there an eagle-stone. Pliny (x.3 and 12, and xxxvi.21 and 151) distinguishes four kinds of eagle-stone; he says the aetites is a pregnant stone, for when shaken, another stone is heard to rattle within (like an infant enclosed in a womb) and thus, no female aetites is found without a male stone being nearby, and without them, eagles are unable to propagate . . . the proof being seen, in that eaglets in their nest are never more than two in number.
Pliny also relates the legend of a stone called callaina (xxxvii.33) which, some said, was found in Arabia in the nests of the birds called 'black-heads'; the birds build their nests on inaccessible cliffs where no man can venture, but the crafty hunter arms himself with a sling to bring home the treasure. This is obviously akin to the Diamond Valley legend.
But back to the aetites, or parturition-stones; according to Pliny's description, they are obviously geodes. In the modern age, quartz-crystal geodes are still being picked up by Bedouin at the Wadi Saal near Sinai, and sold to fools as rough diamonds (ref Burton Bernstein, Sinai: the Great and Terrible Wilderness). And according to Physiologus xix, this pregnant stone is found in India, and female vultures fly there to obtain it. The whole idea of parturition-stones may itself hail from India. According to the Muslim physician Razi (who died in 923 or 932 AD) in the books of India, it can be read that a woman is easily delivered when such a stone is laid upon her stomach. Similar notions obtain in China, where it was widely believed that gems come in male and female form. And Sir John Mandeville wrote of the diamond: "They grow together, male and female, and are nourished by the dew of heaven; and they engender commonly, and bring forth small children that multiply and grow all the year. I have oftentimes tried the experiment that if a man keep them with a little of the rock, and water them with May dew often, they shall grow every year and the small will grow great."
The Diamond Valley legend crops up next in the form of an Alexander myth. It can be found in an Arabic work on mineralogy, composed before 850 AD but attributed (quite wrongly) to Aristotle. Here, under the heading 'the diamond', this pseudo-Aristotle has written: "Nobody but my disciple Alexander reached the valley in which diamonds are found. It lies in the east along the extreme frontier of Khorasan, and its bottom cannot be penetrated by human eyes. Alexander, after having advanced thus far, was prevented from proceeding by a host of snakes. In this valley are found snakes which by gazing at a man cause his death. He therefore caused mirrors to be made for them; and when they thus beheld themselves, they perished, while Alexander's men could look at them. Thereupon Alexander contrived another ruse: he had sheep slaughtered, skinned, and flung on the bottom of the valley. The diamonds adhered to the flesh. The birds of prey seized them and brought part of them up. The soldiers pursued the birds and took whatever of their spoils they dropped."
The story is repeated in the Iskander-nameh of the Persian poet Nizami (1141-1203 AD). The Arab historian Qazwini (1203-83) has not one but two versions, one set in the Valley of the Moon in the mountains of Ceylon. The geographer Edrisi places it in the land of the Kirkhir (or, probably, the Kirghiz) in upper Asia; ie, firmly back in southern Russian, the kingdom of Scythia. And the Arab mineralogist Ahmed Tifashi (d. 1253) gives two versions of his own: one refers to the corundum or hyacinth of Ceylon, and one to the diamonds of India. In his tale of the diamonds of India, the snakes reappear and this time they are so large that they pursue men, catch them and swallow them whole. In the tale of Ceylon, Tifashi remarks that the finest corundum gems came washed down the streams that flowed from Adam's Peak on that isle; in time of drought, though, the supply failed and the gem-seekers had recourse to the old trick with eagles and carcasses.
In the Arabic "Book of the Wonders of India" written about 960 AD, the legend is retold by a traveler and the setting is now Kashmir; here, a further peril comes from a fire burning in the valley floor, surrounded by serpents and ablaze day and night, summer and winter alike. Men come as before and fling the carcasses of sheep from the cliff, and eagles swoop down to carry up the diamond-studded meat . . . but the carcasses may be devoured by the fire, or the eagles by the voracious serpents, and then the diamond-miners must go away empty-handed, cursing, cheated of their spoil.
The next versions of the Legend of the Diamond Valley comes from China. They are found in Liang se kung ki or Memoirs of the Four Worthies of the Liang Dynasty, written by Chang Yue, 667-730 AD. Again there are two separate stories, and here is the first: "In the period T'ien-kien (502-520) of the Liang dynasty, Prince Kie of Shu (Sze-ch'uan) paid a visit to the Emperor Wu, and in the course of conversations which he held with the Emperor's scholars on distant lands, told this story: 'In the west, arriving at the Mediterranean, there is in the sea an island of two hundred square miles (li). On this island is a large forest abundant in trees with precious stones, and inhabited by over ten thousand families. These men show great ability in cleverly working gems, which are named for the country Fu-lin. In a northwesterly direction from the island is a ravine hollowed out like a bowl, more than a thousand feet deep. They throw flesh into this valley. Birds take it up in their beaks, whereupon they drop the precious stones. The biggest of these have a weight of five catties.'"
Here is the second version from Liang se kung ki: "A large junk of Fu-nan (Cambodja) which had come from western India arrived (in China) and offered for sale a mirror of a peculiar variety of rock-crystal, one foot and four inches across its surface, and forty catties in weight. On the surface and in the interior it was pure white and transparent, and displayed many colored objects on its obverse. When held against the light and examined, its substance was not discernible. On inquiry for the price, it was given at a million strings of copper coins. The Emperor ordered the officials to raise this sum, but the treasury did not hold enough. Those traders said, 'This mirror is due to the action of the Devaraja of the Rupadhatu . On felicitous and joyful occasions he causes the trees of the gods to pour down a shower of precious stones, and the mountains receive them. The mountains conceal and seize the stones, so that they are difficult to obtain. The flesh of big animals is cast into the mountains; and when the flesh in these hiding-places becomes so putrefied that it phosphoresces, it resembles a precious stone. Birds carry it off in their beaks, and this is the jewel from which this mirror is made.' Nobody in the empire understood this and dared pay that price."
Ch'ang Te, the Chinese envoy sent in 1259 to the Mongol Hulagu, king of Persia, also mentions the story in his diary. He links it to the diamond, whose origin he correctly places in the mines of Persia, but then goes on: "The people take flesh and throw it into the great valley. Then birds come and eat this flesh, after which diamonds are found in their excrement." This has an exact parallel in Marco Polo (vol II p 361): "The people go to the nests of those white eagles, of which there are many, and in their droppings they find plenty of diamonds which the birds have swallowed in devouring the meat that was cast into the valleys."
From Elysaeus' fantasy of India and Prester John, circa the twelfth century AD (edited by F. Zarncke, Der Priester Johannes II, Pp. 120-127): " Quomodo autem carbunculi reperiantur audiamus. Ibi est valhs quaedam, in qua carbunculi reperiuntur. NuRus autem hominum accedere potest prae pavore griffonum et profunditate vallis. Et cum habere volunt lapides, occidunt pecora et accipiunt cadavera, et in nocte accedunt ad summitatem vallis et deiciunt ea in varem, et sic inprimuntur lapides in cadavera, et acuti sunt. Veniunt autem grifones et assumunt cadavera et educunt ea. Eductis ergo cadaveribus perduntur carbunculi, et sic inveniuntur in campis."
From Ts'ao Chao, Ming China, 1387: " Diamond-sand comes from Tibet (Si-fan). On the high summits of mountains with deep valleys, unapproachable to men, they make perches for the eagles, on which they set out food. The birds eat the flesh on the mountains and drop their ordure into desert places. This is gathered, and the stones are found in it."
And finally, from Von Haxtbausen's Transcaucasia (London, 1854; p. 360), an Armenian popular story: "In Hindostan there is a deep and rocky valley, in which all kinds of precious stones, of incalculable value, lie scattered upon the ground; when the sun shines upon them, they glisten like a sea of glowing, many-colored fire. The people see this from the summits of the surrounding hills, but no one can enter the valley, partly because there is no path to it and they could only be let down the steep rocks, and partly because the heat is so great that no one could endure it for a minute. Merchants come hither from foreign countries; they take an ox and hew it in pieces, which they fix upon long poles, and cast into the valley of gems. Then huge birds of prey hover around, descend into the valley, and carry off the pieces of flesh. But the merchants observe closely the direction in which the birds fly, and the places where they alight to feed, and there they frequently find the most valuable gems."
"Koh-i-noor" (کوۂ نور) is from the Persian language and means "Mountain of Light". The Koh-i-Noor, Koh-i-Nur, or Kohinoor is a 108 carat (21.6 g) diamond that originated in the subcontinent of India and belonged to various rulers at different points in its history, very often passing from one to another by force or deceit.
In 1851 the diamond was given, in controversial circumstances, to Queen Victoria and taken to Britain. It is currently in the consort's crown made for Queen Elizabeth, consort of crown King George VI of the United Kingdom, and part of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.
Like all significant jewels, the Koh-i-Noor diamond has its share of legends. This particular stone is reputed to bring misfortune or death to any male who wears or owns it - a claim which its history has, so far, not disproven. Conversely, it is reputed to bring good luck to women owners. It is, by legend, worth the amount of wealth generated around the whole world in seven days.