The mystery that hung over the origin of the pearl doubtless added to its estimation. Pliny says it was produced by the dews of heaven falling into the open shell at the breeding-time. The quality varied with the amount of dew received, being lustrous if that was pure, dull if it were foul; cloudy weather spoilt the colour, lightning stopped the growth, but thunder made the shell-fish miscarry, and eject hollow husks, called bubbles (physemata). The same writer twits the ladies for their passionate fondness for pearl earrings. He relates that the shoal of pearl-oysters had a king, distinguished by his age and size, exactly as bees have a queen, wonderfully expert in keeping his subjects out of harm's way; but if the divers once succeeded in catching him, the next, straying about blindly, fell an easy prey. Though defended by a bodyguard of sharks, and dwelling amongst the rocks of the abyss, they cannot be preserved from ladies' ears.
Mandeville, whose ideas on precious stones are partly taken from Pliny, alluding to the diamond, says, "For right as the fine pearl congeals and grows great by the dew of Heaven, right so doth the true diamond; and right as the pearl by its own nature takes roundness, so the diamond by virtue of God takes squareness."
Benjamin of Tudela says:- "In these places" (about Kathipha, in the Indian Sea) "the stone called bdellius is found made by the wonderful workmanship of Nature. For on the twenty-fourth of the month Nisan a certain dew falleth down into the waters, which, being gathered, the inhabitants wrap up together, and being fast closed, they cast it into the sea, that it may sink of its own accord to the bottom of the sea; and in the middle of the month Tisri, two men being let down into the sea by ropes unto the bottom, bring up certain creeping worms, which they have gathered, into the open air, out of which (being broken and cleft) these stones are taken."
Purchas conjectures that the story of pearls by some fabler was thus corrupted to this statement.
Some consider bdellium, which is mentioned in the Scriptures (Genesis and Numbers), as a precious stone, and the Jewish Rabbins, together with some modern commentators, translate it by pearl, but it is more than probable that the pearl was as yet unknown in the time of Moses. Most probably, the Hebrew Bedolach is the aromatic gum bdellium, which issues from a tree growing in Arabia, Media, and the Indies.
According to the poetic Orientals, every year, on the sixteenth day of the month of Nisan, the pearloysters rise to the sea and open their shells, in order to receive the rain which falls at that time, and the drops thus caught become pearls. On this belief the poet Sadi, in his "Bostau," has the following fable:- "A drop of water fell one day from a cloud into the sea. Ashamed and confused at finding itself in such an immensity of water, it exclaimed, 'What am I in comparison of this vast ocean? My existence is less than nothing in this boundless abyss!' While it thus discoursed of itself, a pearl-shell received it in its bosom, and fortune so favoured it that it became a magnificent and precious pearl, worthy of adorning the diadem of kings. Thus was its humility the cause of its elevation, and by annihilating itself, it merited exaltation."
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Precious Stones Vol 11
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