Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Green Legend

The very first emerald in the universe belonged to Lucifer. According to legend, it was the chief jewel of his heavenly crown, glowing brilliantly in the light of the Lord. But then the Troubles came, and Lucifer the Shining became Satan the Adversary, the prideful Fallen Angel, disgraced in the eyes of God, and cast into Hell. But the emerald did not follow its first master. As Satan was hurled into the burning pit, the stone slipped out of his now-tattered crown, and tumbled to Earth—from which it was born anew.

Wise emerald. For this great stone knows it belongs neither to Heaven nor to Hell. It is an earthly creation, sister to the verdant land and green-shining sea. It’s here on Earth that it began its history, a history of grails, goddesses, and conquistadors, a history that is both true and mythical, sometimes both at once. It has the longest history of any major gemstone. From the very beginning it was clear that the emerald, above all other gems, had a significance that surpassed even its surpassing loveliness. It is of course the symbol of spring, love, youth, and rebirth. But it is so much more. SAY

The mystery of the stone begins with its name, whose origins lie as deep as the stone itself. The word “emerald” comes to us ultimately from the Sanskrit word marakata, which simply means “green stone.” It’s a stretch, but there it is. The ancient Egyptian term mafek-en-ma likewise refers simply to a green stone, and was used to describe peridot, malachite, and turquoise as well as emerald. This may seem odd to us, but of course, the Egyptians had no way of scientifically determining the composition of a rock. Besides, for the Egyptians, the most important thing about gemstones was their color, which had a high symbolic value in their culture. And green, of course, is the defining characteristic of emerald, just as hardness (not sparkle) is the defining characteristic of diamond.

The “emerald” word traveled along through the Persian zamarrad and Arabic zumurrud through the Greek smaragdos (again meaning simply “green”). The connection between the Sanskrit marakata and the Greek smaragdos can be seen if you look carefully.

From smaragdos, it’s a pretty straight shot to the Latin smaragdus to the Middle English esmeralde. Stop along the way for the Spanish esmeralda and the French emeraude, also the name of that lovely evening perfume. The Germans tried very hard to transform smaragdos into their own language, and for a while were stuck with schmaragt, a word which eventually back-evolved into Smaragd. It may be difficult to pronounce, but it harks back nicely to its Greek roots.

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