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Theophrastus on Lyngurium: Medieval and Early Modern Lore from the Classical Lapidary Tradition

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Abstract:

The ancient philosopher Theophrastus (c. 371-285 BC) described a gemstone called lyngurium, purported to be solidified lynx urine, in his work De lapidibus ('On Stones'). Knowledge of the stone passed from him to other classical authors and into the medieval lapidary tradition, but there it was almost always linked to the 'learned master Theophrastus'. Although no physical example of the stone appears to have been seen or touched in ancient, medieval, or early modern times, its physical and medicinal properties were continually reiterated and elaborated as if it did 'exist'. By the seventeenth century, it began to disappear from lapidaries, but with no attempt to explain previous authors' errors since it had never 'existed' anyway. In tracing the career of lyngurium, this study sheds some light on the transmission of knowledge from the classical world to the Renaissance and the changing criteria by which such knowledge was judged.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/000337900110041371

Affiliations: Department of Social Sciences, Michigan Technological University, 209 Academic Office Building, 1400 Townsend Drive, Houghton, MI 49931, USA

Publication date: October 1, 2001

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