Bonner, SMA – PDF, 81.
designs on the plates of Chiflet and Capello show clearly enough that spurious gems were no rarity at that period. It evident, however, that Peiresc interpreted the peculiarly shaped vessel as a representation of the uterus, and his actual words are worth recording: “. . . Parecchie volte si vede scolpita la vulva nella medesima forma che sta in questo taglio, cioè come una borza posta sotto sopra, ma perň senza quelle ale di papilione o di mosca, le quali io non ho mai visto se non questo intaglio solo che mi ricordi.” A little farther on he adds that he has always conjectured “che que' raggietti dei lati siano i nervi, cotiledoni, o ligamenti della vulva.” Another conjecture concerning a different detail, the bars or grating usually seen below the mysterious vessel, is erroneous and not worth repeating. It only remains to note that Peiresc seems to have called the organ “divine” merely because on the amethyst forgery it was shown resting on an altar.8
We shall see in due course that several amulets of this type bear inscriptions giving more than a hint of their purpose. One of these has been known so long that it may conceivably have come to the attention of Peiresc. Its present whereabouts are unknown, but it formerly belonged to the library of Sainte Geneviève in Paris; it seems, however, not to have found its way to the Cabinet de Médailles, as some other gems of that collection did.9 It was first published by Du Molinet with some slight and pardonable inaccuracies in his illustration.10 A figure of the Anubis mummy, so often shown on such stones, is given the beak of a bird, and the inscription surrounding the obverse is probably not well copied; but it is near the rim of the stone, where most amulets of this kind, particularly when cut from the usual haematite, are somewhat abraded. In other respects the obverse is a fairly normal specimen of the type and needs no further discussion. But the reverse is inscribed τάσσον τὴν μήτραν τῆς δεῖνα εἰς τὸν ἴδιον τόπον ὁ τὸν κύκλον τοῦ ἡλείου, a sentence which requires comment.
The genuineness of this inscription has been quite unjustifiably impugned; the only excuse for the suspicion is that the skeptics could not have known those peculiarities of the later Greek language which are now familiar to all papyrologists, and particularly to those who have read magical papyri. It
8 Perhaps also because of an inscription on the stone, if the gem sent to Rubens was the same as that described by Peiresc in his letter of July 20 (p. 203 ). But there are difficulties. The stone described on July 20 is “di pietra sanguigna,” that described on July 27 is called amethyst; yet both are spoken of as third in a group of four, the number presented to Rubens, and if Peiresc had at hand in Paris two stones with the uterus design, he would surely have mentioned both. The fact that Rubens sketched only the central feature of the design, which chanced to interest him, proves nothing. He had no time to draw both obverse and reverse with all details. I incline to think that the stones are the same, and that the inconsistency concerning the material is due to a slip on Peiresc's part. At any rate, there is no reason to think that in calling the object “divine” Peiresc was influenced by a memory of Irenaeus (1, 28, 9, ed. Harvey), who says that the Cainite heretics called Hystera the maker of heaven and earth.
9 To me it seems certain that the stone illustrated by Du Molinet (see the next note) is the same as me figured by Koehler (note 14 below) as No. 19 on his plate. Koehler says it was then in the possession of Prince Radziwill. The differences between the two cuts can be explained by some slight “improvements” made by Du Molinet's engraver, and by the indistinctness of the inscription, which, as I suspect, neither illustrator read correctly.
10 Claude Du Molinet, Le Cabinet de la bibliothèque de Sante Geneviève (1692), I, Pl. 29, 1, and p. 126.