Monday, March 21, 2022

Five gemstone stories that are actually ancient

As I have announced earlier, my A to Z Challenge theme this year will be Gemstone Folklore. Last week, I blogged about stories that are - to the best of my knowledge - not actually ancient or traditional. To bring the sour mood back up, I put together this list of actual old stories that deal with shiny things. 


Five shiny gemstone stories that are actually folklore

For the April challenge I have been collecting stories that feature one specific precious stone each. But there are quite a few that are more colorful than that. So, here are my favorite tales and legends about assorted shiny things. Links in the titles.

Descending into the Underworld, Gilgamesh takes the path that the sun takes at night. Stepping through the gates guarded by scorpion-men, he travels for twelve hours in darkness before arriving to the garden of the gods. "The carnelian tree was in fruit, hung with bunches of grapes, lovely to look on. A lapis lazuli tree bore foliage, in full fruit and gorgeous to gaze on." A carob-like tree was made of "abashmu-stone, agate, and hematite." The fragmented text lists coral and a few other stones we can't identify, such as pappardilu (maybe a banded form of agate) and sasu. "Instead of thorns and briars, there grew stone vials." It is a small, but enchanting detail in one of the world's oldest epics.

In this classic story from the Thousand and One Nights, Sindbad accidentally ends up in a deep valley where the ground is covered in diamonds. Merchants who covet the stones throw down large slabs of raw meat, waiting for the giant Roc birds to fly down and pick them up, along with the diamonds stuck to them. The merchants then climb to the birds' nests and gather the stones. Sindbad uses this trick to get out of the valley, with his pockets full of diamonds.
(Sindbad also encounters a river filled with precious stones on an island, possibly Sri Lanka, on his sixth voyage.)

This story is only the most well-known iteration of a very old, international tale type called...

Gemstone Mountain

I once did a whole lot of research into this story type (ATU 936). It can be found all along the Silk Road, with sources stretching from China to Greece. It usually involves a man who is tricked by a merchant into flying to the top of a dangerous mountain (sewed into the raw skin of an ox, carried by a large bird) to pick up the gemstones lying around up there. The merchant, after the man tosses the stones down to him, walks away, and the protagonist of the story has to find a long and adventurous way off the mountain.

For the past two millennia, various legends and tales have attached themselves to the figure of Alexander the Great. Among them one of the most well-known is Alexander's search for the Water of Immortality. This usually leads him into the Land of Darkness, where nothing can be seen. He never actually finds immortality, but his soldiers pick up some pebbles along the way. Returning to the land of light, they realize that the "pebbles" they collected are diamonds, rubies, chrysolites, and all kinds of precious stones. They all mourn not having picked up more. This story appears in various oral traditions, e.g. in Serbia.

Dup Raj (India)

A maharajah has a dream about a magical tree that has "a foot of silver, trunk of gold, branches of diamond, leaves of pearls, and fruit of rubies." He sends out his seven sons to find it, but only the youngest succeeds. He visits five kingdoms, and meets five queens (of silver, gold, diamond, pearl, and rubies respectively), and discovers that the five of them dancing together can transform into the magical tree. On the way home his brothers try to steal his brides,but in the end the hero prevails. (In another version the tree has a trunk of silver, branches of gold, leaves of emeralds, and pearls for fruit.)

King Laurin's Rose Garden (Tyrol)

This medieval hero legend exists in several versions both in German sources, and the oral traditions of the Dolomites. It tells of a dwarf king, Laurin, who marries a human woman. Her family declines to believe she was not kidnapped, and a band of famous knights go to Laurin's rose garden to fight him. What results is an epic misunderstanding with mistakes made on both sides, that almost ends in all-out war between humans and dwarfs. The legends give a lot of splendid desciptions of Laurin's kingdom filled with precious stones, and the gemstones used in his armor.

The A to Z Challenge starts next week! Are you excited? Are you participating? Drop a link in the comments!


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  2. Wow this is very interesting. Looking forward to read the posts!

  3. I always enjoy your theme, and this year is no different! I'm not participating in the challenge this year, but will try to visit as often as possible.