Opals have a long and storied history, spanning thousands of years. True or not, opal legends and myths are indeed fascinating and add to the uniqueness of our favourite gemstone.
Marc Antony and the opal he coveted
A famous Roman story tells of a magnificent, hazelnut-sized opal that was set in a ring and owned by senator Nonius. Roman General, Mark Antony, was so enthralled by the movement of light and colour in the ring that he coveted it, wanting to gift it to Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt. It was said that the coloured light in the opal reminded him of the night he was seduced by Queen Cleopatra.
‘He found the preparations made to receive him magnificent beyond words, but what astonished him most was the extraordinary number of lights…So many of these, it is said, were let down from the roof and displayed on all sides at once, and they were arranged and grouped in such ingenious patterns in relation to each other, some in squares and some in circles, that they created as brilliant a spectacle as can ever have been devised to delight the eye.’- Plutarch
Mark Antony was said to have offered Nonius several times the two million sesterces the ring was valued at, but to no avail – the senator did not want to part with his beautiful treasure. Nonius chose to be banished from Rome without his family or any of his other possessions rather than be parted from his most highly prized opal.
Ancient legends from around the world
Many cultures have revered the beautiful opal over many thousands of years:
- In some Aboriginal cultures, the opal is said to be deposited by the rainbow serpent from the Dreamtime.
- In Greek mythology, it is said the opal is Zeus’ tears of joy over the victory over the Titans.
- The Aztecs believed the opal to be earthly manifestations of the waters of paradise.
- In India, the opal is said to be the “Goddess of Rainbows” who was so beautiful she turned herself to stone to stop the unwanted advances of other gods.
- In Arabian culture, it is believed to be lightning strikes sent from the heavens to the earth capturing the divine light in the beautiful stone. Perhaps the Arab legends are right. Lightning Ridge is said to have been given its name when a lightning strike struck a shepherd’s flock.