Lapis alectorius

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Lapis alectorius in ventriculis gallinaceorum inventus cristallina specie magnitudine fabe et cetera, Plinius et alii alium similem aque limpide dicunt in cerebro caponis antiqui inventum fuisse.


Apparatus:

gallinaceoruʒ (-orum AC fp) AC efp | galinaceorum B | gallinacearum j
cristallina (cri- ejp) AC ejp | cristalĩa B | cristalina f
specie C | spē A efjp | spetie B
dicunt AC j | d͞nt fp | d͞ntur e | om. B
antiqui | antiquitus ms. e
inuentum AC | inuentus B efjp
fuisse AC | fuit efjp | ē seu fuit B
ms. j has a different hand adding in the right-hand margin: vide supra alector

Translation:

Lapis alectorius {"cockerel or capon stone"} is found in the gizzards of cockerels; it looks like rock-crystal, the size of faba {"a bean"}, etc. according to Pliny. And other authors say it is something similar to the colour of clean water and has been found in the brain of an old capon.


Commentary:

ἀλέκτωρ /aléktōr/:
Greek ἀλέκτωρ /aléktōr/ "cockerel" gives rise to the Latin adjective alectorius "pertaining to a cockerel". Lapis alectorius, the "cockerel" or "capon stone" - capon being a castrated cockerel - is part of the late antique and medieval list of stones or animal products viewed as stones that are thought to be endowed with healing and magical properties, cf. e.g. Lapis lincis, Ligurum. The capon stone is probably nothing more than a gravel stone polished in a chicken's gizzard, the second stomach whose function is grinding up food, often with the help of swallowed gravel stones.

Pliny:
The oldest but relatively brief mention of lapis alectorius is found in Pliny, 37, 54, 144, ed. Rackham (1938-63: X.280), from which Simon takes the first part of this entry: Alectorias vocant in ventriculis gallinaceorum inventas crystallina specie, magnitudine fabae,– "they call alectoriae {those stones} that are found in the gizzards of cockerels, in appearance like rock crystal, and the size of faba {"a bean"; end of Simon's quote. Pliny continues:} quibus Milonem Crotoniensem usum in certaminibus invictum fuisse videri volunt – "and people claim that Milo of Croton {a famous gladiator} had become invincible by using this stone in his gladiatorial fights".

Damigeron:
Pliny's statement was repeated and fancifully embellished from then on, especially in Damigeron's De lapidibus, p. 178, XIX. Lapis Alectorius. [[1]]. In Damigeron (2nd c. AD?) the stone colour is in addition to rock crystal also compared to aqua limpida "clean water" and the gladiator's invincibility is now transferred to anyone wearing the stone, furthermore it improves the wearer's character no end and a person's love life.

Isidore of Seville:
in his Etymologiae, book XVI, chapter xiii De Crystallinis, § 18 is more critical than most: Electria/ vl. Electoria, quasi alectoria; in ventriculis enim gallinaciis invenitur, crystallina specie, magnitudine fabae. Hae in certaminibus invictos fieri magi volunt, si credimus - Electria / electoria sounds like alectoria, because it is found in the gizzard of fowl, it looks like rock crystal and has the size of faba {"a bean"}. The magicians claim that this stone makes those in combat invincible, if we are to believe it.

Marbodeus of Rennes:
Later on Marbodeus of Rennes (1035-1123) repeated in hexameters Damigeron's list of the stone's virtues in his book Enchiridion Marbodei Galli de lapidibus preciosis [[2]], [[3]], and he added to it:

Ventriculo galli qui testibus est viduatus
Cum tribus ut nimium/ ad minimum factus spado vixerit annis
Nascitur ille lapis cuius non ultima laus est
Et per bis binos capit incrementa sequentes
Mensuramque fabae crescens excedere nescit
Cristallo similes vel aqua cum limpida paret
Hinc Allectorio nomen posuere priores...

"In the gizzards of a cockerel that has been deprived of his genitals,// Having lived for at least three years before he was made a capon,// Grows that stone whose merit is not to be scorned// And through {additional} twice two {years} to follow {i.e. 7 years} it achieves its {full} growth,// {sc. The stone} Growing the size of a bean {faba}, a size it cannot surpass.// Similar to rock crystal or water that is clean// Hence those before us gave it the name allectorius..."

The Reverend King offers a more poetic translation in King (1860: 393-4) [[4]]

"Not least the glory of the gem renowned//
Within the belly of the capon found, which//
Made an eunuch when three years have flown,//
Through twice two more in swelling bulk has grown;//
Its utmost size no larger than a bean,//
Like purest water or the crystal sheen//
Hence Allectorius is the jewel hight.//

The age when the cockerel should be slaughtered differs from author to author.

It is probably one of these passages Simon had in mind when he speaks of capo antiquus "an old cockerel".

For further reading see Forbes (1973): 48-51. [[5]]

WilfGunther (talk) 11/12/2013

See Allector


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