7. The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price. The Formation and Difference of Pearls.
“Again the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a merchant seeking goodly pearls.” 5188 There are many merchants engaged in many forms of merchandise, but not to any one of these is the kingdom of heaven like, but only to him who is seeking p. 417 goodly pearls, and has found one equal in value to many, a very costly pearl which he has bought in place of many. I consider it reasonable, then, to make some inquiry into the nature of the pearl. 5189 Be careful however to note, that Christ did not say, “He sold all the pearls that he had,” for he sold not only those which one seeking goodly pearls had bought, but also everything which he had, in order to buy that goodly pearl. We find then in those who write on the subject of stones, with regard to the nature of the pearl, that some pearls are found by land, and some in the sea. The land pearls are produced among the Indians only, being fitted for signet-rings and collets and necklaces; and the sea pearls, which are superior, are found among the same Indians, the best being produced in the Red Sea. The next best pearls are those taken from the sea at Britain; and those of the third quality, which are inferior not only to the first but to the second, are those found at Bosporus off Scythia. Concerning the Indian pearl these things further are said. They are found in mussels, like in nature to very large spiral snail-shells; and these are described as in troops making the sea their pasture-ground, as if under the guidance of some leader, conspicuous in colour and size, and different from those under him, so that he has an analogous position to what is called the queen of the bees. And likewise, in regard to the fishing for the best—that is, those in India—the following is told. The natives surround with nets a large circle of the shore, and dive down, exerting themselves to seize that one of them all which is the leader; for they say that, when this one is captured, the catching of the troop subject to it costs no trouble, as not one of those in the troop remains stationary, but as if bound by a thong follows the leader of the troop. It is said also that the formation of the pearls in India requires periods of time, the creature undergoing many changes and alterations until it is perfected. And it is further reported that the shell—I mean, the shell of the animal which bears the pearl—opens and gapes, as it were, and being opened receives into itself the dew of heaven; when it is filled with dew pure and untroubled, it becomes illumined and brings forth a large and well-formed pearl; but if at any time it receives dew darkened, or uneven, or in winter, it conceives a pearl cloudy and disfigured with spots. And this we also find that if it be intercepted by lightning when it is on the way towards the completion of the stone with which it is pregnant, it closes, and, as it were in terror, scatters and pours forth its offspring, so as to form what are called “physemata.” And sometimes, as if premature, they are born small, and are somewhat cloudy though well-formed. As compared with the others the Indian pearl has these features. It is white in colour, like to silver in transparency, and shines through as with a radiance somewhat greenish yellow, and as a rule is round in form; it is also of tender skin, and more delicate than it is the nature of a stone to be; so it is delightful to behold, worthy to be celebrated among the more notable, as he who wrote on the subject of stones used to say. And this is also a mark of the best pearl, to be rounded off on the outer surface, very white in colour, very translucent, and very large in size. So much about the Indian pearl. But that found in Britain, they say, is of a golden tinge, but somewhat cloudy, and duller in sparkle. And that which is found in the strait of Bosporus is darker than that of Britain, and livid, and perfectly dim, soft and small. And that which is produced in the strait of Bosporus is not found in the “pinna” which is the pearl-bearing species of shells. but in what are called mussels; and their habitat—I mean those at Bosporus—is in the marshes. There is also said to be a fourth class of pearls in Acarnania in the “pinnæ” of oysters. These are not greatly sought after, but are irregular in form, and perfectly dark and foul in colour; and there are others also different from these in the same Acarnania which are cast away on every ground.
Matt. xiii. 45.417:5189
Cf.Pliny, Nat. Hist. ix. 54, etc.