Famous Gems and Beaded Jewelry: Antony and Cleopatra’s Opal . . . almost!
Here’s my next installment in the famous beaded jewelry and gems series!
Antony and Cleopatra’s Opal
When Caesar was murdered, Marc Antony fought a civil war with his killers. He won (of course!), then summoned the Queen of Egypt to answer for why she hadn’t supported him. Cleopatra knew she had to impress Antony. She didn’t want Egypt and Rome at war.
So Cleopatra, being Cleopatra, made a few arrangements.
She invited Antony to dinner. When he walked in, his jaw dropped at the preparations she’d made for him—hundreds of lights filling the room and hanging from the ceiling, arranged in a way that made the entire room sparkle. It’s said the Queen of Egypt wore opals and beaded jewelry the night their eleven-year love affair began.
The opal had a reputation in the ancient world for being the “queen of gemstones,” because it sparkled with the light of every other gem. In beaded jewelry, opals outshone all other stones.
Meanwhile, the Senator Nonnius had a collection of beaded jewelry which included a priceless opal. One day, he made the mistake of showing it off to Antony. When Antony saw the gem, the lights dancing in it reminded him of the night he’d fallen for Cleopatra. He had to have it. Nonnius refused to sell, but Antony wasn’t the kind of man to be denied. Nonnius knew when he was caught between a rock and a hard place. Rather than face death, he preferred to go into exile and leave all his possessions behind—except the opal.
Giving up one’s home, family and worldly possessions is a pretty extravagant gesture. Either Nonnius really wanted to stick it to Antony, or he truly believed the opal was worth more than his entire beaded jewelry collection, and everything else he had.
I suppose the stone could more properly be called “Nonnius’s opal,” since it was in his beaded jewelry collection, but Antony and Cleopatra have such an allure—like the opal itself—that most people associate it with them.