Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Ring of Eucrates

Earlier today I read Plutus by Aristophanes. A short while ago I found myself reading The Liar by Lucian.

Although I was amused by what appears to be the origin of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, that is not my main interest in this story.

The character Eucrates owns a very special ring:

'Do you suppose,' asked Eucrates, 'that he is the only man who has seen such things? Plenty of people besides Ion have met with spirits, by night and by day. As for me, if I have seen one apparition, I have seen a thousand. I used not to like them at first, but I am accustomed to them now, and think nothing of it; especially since the Arab gave me my ring of gallows-iron, and taught me the incantation with all those names in it.

These rings made of gallows-iron (nails or iron from a cross!), coffin nails, and other iron associated with the dead and graveyards gave the possessor the ability to command and dismiss spirits.

A little further in the story, Eucrates tells of a time he was confronted by a frightening entity (who he calls Hecate) three hundred feet high with the lower body of a dragon and the upper part and head of a Medusa! But, never fear! He's got a ring...

At the sight of her, I stood stock still, and turned the seal of my Arab's ring inwards; whereupon Hecate smote upon the ground with her dragon's foot, and caused a vast chasm to open, wide as the mouth of Hell. Into this she presently leaped, and was lost to sight.

The Ring of Eucrates, gotten from an Arab, was mighty enough to send Hecate straight to Hell!

Of course I know this is old Greek fiction, but the tall tales and ghost stories in The Liar were based on real stories and beliefs.

The Arab's ring was probably based on a ring or rings Lucian saw. The ring was made of gallows-iron, had a seal and was potent enough to send just about any kind of spirit down to Hades.

Later Arab stories attribute such a ring to King Solomon, but state that Solomon's ring was half brass and half iron with a seal on either side. You can see Lucian was aware of the power these metals have in the following quote:
apparitions, you tell me, take flight at the clash of brass or iron

King Solomon would never make his own ring of gallows-iron, but it is very likely he would have made it of iron. In an old book on rings (which I cannot find right now), I read about many such rings which were not just iron, but magnetized iron.

1 comment:

  1. "By the way, I like your wizard: instead of making all the wealthiest women in love with himself, and getting thousands out of them, he condescends to pick up £15 by rendering Glaucias irresistible."

    -Our Hyperborian friend is indeed wiser than his detractor.