Maybe you already knew this, but I did not. The purple gemstone Amethyst gets its name from the ancient Greek word “amethustos” (ἀμέθυστος), which means essentially “not intoxicated” or “sober.” Apparently, the Greeks believed that wearing amethyst or drinking from a cup made for it would keep you from getting drunk.
The first mention of this property was by Asclepiades of Samos, a Greek poet born around 320 BCE. He mention amethyst’s sobering qualities in “XXX. Kleopatra’s Ring,” part of “The Windflowers of Asklepiades and the Poems of Poseidippos,” translated by Edward Storer in 1920.
Drunkenness am I — a gem worked by a subtle hand. I am graven in amethyst, and the subject and the stone are ill-assorted.
But I am the precious property of Kleopatra, and on the finger of a Queen even “drunkenness” should be sober.
Even Plato the Younger “mentions amethyst in connection with drinking” in one of his epigrams, to wit. “The stone is an amethyst; but I, the tipler Dionysus, say, ‘Let it either persuade me to be sober, or let it learn to get drunk.'” Later, Pliny the Elder discusses this superstition in his Natural History, knowing even then it didn’t work. “The falsehoods of the magicians would persuade us that these stones are preventive of inebriety, and that it is from this that they have derived their name.”
There is also a Greek myth that explains amethyst, though it was not written until much, much later, by the French poet Remy Belleau (1528–1577). It comes from a collection of his poetry entitled “Les Amours et Nouveaux Eschanges des Pierres Precieuses: Vertus & Proprietez d’icelles, ” which translates as “The loves and new transformations of the precious stones: their virtues and properties.” According to the account in Wikipedia.
Bacchus, the god of intoxication, of wine, and grapes was pursuing a maiden named Amethyste, who refused his affections. Amethyste prayed to the gods to remain chaste, a prayer which the chaste goddess Diana answered, transforming her into a white stone. Humbled by Amethyste’s desire to remain chaste, Bacchus poured wine over the stone as an offering, dyeing the crystals purple
Variations of the story include that Dionysus had been insulted by a mortal and swore to slay the next mortal who crossed his path, creating fierce tigers to carry out his wrath. The mortal turned out to be a beautiful young woman, Amethystos, who was on her way to pay tribute to Artemis. Her life was spared by Artemis, who transformed the maiden into a statue of pure crystalline quartz to protect her from the brutal claws. Dionysus wept tears of wine in remorse for his action at the sight of the beautiful statue. The god’s tears then stained the quartz purple.
And here’s another account of the myth, from Crystal Vaults.
The wine god Bacchus, angry over an insult and determined to avenge himself decreed the first person he should meet would be devoured by his tigers. The unfortunate mortal happened to be a beautiful maiden named Amethyst on her way to worship at the shrine of Diana. As the ferocious beasts sprang, she sought the protection of the goddess and was saved by being turned into a clear, white crystal. Bacchus, regretting his cruelty, poured the juice of his grapes over the stone as an offering, giving the gem its lovely purple hue.
Crystal Vaults continues:
Throughout history the special virtue of Amethyst has been that of preventing drunkenness and overindulgence. Ancient Greeks and Romans routinely studded their goblets with Amethyst believing wine drunk from an Amethyst cup was powerless to intoxicate, and a stone worn on the body, especially at the navel, had a sobering effect, not only for inebriation but in over-zealousness in passion. Catholic bishops also wore Amethyst in a ring to protect from mystical intoxication. Kissing the ring kept others from similar mystical intoxication and kept them grounded in spiritual thought.
L’Amethyste by Alphonse Mucha, from the Precious Stones series, 1900
Another History and Lore of Amethyst tells it this way.
According to Greek mythology, Amethyst was a young virgin who became the object of wrath of the Greek God Dionysus after he became intoxicated with red wine. When Amethyst cried out to Goddess Diana for help, she immediately turned the girl into a white, shimmering stone (quartz). When Dionysus realized what had happened and felt remorse for his actions, his tears dripped into his goblet of red wine. The goblet overturned, and the red wine spilled all over the white rock, saturating it until it became the purple quartz that is now known as Amethyst.
The name amethyst derives from the ancient Greek word amethustos, meaning sober. It was said that an amethyst could prevent the bearer from becoming excessively drunk and also instills a sober and serious mind. It was believed that if a person drank from a cup or goblet made entirely of amethyst, he or she would not get drunk at all. In Greek mythology, amethyst was rock crystal dyed purple by the tears of Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry. Ancient Egyptians used the stone as the representative of the zodiac sign of the goat. The goat was considered the enemy of vines and vineyards, and therefore the antidote of wine.
I should have realized this before, but the Amethyst Initiative — an effort by 136 chancellors and presidents of universities and colleges across the United States to lower the drinking age which drive illegal drinking underground, making it more dangerous and risky than if it were legal — was named for its mythology, making it “a meaningful symbol for this initiative, which aims to encourage moderation and responsibility as an alternative to the drunkenness and reckless decisions about alcohol that mark the experience of many young Americans.”
So that’s interesting bit of historical trivia. I may have to wear some amethyst just in case. It can’t hurt, can it? Also, I can’t help but ask if anybody else remembers this Amethyst, from the 1980s?
That one was about Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld, a 13-year old girl so I don’t think getting drunk came up very often throughout its short run (though she was recently brought back by DC last year).