Friday, August 6, 2010
Cleopatra Drank a Pearl and Won a Bet
From Discovery News
How Cleopatra Won Her Bet
Cleopatra and Marc Antony settled a wager more than 2,000 years ago. Now, a researcher believes she figured out how the Egyptian queen won the bet.
By Rossella Lorenzi
Tue Aug 3, 2010 07:00 AM ET
Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt, might have indeed drunk a pearl cocktail in a gulp, an experimental study has concluded.
Legend has it that, in order to show her wealth and power, Cleopatra VII (69 B.C. - 30 B.C.) made a bet with her lover -- the Roman leader Marc Antony -- that she could spend 10 million sesterces on one meal.
"She ordered the second course to be served. In accordance with previous instructions, the servants placed in front of her only a single vessel containing vinegar. ... She took one earring off, and dropped the pearl in the vinegar, and when it was wasted away, swallowed it," Roman naturalist and philosopher Pliny the Elder (23 - 79 A.D.) wrote in his Natural History.
Indeed, the pearl was not just any pearl. Pliny called it "the largest in the whole of history," a "remarkable and truly unique work of nature" worth 10 million sesterces.
Although the account was considered credible in antiquity, modern scholars have dismissed the story as fiction.
Giving ancient sources the benefit of the doubt, classicist Prudence Jones of Montclair State University in New Jersey experimented with vinegar and a five-carat pearl to find out whether the acetic acid concentration is sufficient to dissolve calcium carbonate.
Rest of article.