Amethysts, semiprecious stones from the quartz family, have long been an admired item. Throughout history, the gem’s beautiful violet-purple hues have caught the appraising eye of people in all spectrums of society, from commoners to royalty and religious leaders. The supply and demand for amethysts (at least in the region of the Middle East) is thought to have become notable as far back as the Early Dynastic Period of Egypt (very roughly 3150-2600 BCE), when amethyst consumption began to influence the Egyptian economy, as well at the markets of peoples in contact with the Egyptians.
When the stones found a market in ancient Greece, the gem became associated with one of the more interesting gods of the Greek pantheon. The wine-like purple color of the amethyst eventually became closely associated with the deity known as Dionysus. He was a god of vegetation and fertility, with an emphasis in music, dancing and wine, along with all the emotions that come with overindulgence in his lattermost specialty. In the epic poem, Dionysiaca, the Greek-Egyptian poet, Nonnus, wrote that the earth goddess, Rhea, gave Dionysus an amethyst to counteract the effects of alcohol, a substance that Dionysus is rarely (if ever) portrayed without in ancient artworks.
Interestingly, many etymologists believe that the word, amethyst, was derived from an ancient Greek phrase that loosely translated to “not intoxicated” or “not drunken.” In keeping with the stone’s interesting name, and its association with Dionysus, the god of wine, many ancient people allegedly thought that by wearing a ring or an amulet of amethyst, they could somehow resist the intoxicating powers of their alcoholic beverages. With the accessibility of amethysts in today’s market, this is a theory that can be easily tested by curious readers—with responsible moderation, of course. Cheers!
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Top picture attribution: (Dionysus statue in Rome photographed by Derek Key, decked out (through editing) with public domain amethyst jewelry).