Many of the translations of Classical texts
that might refer to glass should be read with caution. A few
Roman writers freely interchanged the words for glass and
rock crystalhyalos and krystallos, in
Greek; vitrum and crystallina, in Latinpresumably
for literary effect. Thus, in a 3rd century A.D. poem from
Egypt that obviously is describing the visually exciting aspects
of glassblowing, both the words "crystal" and "glass"
are used to describe the material worked upon:
"And the crystal, as it tasted the heat of
the fire, was softened by the strokes of Hephaistos...The glass
received the force of his breath and became swollen out around itself
like a sphere before it...." (Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 3536:
after Stern )
At the same time, some recent translators have
allowed themselves a similar degree of poetic license:
"But the rest of her person has not a hair
growing on it and shines more than amber...or Sidonian crystal
[hyalos]." (Lucian, Affairs of the Heart XXVI)
"Whoever strives, Iulus, to rival Pindar,
relies on wings fastened with wax by Daedalean craft, and is doomed
to give his name to some crystal sea [vitreo ponto]."
(Horace, Odes IV.2)
In each instance, the crossover of words picks
up on the physical properties common to the two materialstransparency
and/or clarity, and their brightness in reflectionand does
not imply any confusion about their relative material value in the
The Craft of Glassblowing
De Universo ms., 15th centruy A.D.
1) Fleming, S.J., 1999: Roman Glass:
Reflections on Cultural Change, Appendix A (Philadelphia: University
of Pennsylvania Museum).
2) Stern, E.M., 1997: "Glass and rock
crystal: a multifaceted relationship," Journal of Roman
Archaeology 10, 192-206.
3) Vickers, M., 1996: "Rock Crystal:
The Key to Cut Glass and Diatreta in Persia and Rome," Journal
of Roman Archaeology 9, 48-65.