When ἄσημος can mean silver? (Valens 1.23: οὐσίας δὲ ἀσήμου καὶ ὑέλου)

gregroz

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ἄσημος has lot of meanings dealing with misshapen, obscurity, not having the required mark or feature.
Later in tradition it can be used to describe uncoined bullion or coins which stamping has worn off. In the context I can see it makes sense.
But when can it be translated as "silver"?

Both translation of Valen's Anthologies (ca. 150+ CE, Alexandria) to English I know of, render this word as "silver". No attached words to it, plus the context of a list of (widely understood) material substances:

οὐσίας δὲ ἀσήμου καὶ ὑέλου.
From the substances/properties [it rules/dominates*] - ἄσημος and glass (or rather: transparent crystals).
* from the previous clause: [κυριεύει]

In other paragraphs analogical clauses numerate: gold, tin, iron, lead, precious stones (first noun) and after it things like: tree, fruit, wheat, stones, clothes, wine, fruit oils, colorful ornaments (or nothing).
On the other hand "shapeless metal" (perhaps gold or silver) makes more sense when paired with glass/crystals.

On what basis do we judge the meaning ἄσημος here (or anywhere)?
« Last Edit: 27 Feb, 2015, 22:30:53 by billberg23 »


billberg23

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Since Valens is writing in the 2nd cent. C.E., I'd look for the meanings that were more current in his era.  Cf. LSJ:

ἄσημος, Dor. ἄσᾱμος, ον,
without mark or token, ἄ. χρυσός uncoined gold, bullion, or plate, Hdt.9.41; ἄ. χρυσίον, ἀργύριον, Th.2.13,6.8, Alex.69; freq. in Inscrr., opp. ἐπίσημον, IG1.170.6, 2.652B22, etc., cf. Luc.Cont.10; also of cattle, not branded, IG7.3171; of persons, without distinguishing marks (e. g. οὐλαί), PGrenf.1.27.7, al.; ἄ. ὅπλα arms without device, E.Ph.1112: generally, shapeless, formless, Opp.C.3.160.
later τὸ ἄσημον (sc. ἀργύριον) plate, silver, LXXJb.42.11, AP11.371 (Pall.); μέταλλα ἀσήμου silver-mines, Ptol.Geog.7.2.17: also, = electron, alloy of gold and silver, or an imitation thereof, Ps.-Democr.Alch.p.49 B., etc.:—masc. ἄσημος, ὁ, PLeid.X.6, al.
of sacrifices, oracles, and the like , unintelligible, χρηστήρια Hdt.5.92.β; χρησμοί A.Pr.662; ἄ. ὀργίων μαντεύματε S.Ant.1013.
leaving no mark, indistinct,
to the hearing, πτερῶν γὰρ ῥοῖβδος οὐκ ἄ. ἦν ib.1004; of sounds and voices, inarticulate, unintelligible, ἄσημα φράζειν Hdt.1.86; ἄ. κνυζήματα Id.2.2; ἄσημα βοῆς, = ἄσημος βοή, S.Ant.1209.
without significance, meaningless, [τοῦ διπλοῦ ὀνόματος] τὸ μὲν ἐκ σημαίνοντος καὶ ἀσήμου Arist.Po.1457a33, Rh.1405a35; ἄσημα τρίζειν, of a mouse, Babr.108.23; μόριον Stoic.2.46; λέξις Simp. in Ph.1164.4.
to the eye, ἄσημον ἔχειν μυελόν Arist.PA652a1: generally, πρὸς τὴν αἴσθησιν -ότερα Id.Aud.802a14.
generally, unperceived, unnoticed, A. Ag.1596, S.Ant.252; ἀσήμων ὑπὲρ ἑρμάτων hidden, sunken rocks, Anacr.38.
of persons, cities, etc., of no mark, obscure, insignificant, οὐκ ἄ. E.HF849, cf. Ion8; νὺξ οὐκ ἄ. a night to be remembered (being a feast), Antipho 2.4.8; τὸ τῆς πατρίδος ἢ τοῦ γένους ἄσημον Phld.Sto.Herc.339.16.
Adv. -μως without leaving traces, Hp.Epid.1.1, Morb.Sacr.11; ἀ. πορεύεσθαι X.Cyn.3.4; ἀ. καὶ κενῶς φθέγγεσθαι inarticulately, Theopomp.Hist.250.
ignobly, οὐκ ἀ. D.S.5.52, Hdn.1.10.4.


I suppose one obvious reason for translating ἄσημος as "silver" in Valens' context is that he seems to have arranged his metals in a descending order of nobility, with gold first, then ἄσημος, then tin, iron, copper.
« Last Edit: 27 Feb, 2015, 22:39:02 by billberg23 »



gregroz

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Thank you, again, billberg23, four your high engagement with the source text.

I did consult LSJ and couple other sources, but I cannot assess the scope of each definition-description. I am assuming that "later" usage means = "Hellenistic or Greco-Roman/Ptolemaic", also each description dealing with "silver" is not clear to me (I have a feeling that it is presented as "later sometimes ...", not as "later it usually means" - that kind of confusions based on the confined "beginner's exposure" with reference dictionaries.

I already agreed with all you said, and those sources were ones that have left me puzzled.

* *

I've researched books on Egyptian, Hellenistic & Greco-Roman-Egyptian, Roman, Byzantine, Jewish and Renaissance alchemy - and the authors do not mix or confuse “silver" (ἄργυρος) with ἄσημος/asemos/asem (Jewish writers form Abu Ma'shar times for example leave such words transcripted to venecular alphabet, not translated, due to either ambiguity of them or inner-secrecy attempt).
Asam is an Egyptian natural (but also produced artificially) alloy of gold and silver also know as electrum. According to one source it was second to number one precious metal in Egypt (after gold), because silver in Egypt was scarce.
I won't bother you with 6 pages of references I compiled today.

Silver is typically assigned to the Moon - true.
But: Egyptians used a silver- or gold-and-silver alloy almost on par with gold.
Asum/Electrum was often used for drinking vessels, coins, permutations of metals (multiplying quantity of gold, silver, etc. and imitating purity of them), a symbolic marriage of gold and silver, "often know as green gold" (Valen's Moon rules: changes, household, household objects, imitations, marriage, green colour).


Some scholars of Sanskrit writing interpret the name of god (and devine drink) Soma (one of the names for the Moon in Indian astrology) as being the same as Asem (Soma, Soma maal < Asem/Asemos), hence the symbol of transfiguration.


Is there a smart way to perform a corpus comparison search for Alexandrian Egypt region and Valen's period to compare the occurrences of frequency of the usage of "gold" and asemos?
Or in other words, to see if the word ἄργυρος somehow lost its use in favour of ἄσημος in Ptolemaic Egypt (being a colloquial word for silver)?

Or other trope: How possible is the usage of ἄσημος instead of ἄργυρος to stair away from the meaning "money" (of ἄργυρος), but with no intention to mean alloy. Or not seeing such difference, some books suggested that the Greeks did not know the difference between alloys and pure metals (unless interested in alchemy or real value of minerals in general).

Best regards
G


billberg23

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The LSJ entry for ἄργυρος would seem to indicate that the word in later times mostly signified money, or at least silver coinage, as opposed to pure metal:
ἄργῠρος, ὁ, (ἀργός A)
white metal, i.e. silver, ἐξ Ἀλύβης ὅθεν ἀργύρου ἐστὶ γενέθλη Il.2.857; so πηγὴ ἀργύρου A.Pers.238, etc.; ἄ. κοῖλος silver plate, Theopomp.Hist.283a, Arist.Oec.1350b23, etc.
ἄ. χυτός quicksilver, Id.de An.406b19, Mete.385b4, Thphr.Lap.60.
= ἀργύριον, silver-money, generally, money, A.Supp.935; ἐπ' ἀργύρῳ γε τὴν ψυχὴν προδούς S.Ant.322; εἴ τι μὴ ξὺν ἀργύρῳ ἐπράσσετ' by bribery, Id.OT124; in later Prose, coupled with χρυσός, Ev.Matt. 10.9, Alciphr.2.3.

— which may have led to the use of ἄσημος to "sometimes" designate the pure metal.
On the other hand, your suggestion of "electrum" sounds plausible to me!
In the meantime, I am no expert in this field;  it looks as if you've done your research well, consulting every conceivable expert.



gregroz

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Yes, now it's as clear as it can be without personal speculation.
Either "unmarked silver(ish) (metal or alloy - I don't know the difference)"
or "electrum"
or "gold/silver alloy"
or a deliberate or unaware mixture of some of these (Anthologies were probably written just for the close group of students, and "natural science" of designations and typologies of animals, plants and substances is not the element of approach here).

You've helped me a lot to position my pursuits with really appreciated and very human-like standard context, so I know how far not to stretch in looking for answers and similarities. Seriously, take my compliment :)


 

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