problemata

28.

THE FOURTH ITEM INSPECTED: A VESSEL MADE OF BLOWN GLASS AND SILVER, OPENING FROM THE BOTTOM, EQUILATERAL BUT FOR AN ORNAMENTAL FACE AND FILIGREE SPIRALS SUGGESTIVE OF A NAUTILUS SHELL.

Gewgaws of this general design can, at least in theory, be submerged while retaining air, by means of a principle observed by Aristotle (Problemata 32). They date from Antiquity and were originally understood to represent Pumphon, the tutelary deity of pirates (son of Mercury and the Nereid Pontoporia), who would often appear to mortals as the hybrid of an enormous cephalopod and a living ship helmed by mute, stunted figures. Well-preserved examples from the Roman era have been found among the ruins of the ancient canal city of Carqueviscum, in the center of the Black Sea.

SOPHELAIDE.      This odd jar is just like one I had as a child — they could almost be one and the same. I recall an excursion to Draephedusa, along the coast. My sisters and I had a mass of aniseed bonbons to share. I stole their portions and ran and hid in a half-flooded cave. I wasn’t so greedy as all that; I merely wanted a reason to test this magic receptacle, to hide a stolen treasure where no one could find it.

I placed the vessel in a cleft beneath the water line for an hour or so, and to my recollection it kept the candies dry. I also remember several pretty objects, including polished animal skulls, in rows on ledges of rock near the ceiling of the cave. I thought they were toys as well, belonging to someone else. I couldn’t reach them.