Friday, January 20, 2017

The Lycurgus Cup

The Lycurgus Cup is a piece of Roman glass made around 300 CE. Its name comes from the carving, which shows the mythical King Lycurgus. Lycurgus tried to kill Ambrosia, a follower of the god Dionysus, but in response to her prayers she was transformed into a vine that twined around the king and strangled him. When the cup is not lit from the back, so that all you see is reflected light, it is green.

But when light shines through it, the color changes dramatically.

The color change is caused by tiny particles of gold and silver in the glass. Nobody knows how this was done or if the makers even understood very well what they were doing; most so-called "dichroic" Roman glass has the property very unevenly. But they sure got it right this time.

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