Friday, June 17, 2011

Voltaire and the Tiny Diamond in the Rough

Voltaire (1694-1778)
French philosopher and author


Il y avait autrefois un grain de sable qui se lamentait d'être un atome ignoré dans le désert; au bout de quelques années il devint diamant, et il est à présent le plus bel ornement de la couronne du roi des Indes.

From Zadig ou la Destinée, histoire orientale (1752), Voltaire, éd. Flammarion, coll. Librio, 2004, chap. « Le Brigand », p. 43 via"Voltaire," Wikiquote


Portrait of Voltaire (1778 copy by Catherine Lusurier of 1718 work by Nicolas de Largillière; currently in the Musée national des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon) via Wikimedia Commons


There was once upon a time a grain of sand which grieved that it was an unknown atom in the desert; when some years had passed it became a diamond and it is at present the most beautiful ornament in the crown of the king of Indies.

(Translation — off-the-cuff so caveat lector — mine.)


I'll leave you to puzzle out the meaning for yourself; from the scientific perspective I must say, to have been formed from a single speck of sand that diamond and the crown with it must be the tiniest in the history of jewels. India's emperors must have introduced electron microscopes to enable the processing and setting. Besides, of course sand in the desert is not coal and so even under high pressure it would at best come out as psammite.

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