Radiating a colorful fire from deep within, the opal has been prized since antiquity. Within its depths one sees the rich variety of colors for which other gems are famed: the purple of amethyst, the red of ruby, the sea green of emerald, as well as gold and silver. The matrix for these sparks ranges in hue from milky white to bright blue to black. Mines in Hungary have produced fine opals since the Middle Ages, but the best modern source for the gem is considered to be Australia. The name of the gem is said to derive from the word ophthalmius, pertaining to the eye, and the stone is valued for its ability to avert evil. In the East, opals are much sought after as amulets to protect the wearer from disease. The stone is also said to improve the eyesight. Any person gazing upon this brilliant gem will be rewarded with beauty.
Leda, beautiful wife of the King of Sparta, attracted the attention of Zeus, king of the Olympian gods. One clay while Leda was bathing on the banks of a river, Zeus changed himself into a swan and seduced her. The same night, she lay with her husband. As a result, two eggs were produced. From one emerged the mortals Castor and Clytemnestra, while from the other came the demi-gods Pollux and Helen, later to be the cause of the Trojan War. The myth of Leda and the Swan has been a favorite theme with artists since antiquity.