Carbuncle (gemstone)

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A red and a blue garnet

A carbuncle /ˈkɑːrbʌŋkəl/ is any red gemstone, most often a red garnet.[1] The word occurs in four places in many English translations of the Bible. The English translation is a rendering of the Vulgate's Latin carbunculus, a word used for a small coal (or charcoal), and also for any of a number of precious or semi-precious stones, especially those of a red color.[2] Jerome apparently chose the term because of its similarity in meaning to the Septuagint's ἄνθραξ (anthrax meaning coal), which was in turn used by the Greek to translate the Hebrew נֹפֶךְ (nōphek) in two of its four occurrences in the Old Testament. The etymology of the Hebrew term is uncertain, though Koehler-Baumgartner suggests a connection to פּוּךְ (phook), used in the Old Testament as a term for eye makup, and probably implying a colored powder most likely made from a crushed mineral.[3] For נֹפֶךְ (nōphek) itself they suggest the gloss "semi-precious stone" (of uncertain color).

Cultural references[edit]

Red garnet
  • Exodus 28:17 and 39:10 both refer to the carbuncle's use as the third stone in the breastplate of the Hoshen.
  • Ezekiel 28:13 is a lamentation on the king of Tyrus: "... every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, ..., and the carbuncle and gold".
  • Isaiah 54:12 uses carbuncle to convey the value of the Lord's blessing [and promise] to His barren woman servant: (KJV Isaiah 54:1) "Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: [... v.5] For thy Maker is thine husband; [... v.12] And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones."
  • Bede says, "Carbuncle, of a red colour, which the eyes love; from a distance it emits splendour, which close up is not seen."[4]
  • The gem is the stolen item in question in the Sherlock Holmes tale "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle."
  • A carbuncle plays a mystic role in Nathaniel Hawthorne's story, "The Great Carbuncle."
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare refers to carbuncles in act 2 scene 2 line 401:
"With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus..."
  • In John Milton's Paradise Lost, Book 9, Satan's eyes are like carbuncles (line 500), an image Milton may have borrowed from the Roman de la Rose[5]
  • Carbuncle is a recurring creature in ongoing video game series Final Fantasy since Final Fantasy V in 1992. While its design ranges from a small, cute mammal to a large terrifying reptile, it always has a red gemstone on its forehead.
  • In Anne Rice's The Witching Hour (novel), Richard Llewellyn shows Aaron Lightner of The Talamasca a "beautiful carbuncle ring".


  1. ^ Shipley, Robert M. Dictionary of Gems and Gemology, 5th edition, Gemological Institute of America, 1951, pp40
  2. ^ Lewis, Charlton T., and Charles Short. Harpers’ Latin Dictionary. New York; Oxford: Harper & Brothers; Clarendon Press, 1891, q.v. carbunculus.
  3. ^ Koehler, Ludwig, Walter Baumgartner, M. E. J. Richardson, and Johann Jakob Stamm. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1999, q.v. נֹפֶךְ and פּוּךְ.
  4. ^ "Carbunculus colore rufeo, quem oculi amant; a longe splendorem spirat, et prope non videtur" (De Duodecim Lapidibus, in Opera, Vol. 3 (Basle, 1563), p. 662).
  5. ^ Mulryan, John (1982). Milton and the Middle Ages. Bucknell UP. pp. 169–72. ISBN 9780838750360. 

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of carbuncle at Wiktionary