Cleopatra and her Pearl

It is said that Cleopatra made a banquet for Antony, the costliness of which excited his astonishment; and, when Antony expressed his surprise, Cleopatra took a pearl ear-drop, which she dissolved in a strong acid, and drank to the health of the Roman triumvir, saying, “My draught to Antony shall far exceed it.” There are two difficulties in this anecdote- the first is, that vinegar would not dissolve a pearl; and the next is, that any stronger acid would be wholly unfit to drink. Probably the solution is this: the pearl was sold to some merchant, whose name was synonymous with a strong acid, and the money given to Antony as a present by the fond queen. The pearl melted, and Cleopatra drank to the health of Antony as she handed him the money. (See “Gresham” in Reader's Handbook.)

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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