About a month ago, I irreparably broke my favorite pair of sunglasses. So that you might understand the implications of this event in my life, I should explain, I’m not really what you might call a sunglasses person.
Of course I find them useful when driving west during sunset. And if I’m going to be hanging out poolside in the summer sun for a few hours with the kiddos, I would prefer to do so while wearing a pair, but I am not the type of gal who runs out to buy the season’s hottest shades in a variety of colors to match my closetful of sundresses. I’m not really a sundress person either.
Despite that, I have owned many pairs of sunglasses in my lifetime and because I inevitably lose them, I never spend much money on them. So while I may go through as many pairs as your average Hollywood starlet, they probably don’t match the lone sundress hanging in my closet.
But this broken pair was different. You see after many years of encouragement from eye care professionals, I finally had an optometrist who got through to me. Basically, he told me that if I wanted eye cancer, then by all means, I should keep wearing cheap shades, but that if I preferred to live eye cancer-free I should buy overpriced sunglasses from him.
I bought the sunglasses.
I learned a few things from the experience:
- Unless you need prescription lenses, never ever buy sunglasses from an optometrist. Or maybe it’s just that mine was the Darth Vader of optometry, but yikes, that’s a markup!
- It’s amazing how easy it is to keep track of a pair of sunglasses when it represents more than a casual $10 investment.
- I look much better in a sundress when I’m not squinting.
- A good pair of sunglasses is worth its weight in emeralds.
This last point was even well-understood by Emperor Nero of first-century Rome who, though not described by his contemporaries as a very nice guy, was, according to Pliny the Elder, the proud owner of a nice pair of emerald shades. Or something like them anyway.
Pliny, who wrote about emeralds (in my favorite translation) that “nothing greens greener,” subscribed to the then commonly held notion that the color green was gentle on the eye and that emeralds in particular might aid in the rehabilitation of eyestrain and poor sight. So it stands to reason, then, that Nero who is known to have been nearsighted, might use emeralds, or as some have suggested, one very large emerald as a sort of looking glass to help him see better at gladiatorial contests.
At this point you might be asking, how exactly did that work? Well, I’m not sure it did. First of all, though many sunglass historians (a very narrow field) have claimed Pliny’s reference to Nero’s strange behavior as a part of sunglass history, Pliny seems actually to have suggested that Nero used the emerald as a reflective surface in which to watch the gladiator battles (the first mirrored sunglasses?) rather than as a lens through which to view them.
And then there’s Dr. David Wood, a classics professor at University College Cork in Ireland who had the audacity a few years back to suggest (fairly convincingly) that Pliny just might have misunderstood the whole bit about Nero’s amazing green goggles. The wording used by other historians of the day could have been interpreted to suggest that Nero watched the games through a slit in a curtain (the precursor of 1980’s shutter glasses) in order to hide the fact that he was too busy tweeting to pay attention.
Apparently Pliny (who didn’t seem to like Nero much) didn’t bother checking the facts. In another time, he would have made a decent practical history blogger, or, perhaps, the world’s most celebrated sunglass historian. We may never know for sure whether Nero rocked a great pair of shades, or a stylish monocle, or a weird concave green mirror type thing, because, of course, history lost them.
What I do know for sure is that over the next few weeks, spring will really be in full bloom here and after that will come summer days filled with sunshine, lazy days at the pool, and maybe even a few sundresses. With that in mind I finally ordered a new pair of sunglasses. They are coming from the same company as the broken ones, a very similar style, at about ¼ of the price I paid in Dr. Darth Vader’s office. Regardless of how much I paid for it, though, I remain convinced that a good pair of sunglasses is worth its weight in emeralds.