Phrixos, modeling a finely-woven himation around his waist, reaches towards his sister Helle as the golden ram carries him away; Fresco from Pompeii, Insula Occidentalis House VI.17, Naples Museum inventory: MANN 8889.

In the Argonautika, the Greek hero Jason goes on a quest with a ship full of heroes to the junction of the Black Sea and the Caucasus to find the Golden Fleece, the glittering pelt of a magic ram. That ram had once rescued a pair of royal twins, Phrixos and Helle, from the deadly designs of their stepmother Ino in the kingdom of Boiotia. The ram began to carry the twins to the kingdom of Colchis, at the eastern end of the Black Sea, but Helle swooned into the channel between Europe and Asia, thus naming the Hellespont. In Colchis, Phrixos sacrificed the ram to to the gods and gave its fleece to King Aietes. Aietes hung the fleece in a tree and set a dragon to guard over it as a guarantee of his wealth and power. Years later, Jason tries to retrieve the fleece in order to reclaim his own Thessalian throne from evil uncle Pelias.

Cashmere goats, from the Times. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Today the soft undercoat of capra aegagrus hircus, from the highlands of Central Asia (northern China and Mongolia), supplies cashmere for Brunello Cucinelli. Recently our friend Marzia and I got a tour behind the scenes of Cucinelli’s production facilities in Solomeo. Here is how hairs 14-15 microns thick (six times finer than a human hair) become fashion gold.

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