How to describe some thing valuable that could be gained from an unexpected place? I heard a Persian Idiom that could be appropriate for this case:

a treasure in a ruin.

Is there any equivalent idiom or phrase for that?


9 Answers 9


Thanks to @Mazura for the thorough research (+1), in Persian literature The man of God is a treasure in a ruin means that a pious/virtuous human is as valuable as a treasure and very reliable in difficulties. So, this is not the case where we use the idiom , however we may say (s)he is as worthy as a treasure in a ruin.

As another (less) probable source for the idiom, below is a poem from another great Persian poet "Sa'di" (alongside with "Ferdowsi, the Great", "Rumi" and "Hafez"):

If livelihood were increased by knowledge /None would be more needy than the ignorant.

Nevertheless the ignorant receive a livelihood/At which the learned stand aghast.

The luck of wealth consists not in skill/ But only in the aid of heaven.

It happens in the world that many / Silly men are honoured and sages despised.

If an alchemist has died in grief and misery/ A fool discovered a treasure amidst ruins.

(The Gulistan of Sa'di from http://classics.mit.edu/Sadi/gulistan.2.i.html)

  • What's that last one mean? That they've found god after a life of heresy?
    – Mazura
    Aug 20, 2015 at 14:55
  • Which part you are pointing out?
    – Eilia
    Aug 20, 2015 at 14:58
  • Alchemist dies / fool discovers. These are the same person?
    – Mazura
    Aug 20, 2015 at 14:58
  • 1
    The poet wants to say some of achievements are not closely related to the effort and in some cases it's up to the luck. For example, inheriting a million dollars from some long-lost aunt. As you probably know, Alchemist means chemist and historically it refers to who try to turn metal into gold.
    – Eilia
    Aug 20, 2015 at 15:10

There is the idiom of a diamond in the rough:

someone or something whose good qualities are hidden This film is one of those diamonds in the rough, a wonderful gem that almost no one has noticed.

Etymology: based on the idea that you cannot see the beauty of a diamond (jewel) when it is rough (not yet cut and filled with brightness)
The Free Dictionary by Farlex

An uncut diamond doesn't look much different from ordinary quartz, as illustrated by the picture below of the 253-carat Oppenheimer Diamond.

Source: Wikipedia (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bd/DiamanteEZ.jpg)

  • Quite right, but also very simply hidden treasure as jxh points out.
    – Fattie
    Aug 18, 2015 at 17:17
  • 1
    Except, @JoeBlow, of jxh's two answers, I think this is the better one because a hidden treasure doesn't have the added component of being found in an unexpected place such as a ruins as OP described. Aug 18, 2015 at 18:51
  • Except that, in the context of the full idiom, this would equate geologists with god. Both of whom would know exactly what they're looking at.
    – Mazura
    Aug 21, 2015 at 5:10
  • I treat an idiom as how it is used, not how it originated. The point is a valuable thing is discovered when it was always there but overlooked. The Persian idiom was presented as one that would be used for that situation.
    – jxh
    Aug 21, 2015 at 5:34

A lily among thorns.

Something positive that stands out from the negative {snakeeyedbarbie at Yahoo! Answers}

As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters

Song of Solomon 2:2; KJV

  • 5
    The variation "a rose among thorns" is often used in English. The KJV has "rose of Sharon" in the previous verse, though that may be a mistranslation. Several earlier translations have a non-specific "flower of the field" in verse 2:1.
    – alephzero
    Aug 18, 2015 at 20:18
  • @alephzero because it just makes more sense! Lilies don't have thorns.
    – stevesliva
    Aug 19, 2015 at 4:47
  • 1
    @stevesliva it might make "more sense" but it's unlikely to be what the original Hebrew actually meant (though some enthusiasts for the KJV seem to believe that God only ever "authorized" the English version!). The plant now known as "rose of Sharon" in Europe is not the same species, nor is it a rose. The question as to whether the original text means a lily, a tulip, a crocus, a narcissus, or something else is still open. It is most likely some plant that grows from a bulb, and not a rose.
    – alephzero
    Aug 19, 2015 at 10:13
  • Similar: A light in the darkness.
    – Mazura
    Aug 21, 2015 at 5:16

A more literal version would be a treasure trove.


  1. treasure trove - treasure of unknown ownership found hidden (usually in the earth)
    synonym: trove:
    related: hoarded wealth, treasure - accumulated wealth in the form of money or jewels etc.; "the pirates hid their treasure on a small island in the West Indies"

  2. treasure trove - any collection of valuables that is discovered
    "her book was a treasure trove of new ideas"; "mother's attic was a treasure trove when we were looking for antiques"
    related: aggregation, collection, accumulation, assemblage - several things grouped together or considered as a whole



It's funny, the common phrase, today, I think which is honestly closest to just what you mean is simply:

"a real find"

Also, "What a great find." You're talking about the case where you, for example literally, purchase a great thing at a garage sale.


If you are talking about a person, fantasy sports fans and draftniks would refer to such as person as a 'sleeper' edited adding citation

from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sleeper:

noun ... 5. Informal. something or someone that becomes unexpectedly successful or important after a period of being unnoticed, ignored, or considered unpromising or a failure:

The play was the sleeper of the season.

  • add citation please :)
    – Yeshe
    Aug 18, 2015 at 19:42
  • Added citation.
    – pierus
    Aug 19, 2015 at 21:57

For the more general the answer might be a serendipitous find.

Further, the act of finding these things would be called "serendipity"


A less poetic synonym might be "salvage", which means something saved from the wreckage.

  • 1
    Seems not be the answer for this question.
    – Eilia
    Aug 19, 2015 at 13:50

What's the treasure and what's the name of the ruin? It's, The Lost {blank} of {blank}.

E.g., The Lost City of Atlantis or The Lost Jewels of Nabooti


As also found as an answer to some of your similar questions, and in response to your comments here, I'd go with the word andrew submitted for you:

Some thing valuable that could be gained from an unexpected place is serendipitous.

ser·en·dip·i·ty /ˌserənˈdipədē/ noun –Google

the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

However, here's the original translated context of the idiom:

The man of God is drunken without wine,
The man of God is full without meat.
The man of God is distraught and bewildered,
The man of God has no food or sleep.
The man of God is a king 'neath darvish-cloak,
The man of God is a treasure in a ruin.
The man of God is not of air and earth,
The man of God is not of fire and water.
The man of God is a boundless sea,
The man of God rains pearls without a cloud.
The man of God hath hundred moons and skies,
The man of God hath hundred suns.
The man of God is made wise by the Truth,
The man of God is not learned from book.
The man of God is beyond infidelity and religion,
To the man of God right and wrong are alike.
The man of God has ridden away from Not-being,
The man of God is gloriously attended.
The man of God is concealed, Shamsi Din ;
The man of God do thou seek and find!

–Selected Poems from the Divani Shamsi Tabriz. Edited and Translated by R. A. Nicholson Ist published in 1898; rumi.org.uk/divani_shams.htm

And with this context, I submit my interpretation of the full idiom, The man of God is a treasure in a ruin (I think we might have to ask this on philosophy or one or the religious sites, to better understand it in the first place):

The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. –Ezekiel 25:17 UD

Or: Blessed is he, the man of god, who is beset on all sides by evil.

  • 2
    Misconception, the treasure and ruin are metaphors. Treasure is a metaphor for valuable thing and ruin is a metaphor for unexpected place,
    – Rwy5
    Aug 18, 2015 at 22:07
  • @Rwy5 - It makes a little more sense now that, IMO, the "treasure" is a shepherd and the "ruins" are evil men.
    – Mazura
    Aug 20, 2015 at 14:38

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