Ancient Sources

The only extensive extant attempt on the part of an ancient author to impart literary information in regard to furniture was made by the Greek lexicographer Pollux, who lived in the second century A. D. In his subject dictionary, embracing many phases of public and private life, is a collection of words and quotations from earlier writers apropos of beds and their furnishings.1 These follow one another with few explanations, and their meanings are in many cases obscure. Explicit and detailed definitions after the manner of a Century Dictionary did not enter into Pollux's conception of his task. In the treatise on the Latin language by Varro (116-27 B. C.),a parts of which are preserved, are some fantastic ideas about the derivations of words referring to beds. Only the late lexicographers—Isidorus (seventh century A. D.), Suidas (tenth century A. D.), and those followed by Stephanus—give proper definitions. Their opinions are often helpful, especially when they support them by passages from earlier authors; otherwise there is always the possibility that usage may have changed since classical times.

Aside from the sections pertaining to beds in the works just named, there are numerous incidental references in ancient literature, which are mostly, however, tantalizing from the point of view of any one interested in this class of antiquities. For instance, the dream recounted by Cicero3 of an egg suspended from the cords of a bedstead does not leave one any the wiser as to the appearance of beds or the method of cording them. There is not in all later literature another so detailed description of a bed as the Homeric one of the bed of Odysseus yet that is altogether indefinite in regard to design and technic. Some passages such as that just referred to give information about the materials used in constructing beds or the makes of beds and furnishings which were famous in antiquity. Otherwise, except for the names applied to beds or their several parts or furnishings,5 the literary sources yield little.

Even this is more than literature affords for some other branches of ancient industrial art, as for instance the potter's; but the want of full literary evidence is felt more in this case because the monumental evidence also is far from satisfactory, monumental

1 Onomastikon, VI, 9 ff., and x, 32 ff. Philologists have yet something to do in determin-

2 De Lingua Latina; see Book V, 35, 166-68. in8 with exactitude the usage of these

3 De Div II 1 words. It is to be hoped that such useful articles e tv.j , 134. ^ those of Professor Anderson and Professor Mau,

4 See P- 39» n- defining fulcrum, may be followed by others (see

5 On pp. 109 ff. is given a table of terminology, p. in, n. 16).

A student of Greek vases can never at least be at a loss to know how the subjects of his researches looked, since they have survived in vast quantities to the present day, even though he may not know all that he would like to about the standing of potters in Athens and kindred questions. But in the investigation of ancient beds, as will appear, there are many fundamental problems of form and construction to which the ancient sources, literary and monumental taken together, do not furnish adequate answers.

Brief Summary of A bronze Etruscan bed exists from the seventh century B. C.1 Then there is a Evtäna*01 break until the middle of the third century B. C., from which time we have parts of a single bed. There is another bed from about 200 B. C., possibly the original Pieces only one from the second century. Extant beds or parts of beds dating from the centuries immediately preceding and following Christ's birth are numerous, but at some time, possibly as late as in the second century A. D., the series breaks off. Full-sized Repro- Next to the real article, which is abundant only for a limited period, the best evi-ductions dence in regard to Greek and Roman beds is derived from full-sized reproductions in marble or terra-cotta, of which there are not a few ranging in date from the sixth century B. C. to the third or fourth century A. D. There are also other terra-Smaiier Reproduc- cotta couches of varying size down to numerous small ones under 40 cm. in length, Round11 thC which kst zxe chiefly from the Hellenistic period. Otherwise dependence must be placed upon relief sculpture, wall-paintings, and vase decorations in which beds appear. The reliefs are the principal source of information in regard to late Roman beds (second century and later), and they give occasional aid throughout Reliefs, Paintings the entire time under consideration. Etruscan wall-paintings of the sixth and fifth on Wails and centUries B. C. show couches of the period of the paintings. Wall decorations of Roman date cannot be taken as evidence for contemporary forms (see the next paragraph). Vase-paintings are of the greatest importance for the sixth and fifth centuries B. C.

The extant original beds and parts of beds are comparable, so far as they go, to the material at the disposal of one studying pottery. Like the vases, they are often incomplete and difficult of interpretation, but there is a greater chance of arriving at the facts with the objects of inquiry actually before one. As soon as recourse is had to ancient reproductions all kinds of allowances must be made. Difficulties in Us- The few full-sized reproductions in the round are most helpful because they give ing Monumental ^ details and proportions of a design with greater accuracy. Yet even here there is the possibility of modifications from the every-day beds which were the models,

1 A few fragmentary remains of pieces of furni- from G. and A. Körte, Gordion: Ergebnisse der ture—one a bed—found in a tomb of the seventh Ausgrabung im Jahre 1900 (Jahrb., Ergänzungshejt century B. C. are mentioned in the preliminary F), p. 49, it appears that the remains of the so-

report of the excavations at Gordion in Asia Minor called k\Lvrj were too slight to be of any value for

(Jahrb., Vol. XVI [1901], Anz.y p. 8). However, this study.

due to the medium of reproduction; this is particularly likely in a transference of forms into stone.1 For the same reason one may not be sure always what the materials were in the structure reproduced. The smaller the reproduction, as a rule, the less one gets of details. The small terra-cotta given in the frontispiece is a happy exception to this rule; if we possessed even one such for each century covered in this dissertation, there would be fewer doubtful points. Yet all reproductions in the round, however sketchy, have an advantage over those on flat surfaces in giving with greater probability the proportions and general lines of a design. In using later reliefs and wall-paintings, those which are copied directly from earlier productions or are more or less eclectic must be carefully distinguished from those (Roman soldiers' gravestones, for instance) which may be trusted to show forms of the period in which they were made. With regard to vase-paintings, which in the number of the representations of beds which they furnish are far in excess of all other classes of reproductions, there are two important questions; viz., how far allowance must be made for artistic conventions, and how far the relative frequency with which certain forms appear on the vases is a guide to the relative frequency of their actual use. Often it is impossible to control the evidence in these particulars.®

It may be of interest to consider how these beds, both the originals and the various antique reproductions with which we have to deal, stood in relation to the every-day life of the periods which they represent. The Greek and Roman bed or couch had a double importance in that it was used for reclining at meals as well as for sleeping. There is nothing to indicate that there was any differentiation in form in accordance with difference of function in the Greek period. Couches for both purposes are called by the common name k\Ivou, and probably in many instances the same structure was used both for dining and sleeping. In Italy there is a distinct name for the sleeping-couch as distinguished from the banquet couch,3 but it is probable that the differences were minor ones.4 We hear in Latin literature also of couches for reading and writing.5 The surviving couches and parts of couches

1 Cf. the question raised on p. 95.

2 An instance of a recognizable artistic convention is seen on black-figured vases and red-figured vases of the severe style in the side-view of thrones having rectangular, incised legs. This class of throne is frequent enough in reproductions in the round from the Branchidae statues down to late forms such as that shown in the tailpiece of chap. 4 to prove that the legs presented invariably a broad ornamented front and a narrow unornamented side. Yet on the vases in question the most ornate and advanta geous view of the legs is given even when the chair is seen from the side, a front-view of the legs being thus combined with a side-view of the rest of the chair.

3 The first, lectus cubictdaris; the second, lectus tricliniaris.

4 See on p. 33 the statements in regard to headrests and foot-rests on sleeping and banquet couches.

s Lecticula lucubratoria, Suet., Aug. 78; M. Girard (Girard, p. 1022) calls attention to the fact that this passage proves the study-couch to be a piece of furniture distinct from the bed. Professor of late Greek and Roman date served probably in the main for banqueting;1 there may be among them a few which were used for sleeping. Those found in tombs may or may not have seen actual non-funerary use,2 but, like the marble reproductions in tombs and the terra-cotta cinerary urns in couch form, they represent either dining-couches or sleeping-couches, according to the ideas of the particular tomb cult.3 The marble couch discussed on pp. 93 ff. was not found in a tomb, but in the ruins of the Library at Pergamon. Perhaps it was placed out of doors or in some open colonnade and was used by priests or visitors; or, whatever its position, it may have been sacred to some divinity.4 Most of the small terra-cotta couches of the Hellenistic period and later, and the Roman couches known in reliefs, are structures which seem much more like modern couches and sofas than like modern beds (cf. p. 38). They are narrow, piled up with cushions, and usually have people seated on them conversing, or lying loosely covered upon them. So far as one can judge, they were used to sleep on at night and lounge on in the daytime;5 at least, we have no representations, among these terra-cottas and reliefs, of other

Mau (Mau, col. 371) thinks that diminutives (Ov., Trist., I, 11, 37, and Plin., Ep., V, 5, 5) point to smaller size and remarks that such smaller couches are frequent on the monuments. His further statement, "natürlich musste dieser lectus eine Lehne (plutetiSj Pers., 1,106) haben, die auch dienen konnte, um darauf zu schreiben" does not seem to me to be supported by the monuments. I cannot name any ancient reproduction showing a reclining person actually in the act of reading or writing. While no couches for reading or writing have been identified with certainty, it seems to me not improbable, as Professor Mau suggests, that some of the smaller Roman couches (cj. on point of length, n. 5 and pp. 37, 38) known through monumental evidence may have been used for these purposes. It should be noted, however, that study couches were not invariably designated by the diminutive form; cj. Pers., I, 52, and Sen., Ep.j 72, 2.

1 This opinion is based principally on the circumstances of finding, in a few cases, and the Dionysiac character, more appropriate to a dining-couch than to a sleeping-couch (see pp. 85, 86), of much of the ornament.

3 The bone couch discussed on pp. 102 ff. is far too weak a piece of construction actually to have been used. Such beds were no doubt made expressly to serve as funerary couches. Cf. Pasqui, col. 241.

3 See Plate I, where a recumbent figure in his last sleep is represented, and Fig. 14, where the person is sitting up holding a drinking-vessel. The representation of the deceased banqueting is far more common. Cf. Altman, Architectur und Ornamentik der antiken Sarkophage, pp. 34, 35.

4 Cf. the fourth-century marble reproduction of a couch dedicated to Dione on the Acropolis at Athens (the inscription, Ac\tIo* Apxato\oyiK6pt 1890, p. 145, 3; mentioned, Furtwangler, Masterpieces of Greek Sculpture, p. 429, n. 12), and the representation in stone of a couch dedicated to Asclepius at Epidaurus (Efrnuplt Apx<uo\oyucfif 1883, col. 27, 3, and Furtwangler, loc. cit.). Professor Furtwangler (loc. cit., pp. 429, 430) advances some interesting opinions in regard to the ritual use of real couches which were dedicated in sanctuaries, and cites the dedications at Plataea and in the Parthenon (mentioned here with references to ancient sources on pp. 41 and 54, n. 3), and others noted by Pausanias (II, 17, 3; VIII, 47, 2; X, 32, 12). In the case, however, of the couches dedicated to Hera at Plataea the text does not, to my mind, make certain that these couches were placed within the sanctuary rather than in the adjacent inn.

s But a few couches must have been intended only for waking use, as they are too short to sleep on in comfort; that is, if the reproductions are accurate in the relative sizes of couches and occupants. See further on this point, pp. 37, 38.

styles of beds used for sleeping. The pictures of couches on vases are restricted to certain stock scenes, chiefly of banqueting and of the laying out of the dead. The banqueting scenes in the red-figured period are, as a rule, pure genre; earlier the participants are usually mythological characters. The later red-figured pottery shows mythological personages seated or lounging on couches. On vases, as elsewhere, the sleeping-couch is of rare or doubtful occurrence.1

1 C/., however, Fig. 37, from the death scene of Adonis and the surer instance on a bronze mirror, cited in n. 1 on p. 38; also a terra-cotta in the

British Museum (mentioned with reference p. 33, n. 4), too rude, however, to give a fair idea of a good bed.


Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment