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Bill Thayer

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T. IV, Vol. 1

Article by Georges Lafaye in

Daremberg & Saglio,
Dictionnaire des Antiquités Grecques et Romaines,
Librairie Hachette et Cie., Paris, 1877‑1919.

translation and © William P. Thayer

Nassa1 (Κύρτος,2 κημός).3 — A weel, a trap for catching fish. The weel of the ancients was in no way different from the one in common use today; it was a long wicker cage, the opening of which narrowed inwards like a funnel; once the fish entered it, it could no longer go back: sharp spikes pointing inward prevented him from exiting.4 The fisherman used a few stones to weight it down; inside it he put a strong-smelling bait, like a grilled octopus or crab; then he lowered it into the water by a rope, at the end of which a bit of cork stayed to float on the surface.5

Fishing with a weel is one of the four types of fishing sequentially described by authors of Halieutica [piscatio]; but they covered it less thoroughly than the others because it requires less skill. They recommended it mostly as suitable for shallow waters with rocky bottoms overgrown by marine vegetation.6 The sea fish that it was used to catch are listed in detail by Oppian.

[image ALT: A woodcut of a Greek coin, depicting two identical objects, each having the form of two tall cones attached at the base, and appearing to be made of wicker; with a hook or ribbon at the upper end. Both of them stand (impossibly) on their lower point together on a single board, which has a small knob in the center. They are surrounded by the legend ΝΙΚΑΙΕΩΝ ΒΥΖΑΝΤΙΩΝ. They are probably fishing weels, as discussed in the text of this webpage.]

Fig. 5259. — Weels.

Fig. 5259 reproduces a coin of Byzantium struck in the 3c A.D.; it has been taken to depict, maybe correctly, two weels, a distinctive emblem of the population of that city, a large part of which must have lived on the produce of their fishing.7 In Figure 5260, taken from a mosaic,8 fishermen are seen taking weels up from the water.

[image ALT: A woodcut of a rowboat in a stylized sea with zigzag waves, in which the man at the stern, seated, is rowing, and the man at the prow, standing, is lowering a rope into the water, or taking it up, from which hang three small more or less bottle-shaped wicker cages. A large fish, much too large to fit in one of these cages, swims peacefully near the stern. It is a depiction, possibly ancient, of the art of fishing with weels, ad described in the text of this webpage.]

Fig. 5260. — Fishing with weels.

The Author's Notes:

1 Plaut. Mil. II.6.98; Cic. ad Att. XV.2;º; Sil. Ital. V.47; Pliny, N. H. IX.91, XXI.114, XXXII.11; Festus p169 Müller; cf. Ovid, Halieut. 12‑16.

2 Etym. Magn. p548, 50; Hesych. s.v.; Schol. Hom. Il. II.218; Tim. Lexic. Platon. p170; Zenob. Paroem. IV.8; Plato, Soph. 220C, Laws VII, 823E, Tim. 78D, 79D; Theocr. XXI.11; Pal. Anth. VI.4 and 5; Lucian, De merc. cond. 3; Plut. De sol. anim. 977C, 983D; Oppian, Halieut. III.85, 341, IV.47, 49; Aelian Nat. anim. XII.43.

3 Hesych. s.v.; Soph. ap. Schol. Aristoph. Eq. 1147 (frag. 438).

4 See in particular Silius Italicus and Oppian, s.vv.

5 Oppian III.365.

6 Ibid. 85; Aelian l.c. based on many ancient sources. Ameilhon's paper (Mém. de l'Inst. nat., Littér. et b.‑arts; t. V, an 12, pp350‑363), unfinished, only deals with angling.

7 Dumersan, Description des médailles du cabinet Allier de Hauteroche (1829), pl. III, n. 8. Five similar pieces in the Catal. of Greek Coins in the British Museum, Thrace, pp108‑109, nos. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6; cf. Guhl and Koner, Leben d. Gr. u. Rom., p183. See also Arch. Zeit. XXXI (1874), p59 (doubtful). Rich's figure, Dict. des ant. s.v., seems to have been imagined based on two mosaics in Rome, one of which can still be seen at S. Maria in Trastevere: Ciampini, Vetera monimenta, 1693, t. I, pl. XXXII, n. 1; XXXIV, 1; Guattani, Monum. ant. ined. I (1784), p31, pl. III; cf. Enn. Quir. Visconti, Mus. Pio. Clem. III, p277, pl. c II, 3 and III, 4.

8 Gauckler, Gouvet and Hannezo, Musée de Sousse, 1902, pl. VI, 2, p29.

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