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Bill Thayer

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p233 Calida

Unsigned article on p233 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

An urn, very likely of silver, chased and engraved, surmounted by a pointed cover and supported by three legs in the shape of lion's paws. It is an engraving of a sort of Graeco-Roman punch-bowl for hot drinks, known as an authepsa. CA′LIDA, or CALDA, the warm drink of the Greeks and Romans, which consisted of warm water mixed with wine, with the addition probably of spices. This was a very favourite kind of drink with the ancients,a and could always be procured at certain shops or taverns, called thermopolia (Plaut. Cur. II.3.13, Trin. IV.3.6, Rud. II.6.45), which Claudius commanded to be closed at one period of his reign (Dion Cass. LX.6).b The vessels, in which the wine and water were kept hot, appear to have been of a very elegant form, and not unlike our tea-urns both in appearance and construction. A representation of one of these vessels is given in the Museo Borbonico (vol. III pl. 63), from which the following woodcut is taken. In the middle of the vessel there is a small cylindrical furnace, in which the wood or charcoal was kept for heating the water; and at the bottom of this furnace, there are four small holes for the ashes to fall through. On the right hand side of the vessel there is a kind of cup, communicating with the part surrounding the furnace, by which the vessel might be filled without taking off the lid; and on the left hand side there is in about the middle a tube with a cock for drawing off the liquid. Beneath the conical cover, and on a level with the rim of the vessel, there is a moveable flat cover, with a hole in the middle, which closes the whole urn except the mouth of the small furnace.

Though there can be no doubt that this vessel was used for the purpose which has been mentioned, it is difficult to determine its Latin name; but it was probably called authepsa [Authepsa]. Pollux (X.66) mentions several names which were applied to the vessels used for heating water, of which the ἱπνολέβης, which also occurs in Lucian (Lexiph. 8), appears to answer best to the vessel which has been described above. (Böttiger, Sabina, vol. II p34; Becker, Gallus, vol. II, p175.

Thayer's Notes:

a With us, mulled wine is a seasonal drink and not a staple; but here's where it's useful to remember that neither tea, nor coffee, nor chocolate were known to the ancients — so since you can't really drink plain hot water, they added what they could to give it some appeal. The wine version of Roman calida had the inconvenience of getting you a bit drunk and maybe giving you a headache. (This dictionary article fails to mention non-alcoholic versions, mind you, but they are attested in the ancient writers, as for example in Dio.) At any rate, today's solution, coffee and tea, are clearly better to judge from the traction they've gotten, and have chased out the ancient drink; but the logistics of keeping it warm and serving it though remain exactly the same, as does the means adopted: in all but name, this is a coffee urn, and a perfect illustration of the hint to the young student that I offer on the homepage of the Dictionary, to look at "Antiquity" as naturally as possible.

For an interesting fresco connecting calda with the Christian communion ritual, see p356 of Lanciani's Pagan and Christian Rome, in which the word even appears as a sort of cartoon caption.

b — where the diligent student will follow note 3 to a second reference in Dio, with a somewhat different take on the calida by the modern editor.

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Page updated: 14 Dec 16