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p238 Capistrum

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on p238 of

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

CAPISTRUM (φορβειά), a halter, a tie for horses, asses, or other animals, placed round the head or neck, and made of osiers or other fibrous materials. In representations of Bacchanalian processions the tigers or panthers are attached to the yoke by capistra made vine-branches. Thus we read of the vite capistratae tigres of Ariadne (Ovid. Epist. II.80; Sidon. Apoll. Carm. XXII.23),a and they are seen on the bas-relief of a sarcophagus in the Vatican representing her nuptial procession. See the annexed woodcut.


[image ALT: A woodcut of two smiling tigers with collars of ivy leaves, one of whom carries a naked boy with large wings; they are pulling a chariot in which a naked woman is reclining with a pensive and sad expression; a second naked boy stands by the side of the chariot with a torch. This freakish image, from an ancient sarcophagus depicting the nuptial procession of Ariadne, is meant to illustrate the ancient Roman 'capistrum', a halter for draft animals.]

The term φορβειά was also applied to a contrivance used by pipers (αὐληταὶ) and trumpeters to compress their mouths and cheeks, and thus to aid them in blowing. It is often seen in works of ancient art [Chiridota], and was said to be the invention of Marsyas (Simonides, Brunck. An. I.122; Sophocles, ap. Cic. ad Att. II.16, Aristoph. Av. 862, Vesp. 580, Eq. 1147; Schol. ad ll.).


Thayer's Note:

a The word is also used by Ovid in the Metamorphoses (X.125); and by the 1c A.D. poet Calpurnius Siculus (Ecl. VI.39) referring clearly to some kind of mesh on the animal's forehead — in this case a rather surreal stag: frons irretita capistro.


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Page updated: 8 Feb 09