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Bill Thayer

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p211 Carchesium

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on p211 of

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

[image ALT: A woodcut of a very elaborately carved large low cup with two handles in the shape of snakes: among the items figured on it, heads, two trees with a curtain or veil knotted between them, cages, pots, a dog inspecting the contents of an overturned jar, etc. It is an example of an ancient Roman carchesium.]

CARCHESIUM (καρχήσιον).

1. A beaker or drinking-cup, which was used by the Greeks in very early times,a so that one is said to have been given by Jupiter to Alcmena on the night of his visit to her (Pherecydos, p97‑100, ed. Sturtz). It was slightly contracted in the middle, and its two handles extended from the top to the bottom (Athen. XI p474; Macrob. Sat. V.21). It was much employed in libations of blood, wine, milk, and honey (Sappho, Frag. 70, ed. Neue; Virg. Georg. IV.380, Aen. V.77; Ovid, Met. VII.246; Stat. Achill. II.6b). The annexed woodcut represents a magnificent carchesium, which was presented by Charles the Simple to the Abbey of St. Denys.c It was cut out of a single agate, and richly engraved with representations of bacchanalian subjects. It held considerably more than a pint, and its handles were so large as easily to admit a man's hand.

2. The upper part of the mast of a ship. [Navis.]

Thayer's Notes:

a The carchesium was also used by the Etruscans; for further references and a woodcut of a good example from Chiusi, part of a whole article on ancient Graeco-Etruscan vase shapes, see the introduction to George Dennis's Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria.

b So our article, but there is no such passage in Book 2 of the Achilleid. Choose between Book 4 of the Thebaid for carchesium as a cup used in a libation, and Book 1 of the Achilleid for carchesium as the ship part, with a bit of play on words to remind us of the cup.

c This is of course the famous Treasury of the royal abbey of St. Denis, much of which was destroyed in the French Revolution. Our cup is among the handful of objects that survived, though.

Charles the Simple was king of France from 898 (officially 893, but it took him a while to be recognized) to 922 when he was deposed.

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Page updated: 29 Apr 03