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For Smith's general article on Greek and Roman chairs, see SELLA.

p257 Cathedra

Unsigned article on p257 of

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

CATHEDRA, a seat; but the term was more particularly applied to the soft seats used by women, whereas sella signified a seat common to both sexes (inter femineas cathedras, Mart. III.63, IV.79; Hor. Sat. I.10.91; Prop. IV.5.37). The cathedrae were, no doubt, of various forms and sizes; but they usually appear to have had backs to them, as is the case in the one represented in the annexed woodcut, which is taken from Sir William Hamilton's work on Greek vases. On the cathedra is seated a bride, who is being fanned by a female slave with a fan made of peacock's feathers.


[image ALT: An engraving of a woman sitting in a high-backed chair and another fanning here within a large feather fan. It is a reproduction of a scene from a Greek vase painting and shows a bride sitting in a cathedra, fanned by her slave with what the Romans called a flabellum.]

Women were also accustomed to be carried abroad in these cathedrae instead of in lecticae, which practice was sometimes adopted by effeminate persons of the other sex (sexta cervice feratur cathedra, Juv. Sat. I.65; compare IX.51). The word cathedra was also applied to the chair or pulpit from which lectures were reada (Juv. Sat. VII.203; Mart. I.77). Compare Böttiger, Sabina, vol. I p35; Scheffer, De Re Vehicul. II.4.


Thayer's Note:

a To dot our i's and cross our t's, this is the origin of the Christian bishop's cathedra; in turn, a cathedral is a cathedralis ecclesia, a church where there is the seat of a bishop. Such, for example, is the cathedral of Rome, St. John Lateran:


[image ALT: An inlaid marble throne, in isolated splendor in the apse of a church, from very far away. It is the cathedra or throne of the Pope in St. John Lateran in Rome.]

The cathedra of the Pope as bishop of Rome:
a Late Antique ceremonial seat.


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Page updated: 1 Oct 06