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p300 Cochlea

Article by Anthony Rich, Jun. B.A. of Caius College, Cambridge
on pp300‑301 of

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

COCHLEA (κοχλίας), which properly means a snail, was also used to signify other things of a spiral form.

  1. A screw. The woodcut annexed represents a clothes-press, from a painting on the wall of the Chalcidicum of Eumachia, at Pompeii, which is worked by two upright screws (cochleae) precisely in the same manner as our own linen presses (Mus. Borbonico, IV.50).

[image ALT: An engraving of an ancient Roman clothes-press.]

    A screw of the same description was also used in oil and wine presses (Vitruv. VI.9 p180, ed. Bipont.; Palladius, IV.10 §10, II.19 §1). The thread of the screw, for which the Latin language has no appropriate term, is called περικόχλιον in Greek.

  2. A spiral pump for raising water, invented by Archimedes (Diod. Sic. I.34, V.37; compare Strab. XVII.1.30), from whom it has ever been called the Archimedean screw. It is described at length by Vitruvius (X.11). p301

  3. A peculiar kind of door, through which the wild beasts passed from their dens into the arena of the amphitheatre (Varr. De Re Rust. III.5 §3). It consisted of a circular cage, open on one side like a lantern, which worked upon a pivot and within a shell, like the machines used in the convents and founding hospitals of Italy, termed rote, so that any particular beast could be removed from its den into the arena merely by turning it round, and without the possibility of more than one escaping at the same time; and therefore it is recommended by Varro (l.c.) as peculiarly adapted for an aviary, so that the person could go in and out without affording the birds an opportunity of flying away. Schneider (in Ind. Script. R. R. s.v. Cavea), however, maintains that the cochlea in question was nothing more than a portcullis (cataphracta) raised by a screw, which interpretation does not appear so probable as the one given above.

  4. (Thayer addition:) A spiral staircase, or a tower with such a staircase. The form cochlis is used (columnae coc(h)lides) in the Regionaries (q.v.) to denote the honorary columns of Trajan, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius in Rome: either because of their interior staircases or, as seems more likely to me anyway, because the bas-reliefs wound around them spirally.

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Page updated: 10 Sep 12