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p539 Flabellum

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on p539 of

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

FLABELLUM, dim. FLABELLULUM, (ῥιπίς, ῥιπιστήρ, dim. ῥιπίδιον), a fan. "The exercise of the fan," so wittily described by Addison (Spect. No. 102), was wholly unknown to the ancients. Neither were their fans so constructed that they might be furled, unfurled, and fluttered, nor were they even carried by the ladies themselves. They were, it is true, of elegant forms, of delicate colours (prasino flabello, Mart. III.40), and sometimes of costly and splendid materials, such as peacock's feathers (Propert. II.15); but they were stiff and of a fixed shape, and were held by female slaves (flabelliferae, Philemon, as translated by Plaut. Trin. II.1.22), by beautiful boys (Strato, Epig. 22), or by eunuchs (Eurip. Orest. 1408‑1412; Menander, p175, ed. Meineke and as translated by Terence, Eun. III.5.45‑54), whose duty it was to wave them so as to produce a cooling breeze (Brunck, Anal. II.92). A gentleman might, nevertheless, take the fan into his own hand and use it in fanning a lady as a compliment (Ovid, Ars Am. I.161, Amor. III.2.38).º The woodcut at p257 shows a female bestowing this attendance upon her mistress. The fan which she holds is apparently made of separate feathers joined at the base, and also united both by a thread passing along the tips and by another stronger thread tied to the middle of the shaft of each feather. Another use of the fan was to drive away flies from living persons, and from articles of food which were either placed upon the table or offered in sacrifice. When intended for a fly-flapper it was less stiff, and was called muscarium (Mart. XIV.67), and μυιοσόβη (Menander, p175; Aelian, H.A. XV.14; Brunck, Anal. II.388, III.92). In short, the manner of using fans was precisely that which is still practised in China, India, and other parts of the East; and Euripides (l.c.) says that the Greeks derived their knowledge of them from "barbarous" countries. The emperor Augustus had a slave to fan him during his sleep (Suet. Aug. 82); for the use of fans was not confined to females.

Besides separate feathers the ancient fan was sometimes made of linen, extended upon a light frame (Strato, l.c.). From the above-cited passage of Euripides and the ancient Scholia upon it, compared with representations of the flabellum in ancient paintings, it also appears to have been made by placing the two wings of a bird back to back, fastening them together in this position, and attaching a handle at the base (see also Brunck, Anal. II.258, Πτερίναν ῥιπῖδα).

A more homely application of the fan was its use in cookery [Focus]. In a painting which represents a sacrifice to Isis (Ant. d' Ercolano, II.60), a priest is seen fanning the fire upon the altar with a triangular flabellum, such as is still used in Italy. This practice gave origin among classical writers to expressions corresponding to ours, meaning to fan the flame of hope (Alciph. III.47), of love (ῥιπίζειν, Brunck, II.306), or of sedition (Aristoph. Ran. 360; Cic. pro Flacc. 23).


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