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p542 Focus

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on p542 of

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

FOCUS, dim. FO′CULUS (ἑστία: ἐσχάρα, ἐσχαρίς, dim. ἐσχάριον), a fire-place; a hearth; a brazier. The fire-place, considered as the highest member of an altar, is described under Ara, p116. Used by itself, it possessed the same sacred character, being, among the Romans, dedicated to the Lares of each family (Plaut. Aul. II.8.16; Cato, De Re Rust. 15; Ovid, Fast. II.589, 611, III.423; Juv.XII.85‑95). It was, nevertheless, made subservient to all the requirements of ordinary life (Hor. Epod. II.43, Epist. I.5.7; Ovid, Met. VIII.673; Sen. De Cons. ad Alb. 1). It was sometimes constructed of stone or brick, in which case it was elevated only a few inches above the ground, and remained on the same spot; but it was also frequently made of bronze, and it was then variously ornamented, and was carried continually from place to place. This movable-hearth, or brazier, was properly called foculus and ἐσχάρα. One is shown at p190. Another, found at Caere in Etruria, and preserved in the British Museum, is represented in the annexed woodcut.


[image ALT: A three-legged brazier.]

In accordance with the sentiments of veneration with which the domestic fire-place was regarded, we find that the exercise of hospitality was at the same time an act of religious worship. Suppliants, strangers, all who sought for mercy and favour, had recourse to the domestic hearth as to an altar (Hom. Od. VII.153‑169; Apoll. Rhod. IV.693). The phrase "pro aris et focis" was used to express attachment to all that was most dear and venerable (Cic. de Nat. Deor. III.40; Flor. III.13). Among the Romans the focus was placed in the Atrium, which, in primitive times, was their kitchen and dining-room (Virg. Aen. I.726; Servius, ad loc.). There it remained, as we see in numerous examples at Pompeii, even after the progress of refinement had led to the use of another part of the house for culinary purposes. On festivals the house-wife decorated the hearth with garlands (Cato, De Re Rust. 143; Ovid, Trist. V.5.10) a woolen fillet was sometimes added (Propert. IV.6.1‑6).


Thayer's Note:

a numerous examples at Pompeii: here's one from the VRoma Project.


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Page updated: 20 Oct 08