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p553 Funambulus

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on p553 of

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


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The original engraving in Smith's Dictionary was in black and white. I have colorized it back to an approximation of the Pompeiian wall-painting.

FUNA′MBULUS (καλοβάτης, σχοινοβάτης), a rope-dancer. The art of dancing on the tight rope was carried to as great perfection among the Romans as it is with us (Hor. Epist. II.1.210; Terent. Hecyr. Prol. 4.34; Juv. III.80; Bulenger, de Theat. 1.42). If we may judge from a series of paintings discovered in the excavations (Ant. d' Ercol. T. III. p160‑165), from which the figures in the annexed woodcut are selected, the performers placed themselves in an endless variety of graceful and sportive attitudes, and represented the characters of bacchanals, satyrs, and other imaginary beings. Three of the persons here exhibited hold the thyrsus, which may have served for a balancing pole; two are performing on the double pipe, and one on the lyre: two others are pouring wine into vessels of different forms. They all have their heads enveloped in skins or caps, probably intended as a protection in case of falling. The emperor Antoninus, in consequence of the fall of a boy, caused feather-beds (culcitras) to be laid under the rope to obviate the danger of such accidents (Capitol. M. Anton. 12). One of the most difficult exploits was running down the rope (Sueton. Nero, 11) at the conclusion of the performance. It was a strange attempt of Germanicus and of the emperor Galba to exhibit elephants walking on the rope (Plin. H. N. VIII.2; Sueton. Galb. 6; Sen. Epist. 86).


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Page updated: 1 Oct 06