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Bill Thayer

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p586 Harpagoa

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on p586 of

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

HARPAGO (ἁρπάγη: λύκος: κρεάγρα, dim. κρεάγρις), a grappling-iron, a drag, a flesh-hook (Ex. xxvii.3; 1 Sam. ii.13, 14. Sept.; Aristoph. Vesp. 1152; Anaxippus, ap. Athen. IV p169B). The iron-fingered flesh-hook (κρεάγρα σιδηροδακτύλος, Brunck, Anal. II.215) is described by the Scholiast on Aristophanes (Equit. 769), as "an instrument used in cookery, resembling a hand with the fingers bent inwards, used to take boiled meat out of the caldron." Four specimens of it, in bronze, are in the British Museum. One of them is here represented. Into its hollow extremity a wooden handle was inserted.b

[image ALT: A woodcut of an instrument, maybe 50 cm long, consisting of a hollow tubular handle at one end of which is an irregularly circular group of five incurving prongs or hooks, and in the center a single much smaller hook, something like a hand with the fingers clawed inward. It is a Roman meat-hook or 'harpago', discussed in the text of this webpage.]

A similar instrument, or even the flesh-hook itself (Aristoph. Eccles. 994) was used to draw up a pail, or to recover any thing which had fallen into a well (Hesychius, s.v. Ἁρπάγη, Κρεάγρα, Λύκος).

In war the grappling-iron, thrown at an enemy's ship, seized the rigging, and was then used to drag the ship within reach, so that it might be easily boarded or destroyed (Ἅρπαξ, Athen. V p208D). These instruments appear to have been much the same as the manus ferreae (manus ferreae atque harpagones, Caes. B. C. I.57; Q. Curt. IV.9; Dion Cass. XLIX.3, L.32, 34). The manus ferreae were employed by the Consul Duilius against the Carthaginians (Flor. I.2;º Front. Stratag. II.3 §24), and were said to have been invented by Pericles (Plin. H. N. VII.57).

Thayer's Notes:

a Those who love Molière will immediately see what had he had in mind when he named his miser Harpagon!

b A woodcut of another harpago, and accompanying text, is given in Cornelia Harcum's article "Roman Cooking Utensils in the Royal Ontario Museum of Archaeology" (AJA 25:37‑54).

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Page updated: 30 Oct 10