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p634 Incunabula

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on p634 of

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


[image ALT: An engraving of two women holding a baby wrapped in swaddling-clothes. It is an illustration of the Greco-Roman 'incunabula'.]

INCUNABULA or CUNABULA (σπάργανον), swaddling-clothes.

The first thing done after the birth of a child was to wash it; the second to wrap it in swaddling clothes, and the rank of the child was indicated by the splendour and costliness of this, its first attire. Sometimes a fine white shawl, tied with a gold band, was used for the purpose (Hom. Hymn. in Apoll. 121, 122); at other times a small purple scarf, fastened with a brooch (Pind. Pyth. IV.114; χλαμύδιον, Longus, I.1 p14, 28, ed. Boden). The poor used broad fillets of common cloth (panni, Luke, ii.7, 12; Ezek. xvi.4; Vulg.; compare Hom. Hymn. in Merc. 151, 306; Apollod. Bibl. III.10 §2; Aelian, V.H. II.7; Eurip., Ion, 32; Dion Chrysost. VI p203, ed. Reiske; Plaut. Amphit. V.1.52, Truc. V.13). The preceding woodcut, taken from a beautiful bas-relief at Rome, which is supposed to refer to the birth of Telephus, shows the appearance of a child so clothed, and renders in some degree more intelligible the fable of the deception practised by Rhea upon Saturn in saving the life of Jupiter by presenting a stone, enveloped in swaddling-clothes, to be devoured by Saturn instead of his new-born child (Hes. Theog. 485). It was one of the peculiarities of the Lacedaemonian education to dispense with the use of incunabula, and to allow children to enjoy the free use of their limbs (Plut. Lycurg. p90, ed. Steph.).


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Page updated: 7 Apr 11