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Bill Thayer

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p669 Laterna

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on p669 of

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

[image ALT: A woodcut of a largish cylindrical object with a spherical dome and three caster-type legs, the whole hanging by three chains from a chandelier-like assembly. A smaller object, a thin cylinder with a ring at the top for it to be hung from, is on the left; on the right, an even smaller object looking much like a modern oil-can with a long thin curved spout. The main object is an ancient Roman lantern, and is further explained in the text of this webpage.]

LATERNA or LANTERNA (ἰπνός, Aristoph. Pax, 841; Pherecrates, p26, ed. Runkel; λυχνοῦχος, Phrynichus, Eclog. p59; in later Greek, φανός, Athen. XV.58; Philox. Gloss.), a lantern. Two bronze lanterns, constructed with nicety and skill, have been found in the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii. One of them is represented in the annexed woodcut. Its form is cylindrical. At the bottom is a circular plate of metal, resting on three balls. Within is a bronze lamp attached to the centre of the base and provided with an extinguisher, shown on the right hand of the lantern. The plates of translucent horn, forming the sides, probably had no aperture; but the hemispherical cover may be raised so as to admit the hand and to serve instead of a door, and it is also perforated with holes through which the smoke might escape. To the two upright pillars supporting the frame-work, a front view of one of which is shown on the left hand of the lantern, chains are attached for carrying the lantern by means of the handle at the top.

We learn from Martial's epigrams (XIV.61, 62) that bladder was used for lanterns as well as horn. Some centuries later glass was also substituted (Isid. Orig. XX.10). The most transparent horn lanterns were brought from Carthage (Plaut. Aul. III.6.30). When the lantern was required for use, the lamp was lighted and placed within it (Pherecrates, p21). It was carried by a slave (Plaut. Amphitr. Prol. 149, I.1.185; Val. Max. VI.8 § 1), who was called the laternarius (Cic. in Pis. 9).

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Page updated: 13 Dec 06