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p729 Mantele

Unsigned article on pp729‑730 of

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

MANTELE (χειρόμακτρον, χειρεκμαγεῖον), a napkin. The circumstance, that forks were not invented in ancient times, gave occasion to the use of napkins at meals to wipe the fingers (Xen. Cyrop. I.3 §51); also when the meal was finished, and even before it commenced, an apparatus was carried around for washing the hands. A basin, called in Latin malluvium (Festus, s.v.), and in Greek χέρνιψ, χέρνιβον, or χειρόνιπτρον, was held under the hands to receive the water, which was poured upon them out of a ewer (urceolus). Thus Homer describes the practice, and according to the account of a recent traveller, it continues unchanged in the countries to which his description referred (Fellow's Journal, 1838, p153). The boy or slave who poured out the water, also held the napkin or towel for wiping the hands dry. The word mappa, said to be of Carthaginian origin (Quintil. I.5 §57), denoted a smaller kind of napkin, or a handkerchief, which the guests carried with them to the table (Hor. Sat. II.4.81, II.8.63). The mantele, as it was larger than the mappa, was sometimes used as a table-cloth (Martial, XII.29, XIV.138).

The napkins thus used at table were commonly made of coarse unbleached linen (ὠμολίνῳ, Athen. IX.79). Sometimes, however, they were of fine linen (ἐκτρίμματα λαμπρὰ σινδονυφῆ, Philoxenus, ap. Athen. IX.77). Sometimes they were woollen with a soft and even nap (tonsis mantelia villis, Virg. Georg. IV.377, Virg. Aen. I.702). Those made of Asbestos must have been rare. The Romans in the time of the emperors used linen napkins embroidered or interwoven with gold (Lamprid. Heliogab. 27, Al. Severus, 37, 40), and the traveller already quoted informs us that this luxury still continues in the East. Napkins were also worn by women as a head-dress, in which case they were of fine materials and gay colours (Athen. IX.79). p730These were no doubt put on in a variety of elegant ways, resembling those which are in use among the females of Italy, Greece, and Asia Minor, at the present day.


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