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p884 Peplum

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on pp884‑p885 of

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


[image ALT: A woodcut of two young women, the one on the right standing, the other sitting facing here. It is an illustration of the ancient Greek peplos. Between the two, in mid-air, hangs an unidentified ring-shaped object, unsupported: it is thus, literally, a UFO.]

PEPLUM (πέπλος), a shawl, differing from the Chlamys in being much larger, and from the Pallium in being finer and thinner and also considerably larger. It was sometimes used as a cover to protect valuable articles of furniture (Hom. Il. V.194) or to adorn a throne (Od. VII.96), but most commonly as a part of the dress of females (Hom. Il. V.315, 734, 735, VIII.384, Od. XV.123‑128, ἑανός, Il. XIV.178; Eurip. Hec. 1013, Med. 791; Theocrit. I.33); although instances occur, even among the Greeks, in which it is worn by the other sex, unless we suppose the term to be in these instances improperly put for φᾶρος (Eurip. Ion, 1033; Theocrit. VII.17). In Persia and other Eastern countries the shawl was no doubt worn anciently, as it is at present day, by both sexes (Aeschyl. Pers. 204, 474, 1030, 1061). Also in Bacchanalian processions it was worn by men both in allusion to Oriental habits, and because they then avowedly assumed the dress of females (Eurip. Bacch. 783‑791). Women of high rank wore their shawls so long as to trail upon the ground (Τρωάδας ἑλκεσιπέπλους, Hom. Il. VI.442; Ἑλένη τανύπεπλος, Od. IV.305). Like all other pieces of cloth used for the Amictus, it was often fastened by means of a brooch [Fibula] (Soph. Trach. 920; Callim. Lav. Pall. 70; Apollon. Rhod. III.833), and was thus displayed upon the statues of female divinities, such pp885and over it an ample shawl, which she passes entirely round her body and then throws the loose extremity of it over her left shoulder and behind her back, as is distinctly seen in the sitting figure. The shawl was often worn so as to cover the head while it enveloped the body, and more especially on the occasion of a funeral (see woodcuts, p557), or of a marriage, when a very splendid shawl (παστός, 1 Maccab. i.27) was worn by the bride. The following woodcut (from Bartoli, Admir. Rom. Ant. pl. 57) may be supposed to represent the moment when the bride, so veiled, is delivered to her husband at the door of the nuptial chamber. He wears the Pallium only; she has a long shift beneath her shawl, and is supported by the pronuba. Thus veiled the poets represented Aurora and Night, but with this difference, that the one arose expanding a shawl dyed with saffron (κροκόπεπλος, Hom. Il. VIII.1, XXIII.227), whereas a black one enveloped the other (μελάμπεπλος Νὺξ, Eurip. Ion, 1150).

[image ALT: A woodcut of a bare-chested man standing on the right, extending his arm to a heavily veiled young woman behind whom an older woman stands, looking away. It is an illustration of the ancient Greek peplos.]

Of all the productions of the loom shawls were those on which the greatest skill and labour were bestowed. So various and tasteful were the subjects which they represented, that poets delighted to describe them. The art of weaving them was entirely Oriental (βαρβάρων ὑφάσματα, Eurip. Ion, 1159); those of the most splendid dyes and curious workmanship were imported from Tyre and Sidon (Hom. Il. VI.289‑294); a whole book was written by Polemo "Concerning the Shawls of Carthage." (Athen. XII p541). Hence "Shawls" (πέπλοι, Clem. Alex. Strom. VI.1 p736, ed. Potter) was one of the titles of works of an imaginative of descriptive character, and was adopted to intimate the variety of their subjects and the beautiful mode of displaying them. A book, intended to depict some of the characters in the Iliad, and denominated "The Shawl," was ascribed to Aristotle (Eustath. in Il. II.557). Varro also wrote a Peplography (πεπλογραφία, Cic. ad Att. XVI.11). As a specimen of the subjects delineated a shawl may be mentioned, which exhibited the frame of the world (Mart. Capella, L. VI in Mattaire's Corpus Poetarum, vol. II, p1446). Euripides describes one which represented the sun, moon, and stars, and which, with various others containing hunting-pieces and a great variety of subjects, belonged to the temple of Apollo at Delphi, and was used to form a magnificent tent for the purpose of an entertainment (Ion, 1141‑1162); for it is to be observed, that stores of shawls were not only kept by wealthy individuals (Hom. Od. XV.104‑108), but often constituted a very important part of the treasures of a temple (Eurip. Ion, 329, 330), having been presented to the divinity on numerous occasions by suppliants and devotees (Hom. Il. VI.271‑304; Virg. Aen. I.480, Cir. 21‑35). [Compare Donaria; Panathenaea; Pastophorus].


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