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p886 Pergula

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on pp886‑887 of

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

PERGULA, appears to have been a kind of booth or small house,a which afforded scarcely any protection except by its roof, so that those who passed by could easily look into it. It served both as a workshop (Dig. 5 tit. 1 s19) and a stall where things were exhibited for sale. We p887find, for instance, that painters exhibited their works in a pergula that they might be seen by those who passed by (Lucil. ap. Lactant. I.22), and Apelles is said to have concealed himself in his pergula behind his pictures that he might overhear the remarks of those who looked at them (Plin. H. N. XXXV.36 §12). Such places were occupied by persons, who, either by working or sitting in them, wished to attract the attention of the public (Salmas. ad Script. Hist. Aug. pp458, 459). Hence we find them inhabited by poor philosophers and grammarians who gave instruction and wished to attract notice in order to obtain pupils (Suet. Aug. 94, de Illustr. Grammat. 18; Flav. Vopisc. Saturnin. 10; Juven. XI.137).

It should be observed that scholars do not agree as to the real meaning of pergula: Scaliger (ad Plaut. Pseud. I.2.79) describes it as a part of a house built out into the street, as in some old houses of modern times; Ernesti (ad Suet. Aug. 94) thinks that a pergula is a little room in the upper part of a house which was occasionally used by poor philosophers as an observatory. But neither of these two definitions is so applicable to all the passages in which the word occurs as that which we have proposed.


Thayer's Note:

a The basic meaning of pergula seems to be what in America we would call an add-on (as to a house); the word clearly derives from pergo, to continue.

Several attested meanings of the word are not given in the article above; all but one have in common the idea of a cheaply built extension, a shed, a roofless deck connecting a house with a garden, etc. Here then is the full entry in Lewis & Short (Clarendon Press, 1879):

pergula, ae, f. [pergo; cf. tegula, from tego].

  1. A projection or shed in front of a house, used as a booth, stall, shop; of an exchanger, Plin. 21, 3, 6, § 8; of a painting-room, studio, Plin. 35, 10, 36, § 84; Lucil. ap. Lact. 1, 22.

  2. A shop, Dig. 5, 1, 19.

  3. A school, a lecture-room: mathematici pergula, Suet. Aug. 94: in pergulâ docuit, id. Gram. 18: pergulae magistrales, Vop. Sat. 10 fin. — Transf.: cui cedere debeat omnis Pergula, the whole school, all the scholars, Juv. 11.137.

  4. A brothel, Plaut. Ps. 1.2.79; Prop. 4, 5, 70.º

  5. A vine-arbor, Col. 4, 21; 11, 2: umbrosae, Plin. 14, 1, 3, § 11.

  6. A hut, hovel (opp. aedes): in pergulâ natus, Petr. 74; Aus. Ep. 4, 6.

Notice that of this whole catalogue, the modern romance languages, and English with them, have kept only #5. The modern English word pergola is spelled with an o, due to its transit thru Italian: a tiny but striking witness to the Renaissance splendors of Italian gardens and the imitation of them thruout Europe.

For a nice photo of a type of pergula then, see the Hotel La Pergola on the Via Flaminia.


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Page updated: 7 Aug 12