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p978 Pyxis

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on p978 of

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

PYXIS, dim. PYXIDULA (πύξις, dim. πυξίδιον), a casket; a jewel-box (Mart. IX.38). Quintilian (VIII.6 §35) produces this term as an example of catachresis, because it properly denoted that which was made of box (πύξος), but was applied to things of similar form and use made of any other material. In fact, the caskets in which the ladies of ancient times kept their jewels and other ornaments, were made of gold, silver, ivory, mother-of‑pearl, tortoise-shell, &c. They were also much enriched with sculpture. A silver coffer, 2 feet long, 1½ wide, and 1 deep, most elaborately adorned with figures in bas-relief, is described by Böttiger (Sabina, vol. I pp64‑80 plate III). The annexed woodcut (from Ant. d'Ercolano, vol. II tab. 7) represents a very plain jewel-box, out of which a dove is extracting a riband or fillet. Nero deposited his beard in a valuable pyxis, when he shaved for the first time. [Barba.]

The same term is applied to boxes used to contain drugs or poison (Cic. pro Caelio, 25‑29; Quintil. VI.3 §25); and to metallic rings employed in machinery (Plin. H. N. XVIII.11 s29).


[image ALT: An engraving of a bird rummaging in a small rectangular box and pulling out a ribbon. It is an illustration of an ancient Graeco-Roman pyxis.]


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Page updated: 17 Aug 06