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p1071 Stilus

Article by William Ramsay, M.A., Professor of Humanity in the University of Glasgow
on p1071 of

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

STILUS or STYLUS is in all probability the same word with the Greek στύλος, and conveys the general idea of an object tapering like an architectural column. It signifies,

  1. An iron instrument (Ov. Met. IX.521; Martial, XIV.21),a resembling a pencil in size and shape, used for writing upon waxed tablets (Plaut. Bacch. IV.4.63; Plin. H. N. XXXIV.14). At one end it was sharpened to a point for scratching the characters upon the wax (Quintil. I.1 §27), while the other end being flat and circular served to render the surface of the tablets smooth again, and so to obliterate what had been written. Thus, vertere stilum means to erase, and hence to correct, as in the well-known precept saepe stilum vertas (Hor. Sat. 1.10.72; Cic. Verr. II.41). The stylus was also termed graphium (Ovid. Amor. I.11.23; Suet. Jul. 82), and the case in which it was kept graphiarium (Martial, XIV.21) or graphiaria theca (Suet. Claud. 35). The annexed cut is from a picture found in Herculaneum (Mus. Borbon. vol. VI tav. 35).

[image ALT: An engraving of a man and a woman, the man holding in his left hand a folding wooden frame with wax writing tablets inside it, and in his right a sharp metal stylus.]

  2. A sharp stake or spike placed in pitfalls before an entrenchment to embarrass the progress of an attacking enemy (Bell. African. 31; Sil. Ital. X.415). It was intended to answer the same purpose as the contrivances called cippi, lilia, and stimuli by Caesar (B. G. VII.73).

  3. A bronze needle or rod for picking worms off fruit-trees (Pallad. IV.10 §20), also a wooden probe employed in gardening operations (Columell. XI.3 §53).

It bears also the meaning of the stem of a tree or vegetable (Columell. V.10 §21, XI.3 §46), which is perhaps the primary signification of στύλος.

Thayer's Note:

a And a particularly interesting and graphic passage: Galen, Nat. Fac. I.48.

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Page updated: 2 Sep 13