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T. II, Vol. 1

Article by G. Lafaye in

Daremberg & Saglio,
Dictionnaire des Antiquités Grecques et Romaines,
Librairie Hachette et Cie., Paris, 1877‑1919.

translation and © William P. Thayer

FIDICULA — 1. Small lyre (λύριον),​1 a musical instrument [lyra].​2 The name has also been given, by analogy, to the constellation Lyra.3

2. An instrument of torture. In this sense, the word is always used in the plural.​4 It has not yet been possible to determine exactly to what kind of device it applies: some have made it derive from findere and have supposed that it applied to hooks with which the flesh of the subject was lacerated; if so, it would be completely synonymous with ungulae.​5 But this hypothesis is untenable;​6 its main shortcoming is that it disagrees entirely with the primary meaning of the word, which is well established by the texts. Generally speaking, fidiculae are cited among instruments of torture next to the rack [equuleus]. It must, until further notice, be considered likely that it was an assembly of ropes, which, by their arrangement, were more or less reminiscent of the lyre (fides, fidium). The torturer would stretch them (fidiculas tendere) by means of ratchet wheels or pins, after having attached the end of them to the subject's limbs, in such a way as to pull his bones apart and dislocate his joints.​7 He loosened the ropes in the opposite direction (fidiculas laxabat),​8 when it was deemed appropriate to put an end to the torture. But were the fidiculae necessarily part of the rack, or were they distinct, it being possible, however, to add them to it? Here again opinions are divided. Quintilian uses in the same sentence the two expressions equuleos movere and fidiculas tendere, so that he seems to be speaking of two different kinds of torture.​9 But the arguments that can be adduced are, in the absence of figurative representations, altogether insufficient to decide the matter.

Fidiculae were usually among the devices used to torture slaves.10

The Author's Notes:

1 Aristoph. Ran. 1304; Synes. Ep. 148; Plut. Mor. p. 133A; Eust. Il. p268.

2 Cic. De nat. deor. II.8.

3 Colum. XI.2; Plin. Hist. nat. XVIII.59.2 and 67.4;º Varr. Fragm. p373, Bip.

Thayer's Note: For the constellation and its stars and their various names in Antiquity, see Lyra in Allen's Star Names.

4 Val. Max. III.III.5; Sen. De ira, III.3 and 19; Consol. ad Marc. XX.3; Mart. V.LI.6; Quintil. Declam. XIX.12; Suet. Tib. 62; Calig. 33; Fronto, De eloq. p220, Mai; Cod. Justin. IX.41.16; Cod. Theod. IX.35.1 and 2; Hieron. Epist. ad Innoc. 49; Prudent. Peristeph. Hymn. X.481 and 550; Isid. Orig. V.27.

5 According to the Luctatii Placidi grammatici Glossae, ed. Deuerling (Leipzig 1875), p47, 11: "Fidiculae sunt ungulae, quibus torquentur in eculeo adpensi."

6 Isidore, l.c., gives an even more unlikely etymology; according to him the word would derive from fides, faith, "quod iis rei in equuleo torquentur ut fides inveniatur".

7 Quintil. Declam. XIX.12: "Tendebam fidiculas . . . ut leviter sedibus suis emota compago per singulos artus membra laxaret."

8 Val. Max. III.III.5.

9 Quintil. l.c.

10 Ibid.

Bibliography: Galloni, De martyrum cruciatibus, c. III, Rome, 1591 and 1594, Paris, 1659; Oct. Ferrari, Electa, I.5; Magius, De equuleo, Hanov. 1608 and Amst. 1664, and in Thesaur. ant. rom. s.v. Fidiculae; Ward, in the Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society, XXXVI,º London (1729‑1730), p231 ff.

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