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 p1029  Serta

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on pp1029‑1030 of

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

SERTA, used only in the plural (στέμμα, στεφάνωμα),​a a festoon or garland. The art of weaving wreaths [Corona], garlands, and festoons, employed a distinct class of persons (coronarii and coronariae; στεφανηπλόκοι, Theophrast. H. P. VI.8 § 1; Plin. H. N. XXI.2 s3, or στεφανοπλόκοι), who endeavoured to combine all the most beautiful varieties of leaves, of flowers,  p1030 and of fruits, so as to blend their forms, colours, and scents (Virg. Copa, 14, 35) in the most agreeable manner. The annexed woodcut taken from a sarcophagus at Rome (Millin, Gal. Myth. II.100), shows a festoon adapted to be suspended by means of the fillets at both ends. Its extremities are skilfully encased in acanthus-leaves: its body consists apparently of laurel or bay, together with a profusion of fruits, such as apples, pears, pomegranates, bunches of grapes, and fir-cones. At Athens there was a market, called στεφανοπλόκιον, for the manufacture and sale of this class of productions, the work being principally performed by women and girls (Aristoph. Thesm. 455).

[image ALT: An engraving of a garland of laurel leaves, pears and apples, slung horizontally from a long ribbon at either end.]

When a priest was preparing a sacrifice, he often appeared with a festoon intended to be placed on the door of the temple (festa fronde, Virg. Aen. II.249; variis sertis, IV.202; Juv. XII.84; Lucan, II.354), on the front of the altar (Virg. Aen. I.417) or upon the head of the victim. Thus in the Iliad (I.14, 28), Chryses besides the gilded sceptre which denoted his office and authority carries a garland in honour of Apollo, which was probably wound about the sceptre (see also Aristoph. Av. 894, Pax, 948; Callim. Hymn. in Cer. 45). The act here described is seen in the annexed woodcut, which is taken from a bas-relief in the collection of antiques at Ince-Blundell, and represents a priestess carrying in her two hands a festoon to suspend upon the circular temple which is seen in the distance. As the festoons remained on the temples long after their freshness had departed, they became very combustible. The temple of Juno at Argos was destroyed in consequence of their being set on fire (Thuc. IV.133 § 2; Paus. II.17 § 7). The garlands on funereal monuments hung there for a year, and were then renewed (Tibull. II.4.48, 6.32;º Propert. III.16.23). The funeral pile was also decorated in a similar manner, but with an appropriate choice of plants and flowers (Virg. Aen. IV.506).

[image ALT: An engraving of a woman approaching a semicircular tempietto on the right of the image; she is carrying a long festoon in both hands. It hangs vertically; she will attach it to the temple as described in the text of this webpage.]

Festoons were placed upon the door-posts of private houses in token of joy and affection (Tibull. I.2.14) more especially on occasion of a wedding (Lucan, II.354). They were hung about a palace in compliment to the wealthy possessor (insertabo coronis atria, Prudent. in Symm. II.726); and on occasions of general rejoicing the streets of a city were sometimes enlivened with these splendid and tasteful decorations (Martial, VI.79.8).

The smaller garlands or crowns, which were worn by persons on the head or round the neck, are sometimes called serta (Tibull. I.7.52). The fashion of wearing such garlands suspended from the neck, was adopted by the early Christians (Min. Felix, 38).

Thayer's Note:

a A bit of fuzzy writing here; the Latin word is plural, but the Greek words are in the singular.

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Page updated: 31 Aug 07