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 p1180  Tympanum

Article by William Ramsay, M.A., Professor of Humanity in the University of Glasgow
on pp1180‑1181 of

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

TY′MPANUM (τύμπανον), a small drum carried in the hand. Of these, some resembled in all respects a modern tambourine with bells. Others presented a flat circular disk on the upper surface and swelled out beneath like a kettledrum, a shape which appears to be indicated by Pliny when he describes a particular class of pearls in the following terms: "Quibus unta tantum est facies, et ab ea rotunditas, aversis planties, ob id tympana vocantur." (Plin. H. N. IX.54). Both forms are presented in the cuts below. That upon the left is from a painting found at Pompeii (Mus. Borbon. tom. VII tav. 37), that on the right from a fictile vase (Millin, Peintures de Vases Antiques, pl. 56), and here the convexity on the under side is distinctly seen. Tympana were covered with the hides of oxen (Ovid. Fast. IV.342; Stat. Theb. II.78) or of asses (Phaedr. III.20.4), were beaten (Suet. Aug. 68) with a stick (Phaedr. l.c.) or with the hand (Ovid. Met. IV.30; see cuts), and were much employed in all wild enthusiastic religious rites (Aristoph. Lysistr. I.387), especially the orgies of Bacchus and of Cybele (Catull. lxiv.262; Claud. de Cons. Stilich. III.365; Lucret. II.618; Catull. lxiii.8; Virg. Aen. IX.619; Claud. Eutrop. I.278; compare Lobeck, Aglaophamus, pp630, 652), and hence Plautus (Truc. II.7.49) characterises an effeminate coxcomb as "Moechum malacum, cincinnatum, umbraticolam, tympanotribam". According to Justin (XLI.2) they were used by the Parthians in war to give the signal for the onset.

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2. A solid wheel without spokes for heavy waggons (Virg. Georg. IV.444), such as is shown in the cut on page 923. These are to this day common in the rude carts of southern Italy and Greece, and Sir C. Fellows (Excursions in Asia Minor, p72), from whose work the figure below is copied, found them attached to the farm vehicles of Mysia. "The wheels are of solid blocks of wood, or thick planks, generally three, held together by an iron hoop or tire; a loud creaking noise is made by the friction of the galled axle," a satisfactory commentary on the "stridentia plaustra" of Virgil (Georg. III.536).

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3. Hence, wheels of various kinds, a sort of crane worked by a wheel for raising weights (Lucret. IV.903; Vitruv. X.2;º Antlia), a wheel for drawing water (Vitruv. X.4),º a solid toothed wheel forming part of the machinery of a mill (Vitruv. X. 5,º 9, 11º), and the like.

4. An ancient name for round plates or chargers, such as were afterwards called lances and staterae (Plin. H. N. XXXIII.52).

5. An actual term signifying the flat surface or space within a pediment, and also the square panel of a door (Vitruv. III.3, IV.6).

 p1181  6. A wooden cudgel for beating malefactors, and also a beating post to which they were tied when flogged; hence the Greek verbs τυμπανίζειν and ἀποτυμπανίζειν are formed (Schol. ad Aristoph. Plut. 476; St. Paul, Ep. to Hebrews, xi.35; Pollux, VIII.70).

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Page updated: 30 Jun 13