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LACUS

LACUS

1. See FONS

2. See TORCULAR

3. Lacus (βαφὴ) was also used for the bath in which the smith (χαλκεὺς or faber ferrarius) plunged the hot iron to give it the harder qualities of steel. (Verg. G. 4.172; Ovid. Met. 9.170, 12.276; Lucr. 6.968; Mart. 4.55, 15; Plin. Nat. 34.146.) It is maintained by the best modern authorities on Greek and Roman metal working that by this method a kind of steel was manufactured as far back as the Homeric age. (See Blümner, Technol. 4.342 sqq.) Though neither Greek nor Latin has a distinct word for steel (except the poetical χάλυψ, chalybs), yet this process was known, and the words στομοῦν, στόμωσις, στόμωμα all refer to the steeling effect of the βαφή, and this corresponds to the Latin significance of acies (cf. French acier). The earliest precise mention is that of Od. 9.391: “ ὡς δ᾽ὅρ᾽ ἀνὴ ρ χαλκεν̀ς πέλεκυν μέγαν ἠὲ σκέπαρνον
εἰν ὕδατι ψυχρῷ βάπτῃ μεγάλα ἰάχοντα

φαρμάσσων, τὸ γὰρ αὔρε σιδηροῦ γε κράτος ἐστίν,

(where Eustathius, στομοῦται γὰρ σιδηρὸς τοιαύτη βαφῇ.) Conf. Plut. Def. orac. 41, p. 433 A; Poll. 7.107, &c.; and especially Plut. An. rat. uti, 16, p. 988 D, ἀνδρείας οἷον βαφή τις θυμός ἐδτι καὶ στόμωμα, which expression seems to fix the precise idea of the much-disputed βαφῇ σιδηρὸς ὥς in Sophocles Soph. Aj. 650, i. e. “I, who was then steeled and made ἄνδρειος as iron is by the bath, am instead made θῆλυς by Tecmessa's words” (the stop being at ὥς, and the aorist as usual referring to the time of speaking).

It is true that there was also a practice of dipping smaller steel implements, such as needles and brooch-pins, in oil, to make them less brittle, as was supposed (Plut. de prim. frig. 13, p. 950 C; Plin. Nat. 34.146); and so this passage has often been explained, but there is no mention at all of any such practice earlier than Plutarch, and then only of small articles, whereas there is in earlier Greek writers a frequent allusion to the βαφή, especially in the moral application (Arist. Pol. 7.14, &c.), and invariably (as Latin lacus) of hardening or steeling, which is a strong argument for giving the same meaning in the passage cited. This process would not apply to χαλκός, and such is perhaps the meaning of χαλκοῦ βαφαὶ in Aesch. Ag. 589, though Clytemnestra may merely be disclaiming all technical knowledge of weapons. The colouring of copper by βαφὴ as mentioned by Plutarch and Pollux is altogether later. [For a discussion of this treatment of iron, see Blümner (Technologie, 4.342-350), who refers to a larger work of Paehler, Die Löschung des, Stahles bei den Alten.]

[G.E.M]

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