properly a set of three couches round a
dining-table, but commonly used also for the dining-room of a Roman house;
for its usual position, see DOMUS
It was of an oblong shape, and according to Vitruvius (6.3.8
) ought to be twice as long as it was broad. The same
author ( § 10) describes triclinia, evidently intended to be used
in summer, which were open towards the north, and had on each side a window
looking into a garden. Many of the houses at Pompeii appear to have had
summer dining-rooms opening to the viridarium. The woodcut in Vol. I. p. 894
shows the arrangement of the three couches (lecti,
), from which the triclinium derived
its name. These remain in the “House of Sallust,” being built
of stone. Three very beautiful lecti
in wood adorned with bronze have been more recently
discovered, and are now to be seen in the Naples Museum (cf. Overbeck,
The articles LECTUS, TORUS, and PULVINAR contain accounts of the furniture used to
adapt these couches for the accubatio,
the act of reclining during the meal. When so prepared for an entertainment,
they were called triclinia strata
3.92; cf. Athen. ii. pp. 47, 48), and they were made
to correspond with one another in substance, in dimensions, and in shape
(Varro, L. L.
9.47, ed. Müller). As each guest
leaned during a great part of the entertainment upon his left elbow, so as
to leave the right arm at liberty, and as two or more lay on the same couch,
the head of one man was near the breast of the man who lay behind him, and
he was therefore said to lie in the bosom of the other (Plin. Ep. 4.22
). But we must not suppose with
Lewis and Short that one actually rested on the other. Among the Romans, the
usual number of persons occupying each couch was three, so that the three
couches of a triclinium afforded accommodation for a party of nine. It was
the rule of Varro (Gellius, 13.11
) that the
number of guests ought not to be less than that of the Graces, nor to exceed
that of the Muses. Sometimes, however, as many as four lay on each of the
couches (Hor. Sat.
1.4, 86). Among the Greeks
it was usual for only two persons to recline on each couch. [CENA
Vol. I. p. 393.]
In such works of ancient art as represent a [p. 2.888]
symposium, or drinking--party, we always observe that the couches are
elevated above the level of the table. This circumstance throws some light
upon Plutarch's mode of solving the problem respecting the increase of room
for the guests as they proceeded with their meal (Sympos.
5.6). Each man in order to feed himself lay flat upon his breast or nearly
so, and stretched out his hand towards the table (cf. Plaut.
760); but afterwards, when his hunger was satisfied, he
turned upon his left side, leaning on his elbow. To this Horace alludes in
describing a person sated with a particular dish, and turning in order to
repose upon his elbow (Sat.
2.4, 39; cf.
We find the relative positions of two persons who lay next to one another
commonly expressed by the prepositions super
A passage of Livy (39.43
which he relates the cruel conduct of the consul L. Quintius Flamininus,
shows that infra aliquem cubare
was the same as
in sinu alicujus cubare,
and consequently that
each person was considered as below
him to whose
breast his own head approached. On this principle we are enabled to explain
the denominations both of the three couches, and of the three places on each
Supposing the annexed arrangement to represent the plan of a triclinium, it
is evident that, as each guest reclined on his left side, the countenances
of all when in this position were directed, first, from No. 1 towards No. 3,
then from No. 4 towards No. 6, and lastly, from No. 7 towards No. 9; that
the guest No. 1 lay, in the sense explained, above
No. 2, No. 3 below
No. 2, and so of the rest; and
that, going in the same direction, the couch to the right hand was above
the others, and the couch to the left hand below
the others. Accordingly the following fragment
of Sallust (op.
Verg. A. 1.698
) contains the denominations
of the couches as shown on the plan; there were, however, only seven guests
present, so that two places were vacant, and these were probably 3 and 6:
“Igitur. discubuere: Sertorius (i. e. No. 5) inferior in medio;
super eum L. Fabius Hispaniensis senator ex proscriptis (No. 4): in
summo Antonius (No. 1); et infra scriba Sertorii Versius (No. 2): et
alter scriba Maecenas (No. 8) in imo, medius inter Tarquinium (No. 9) et
dominum Perpernam (No. 7).” On the same principle, No. 1 was the
highest place (Locus summus
) on the highest
couch; No. 3 was Locus imus in lecto summo; No. 2, Locus medius in lecto
summo, and so on. It will be found that in the following passage (Hor.
2.8, 20-23) the guests are enumerated
in the order of their accubation--an order exhibited in the annexed diagram.
Fundanius, one of the guests, who was at the top relatively to all the
Summus ego, et prope me Viscus Thurinus, et infra,
Si memini, Varius, cum Servilio Balatrone
Vibidius, quos Maecenas adduxerat umbras. Nomentanus erat super
ipsum, Porcius infra.
That Maecenas was in the place of honour (No. 6) is evident from the fact
that the dinner was given in his honour: that Servilius (No. 4) and Vibidius
(No. 5) were next to each other is not less plain from the aside in vv.
33, 34. The host himself, Nasidienus, occupies
the place No. 8, although No. 7 was the usual place for the master of the
feast, because Nomentanus was put next to Maecenas, in order to point out to
him the special dainties (v.
25). Cf. Journ.
6.219, and Palmer on Hor. l.c.
No. 6 was the place of honour (ὑπατικός,
Plut. Quaest. Conv.
1.3), not, as Lewis and Short still say,
after Plutarch, that if a consul were present he might be able to attend to
any business that might occur, but simply as being next to the host, a view
which Plutarch also gives (cf. Becker-Göll, Gallus,
The general superintendence of the dining-room in a great house was entrusted
to a slave called tricliniarcha,
the instrumentality of other slaves of inferior rank, took care that
everything was kept and proceeded in proper order.