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ATRAMENTUM (μέλαν), a term applicable to any black liquid (for instance; that emitted by the cuttle-fish, Cic. N. D. 2.5. 0, 127), but specially to three different kinds of black colouring substances :--1. Atramentum sutorium (χάλκανθον), used by shoemakers as a sort of blacking to dye leather with (Plin. Nat. 34.123). It contained a poisonous ingredient, probably sulphate of copper (Cic. Fam. 9.2. 1). 2. Atramentum tectorium or pictorium, a black pigment used by painters Pliny describes many varieties, the best of which was made by collecting the soot arising from the combustion of the pitch-pine on the marble walls of a specially constructed furnace, mixing it with glue, and then drying the mixture in the sun (Pliny, Plin. Nat. 35.41; Vitr. 7.10). A kind made with vinegar instead of glue was especially permanent. Another kind, which was imported from India, was probably the same as our Indian ink. Apelles (Plin. Nat. 35.97) coated his pictures with a thin atramentum or varnish, which both protected them and toned down the colours. 3. Atramentum librarium (μέλαν γραφικόν, in Byzantine Greek μελάνιον, ἀτέραμνον, ἔγκαυστον, whence our English word ink) was usually prepared in the same way as atramentum tectorium, gum being substituted for glue (Pliny and Vitruv. l.c.) The proportions, according to Dioscorides (5.182), were three parts of soot to one of gum. An infusion of wormwood protected manuscripts from mice (Plin. Nat. 27.52). This ink was more unctuous than ours, and perhaps more durable, resembling our printer's ink. It could, however, be easily wiped out soon after writing (Athen. 9.407 c). Hence the sponge was one of the regular implements of the scriba librarius (Suet. Aug. 85; Calig. 20; Auson. Ep. 7; Anthol. Pal. 6.295, 2; 65, 7; 66, 7). An inkstand containing some ink, thick but still fluid, was found at Pompeii. Its viscous character was sometimes a ground of complaint (Pers. l.c.), yet it was well adapted for writing. on papyrus.

The invention of our modern ink, composed of oxide of iron and galls, has been placed as late as the 12th century, but it is almost impossible to write on parchment with the ink described above, and the use of galls is mentioned not only by Martianus Capella (3.225) in the 5th century, but by Philo of Byzantium (p. 102, Vet. Mathem.) in the 2nd, in a description of a sympathetic ink, and has, moreover, been established by Sir H. Davy's experiments on the Herculanean manuscripts (Phil. Trans. 1821, 2.205).

The black fluid of the cuttle-fish (sepia) was also used as an ink, especially in Africa (Pers. Sat. 3.12 and Schol.; Auson. 4.76).

Coloured inks were also in use among the Romans [CINNABARIS, MINIUM, RUBRICA], and even a species of illumination in gold (Suet. Nero 10).

Something like what we call sympathetic ink,, which is invisible till heat or some preparation be applied, appears not to have been uncommon, So Ovid (A. A. 3.627) advises writing love letters with fresh milk, which would be unreadable until the letters were sprinkled with coal-dust. Ausonius (Ep. 23.21) gives the same direction. Pliny (26.62) suggests that the milky sap contained in some plants might be used in the same way. Philo of Byzantium (l.c.) says that a letter written with an infusion of galls becomes invisible until a sponge dipped in a solution of sulphate of copper is passed over it, when it again becomes visible.

An inkstand (πυξίον, μελάνδοκον, μελανδοχεῖον, βροχίς; late Lat. atramentarium, atramentale) was either single or double. The double was probably intended to contain both black and red ink, much in the modern fashion. They were also of various shapes, as, for example, round or

Inkstands from Pompeii.

hexagonal, and of various materials, as terracotta, bronze or bronze inlaid with silver and gold, and sometimes highly decorated. It will be observed [p. 1.245]that two of the inkstands in the woodcut have rings whereby to attach them to the girdle (Petr. Sat. 102).

The preceding cuts represent inkstands found at Pompeii. [CALAMUS] (Caneparius, de Atramentis cujusque Generis, Lond. 1660; Beckmann, History of Inventions, 1.106, 2.266, London, 1846; Becker-Göll, Charikles, 2.222, &c.; Gallus, 1.166, &c.)


hide References (8 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (8):
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 9.2.1
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 85
    • Suetonius, Nero, 10
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 7.10
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 26.62
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 27.52
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 35.41
    • Cicero, de Natura Deorum, 2.5
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