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COTHURNUS (κόθορνος). The word cothurnus is chiefly associated with tragedy, and among the Romans was the name given to the tragic boot. But it is to be carefully borne in mind that among the Greeks the tragic boot was not so called. The Greek term used was occasionally ὀκρίβας (Philostr. Apoll. 6.11; Vit. Soph. 1.9, 1), but more usually ἐμβάτης (Lucian, Jup. Trag. 41; Hist. conscrib. 22; Necyom. 16). A distinction is said to subsist between ἐμβάτης, the tragic boot, and ἐμβάς, the comic one (Ammon. p. 49; Thom. Mag. p. 300); and again the distinction is said to be that ἐμβὰς is the tragic boot and ἐμβάτης the comic one (Poll. 4.115). But the latter distinction certainly cannot be sustained, for ἐμβάδες is often used for the comic boot (e. g. Arist. Eq. 321) and ἐμβάτης for the tragic one (Lucian, Salt. 27); and even the former is very questionable, for in Bekk. Anecd. 746 ἐμβάδων is used of the tragic buskin (cf. Sommerbrodt, Scaenica, p. 106, note). Among the Greeks the κόθορνος was a kind of closed boot (in distinction to sandals) worn by women, which could fit either foot (hence the nickname of Κόθορνος given to Theramenes, Xen. Hell. 2.3, 31, and the proverb εὐμεταβολώτερος κοθόρνου), and had rectangular soles (Etym. M. 524, 40). In Herodotus (6.126) it was the kind of boot put on by Alcmaeon when he was allowed to take as much gold as he could carry out of the treasury of Croesus; and was also the kind of boot which Croesus advised Cyrus to compel the Lydians to wear, in order to make them effeminate (Hdt. 1.155). The cothurnus is called by Ovid “Lydian” (Am. 3.1, 14), and in this connexion it is to be remembered that τυρρηνικὰ were rectangular wooden shoes [CALCEUS]. In Aristophanes, too, the κόθορνος is a woman's boot (Lys. 657; Eccl. 346, cf. 319; and especially Ran. 47), apparently of such a nature that the foot could be easily slipped into it (Eccl. 346). The generic name for such a boot seems to have been ἐμβάτης or ἐμβάς (ἀπὸ τοῦ ἐμβαίνειν τοὺς πόδας, Etym. M. 333, 54); and [p. 1.558]this word ἐμβάτης is specially applied by the Greeks to a top-boot reaching up to the calf of the leg and worn by hunters (Xen. Eq. 12, 10; cf. Poll. 5.18). The term κόθορνος in Greek is not used in this sense ; but cothurnus in Latin is often applied to the hunter's boot (Verg. Ecl. 7.32; Aen. 1.341, and Servius ad loc.), the species coming to be used for the genus, both agreeing in the quality of being easily slipped on. The correct Greek term for the hunting boot is ENDROMIS

In Roman times cothurnus also takes the place of ἐμβάτης as applied to the tragic boot (e. g. Ovid. Am. 2.18, 15; Tert. Spect. 23). It was a closed boot, but its special characteristic was the great height of its soles (Ov. Am. 3.1, 63; Senec. Ep. 76, 31), and accordingly the term is applied to the very high-soled boot of a small woman (Juv. 6.506). The actors were perched up on painted (Ov. Am. 2.18, 14; Wieseler, Denkm. des Bühenwesen, plates 7 and 8) wooden (Schol. ad Lucian, Saturn. 19) blocks, which we can well believe were heavy (Lucian, Anach. 23), which were, as may be seen from

Cothurnus. (Daremberg and Saglio.)

the accompanying cut, probably six or seven inches high, and from which he had to “get down” (καταβάς) at the end of the performance. The object was to give the principal characters a grandiose and superhuman stature. The less important actors had lower-soled boots, and we find pictures of actors with soles of different heights to their buskins (Saglio, fig. 2032; cf. Cic. Fin. 3.14, 46). The statue of Melpomene on the sarcophagus of the Muses in the Louvre (Saglio, fig. 2028) wears two cothurni of different heights. The cothurnus being such a salient point of tragic costume, it came to be used for “tragedy,” or “tragic style” generally (e. g. Hor. A. P. 80 ; Od. 2.1, 12). In the Satyric drama the heroic characters most probably wore the high-soled boot, as Wieseler (Satyrspiel, p. 80) supposes, though A. Müller (Die griech. Bühn. p. 242) thinks they adopted the hunter's boot. From analogy with the huntsman's boot, we might infer that the tragic boot came considerably up the leg; but we cannot verify this from pictures, and it is at variance with a statement of Lucian's (Gall. 26) that when an actor with ἐμβάδες on fell the naked legs were exposed. The boots most probably did not come above the ankle. The uppers appear to have been made of leather; the huntsman's ἐμβάτης undoubtedly was (Xen. Eq. 12, 10), and the woman's κόθορνος in Aristoph. Lys. 658 is ἀψηκτός, which leads us to suppose that they were usually of leather. Cothurni do not appear on some pictures of actors found at Pompeii; so that we may infer that they were not always used. For other theories based on their absence, see A. Müller, op. cit. 240.

The chief works on the subject are Becker-Göll, Charikles, 3.280 ff.; Sommerbrodt, Scaenica, pp. 192-197; A. Müller, Die griechischen Bühnenalterthümer, pp. 238-241; and Pottier in Daremberg and Saglio's Dict. des Antiquités, s. v. Cothurnus.


hide References (10 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (10):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.155
    • Herodotus, Histories, 6.126
    • Homer, Odyssey, 2.1
    • Homer, Odyssey, 2.12
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 2.3
    • Xenophon, On the Art of Horsemanship, 12
    • Aristophanes, Lysistrata, 658
    • Ovid, Amores, 2.18
    • Ovid, Amores, 2.14
    • Ovid, Amores, 3.1
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