A mineral obtained by the ancients from India, Cyprus, and Euboea. It was well adapted for
making the wicks of lamps, because indestructible by fire; and hence the Greeks, who used it
for this purpose, gave it the name ἄσβεστος
, which means
inextinguishable. Pausanias mentions that the golden lamp which burned day and night in the
temple of Athené Polias at Athens had a wick of this substance.
It was also spun and woven into cloth. Thus manufactured, it was used for napkins (χειρεκμαγεῖα, χειρόμακτρα
), which were never washed, but cleansed in
a much more effective manner, whenever they required it, by being thrown into the fire.
Another use to which asbestine cloth was applied was to preserve the remains of dead bodies
burned in the funeral pile. But the expense of this kind of cloth was so great that it could
only be used at the obsequies of persons of the most exalted rank. The testimony of Pliny has
been corroborated by the discovery of pieces of the cloth in ancient Roman or Italian
sepulchres. The most remarkable specimen of this kind was found at Rome, A.D. 1702, in a
marble sarcophagus, enveloping a skull and bones, and in size about five feet by six and a
half. It is now in the Vatican.