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E´LEPHAS (ἐλέφας, ebur; elephantus, poet., Verg. Georg. 3.26; Aen. 3.464, 6.896). African ivory was known to the ancients, through Phoenician trade, long before the elephant (from Libya in the time of Pheidias: Hermipp. fr. 61 M.; Paus. 1.12, 4). Accordingly, early writers--Homer, Hesiod, Pindar--speak of the material only. Herodotus, indeed, was aware of its origin (4.191; Plin. Nat. 8.7), but the Greeks generally only became acquainted with the animal from the Macedonian expeditions into Asia, the Romans with the arrival of Pyrrhus in Italy. Both words ἐλέφας, ebur, probably contain the Egyptian âb (ivory, elephant). (O. Schrader, Linguist. histor. Forsch. zur Handelsgesch. 1.71.)

The use of ivory in the manufacture of small objects of use or ornament, and for purposes of decoration, is earliest in Egypt and Assyria. There have been found, for instance, castanets, stick-handles, hilts and hefts, combs, flutes, sceptres, caskets, statuettes, made of the tusk, and many different articles of furniture inlaid with it. In Homer, besides its employment when carved in mass, it is referred to in connexion with walls, doors, harness, &c., and was then probably attached in plates by nails to a metal or wooden ground. The chest of Kypselos, which was of cedar embellished with ivory reliefs, was probably an example of the latter method; so also perhaps the bedstead of Hippodameia (Paus. 5.17, 2; 5.20, 1). In later times, true inlaying was resorted to, and almost every kind of furniture, as beds, sofas, thrones, carriages even, enriched with the precious material. It is probable that at the time of the Empire the use of ivory in the arts was much more extensive than at the present day, and the supply abundant.

Among objects not enumerated above may be mentioned masks and writing-tablets. The latter (δέλτοι, libri elephantini), with two, three, or more leaves (diptycha, triptycha, pentaptycha, &c.), were either entirely, or had their covers only, of ivory. Those extant are chiefly of later Roman age. They are of two classes, consularia and ecclesiastica, distinguished by the subjects of the carvings on their covers, the former being figures of consuls at the pompa circensis, missiones, &c., while the latter are of a biblical nature (Müller, Arch. d. Kunst, § 312, n. 3). They were presented to officers and dignitaries to commemorate their appointment. [DIPTYCHA]

For further information, see H. Blümner, Kunstgew. im Alterth. 1.113, &c., 2.64; id. Technol. u. Terminol. d. Gewerbe, &100.2.361-375, where there is a full bibliography. Compare, CHRYSELEPHANTINA


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