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PETAURUM (πέταυρον, πέτευρον) was, firstly, a pole or perch upon which fowls roosted (Theoc. 13.13; Pollux, 10.156): hence the better known use, a spring-board for acrobats (petauristae); in its simplest form a board balanced like a seesaw, from which the performers threw themselves ( “corpora jactata petauro,” Juv. 14.265; cf. Lucil. fr. 100); but it might be greatly elaborated, so that they sprang off through hoops, and performed as on a trapeze. The hoops were sometimes on fire, to increase the sensational character of the feat (Petron. 53). On Manilius 5.439-443 Professor Mayor says, “Perhaps a wheel hanging loose in the air, seated on which two jugglers keep the wheel in motion, alternately rising and falling: if either were thrown off, he must leap through flames and burning hoops.” This does not give a very plain sense, and it seems pretty clear that the petaurum was not itself a wheel. In the lines referred to we seem rather to see two acrobats springing from an oscillating board, as above described, through the “flammas orbesque” ( = the “circulos flammantes” of Petronius): when one has thus leapt off, the other remains for a moment with no one to balance him, while the board is just swinging back, and then he also leaps off. In Mart. 11.21 one end of the springboard rests on a revolving wheel ( “rota impacta petauro” ), and the acrobat has apparently to pass on to the wheel, which may be the “graciles viae petauri” of Mart. 2.86. Pollux (l.c.) seems to compare the πέταυρον to the contrivance in which Socrates appeared aloft in the Clouds of Aristophanes. This will favour the connexion suggested with μετεωρος. (See further authorities in Mayor's note on Juvenal, l.c.; Grasberger, Erziehung, 1.120.)

[W.S] [G.E.M]

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