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MANTE´LE in the imperial times, was a table-cloth, but originally, as its etymology shows, was a towel or napkin used by priests at sacrifices (Serv. ad Aen. 1.701; Ovid. Fast. 4.933) and by guests at a banquet. It is natural that the antique use of the word should be found in accounts of sacrifices, and in Virgil (Georg. 4.377; Aen. 1.701), where we find the woollen mantele, with soft and even nap (tonsis mantelia villis), used to wipe the hands when water was poured over them before the feast [see MAPPA]: so Isidore, Or. 19, 26, 6, says, “Mantelia nunc pro operiendis mensis sunt, quae, ut nomen ipsum indicat, olim tergendis manibus praebebantur.” For the newer fashion of using a table-cloth (mantele), see Martial, 12.29, 12; 14.138. After Hadrian's time it was the custom to use table-cloths of costly material and embroidery (Lamprid. Heliog. 27; Alex. Sev. 37). We may gather from Horace (Sat. 2.8, 10) that no table-cloth was used in his time, and no doubt the fashion of giving extravagant prices for dining-tables of a beautiful grain arose at a time when the table was fully shown. In fact, there is no mention of the covering of the table earlier than the passage cited from Martial, and, when this custom arose, the name of the larger or sacrificial napkin was adopted for the table-cloth (see Marquardt, Privatleben, 312).

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

hide References (3 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 12.12
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 12.29
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 14.138
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