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MENSA (τράπεζα), a table. The simplest kind of table was one with three legs, round, called cilliba (Festus, s.v. Varro, L. L. 5.118: cf. Hor. Sat. 1.3, 13; Ovid. Met. 8.662; Xen. Anab. 7.3, § 10). It is shown in the drinking-scene painted on the wall of a wine-shop

Table, from Gell's Pompeiana.

at Pompeii. (Gell's Pompeiana, 1832, vol. ii. p. 11.) (See woodcut.) It often had legs carved to represent the feet of animals (see woodcut in Vol. I. p. 395). In Homeric times, beside the seat (θρόνος) of each guest a small table was placed to receive his portion of food, which was cut up on the large dresser (ἔλεος). The table was probably then, as in later times when the same custom of small tables prevailed, lower than the seat, as is seen in the vase-painting below. (See also CENA Vol. I. p. 394.) The term τράπεζα, though commonly used in Greek for a table of any kind, must, according to its etymology, have denoted originally a four-legged table. Accordingly, in paintings on vases, the tables are usually represented with four legs, of which an example is given in the cut below. (Millin, Peintures de Vases Antiques, vol. i.

Table beside a dining-couch. (From an ancient vase.)

pl. 59.) Horace used at Rome a dining-table of white marble, thus combining neatness with economy (Sat. 1.6, 16). For the houses of the opulent, tables were made of the most valuable and beautiful kinds of wood, especially of maple (σφενδαμνίνη, Athen. 2.47 d; acerna, Hor. Sat. 2.8, 10; Mart. 14.90), or of the citrus of Africa, which was a species of cypress, the Thuja articulata of the Atlas range. (Citrea, Cic. Ver. 4.17, 37; Mart. 2.43, 14.89; Plin. Nat. 13. § § 91-99.) For this purpose the Romans made use of the roots and tubers of the tree, which, when cut, displayed the greatest variety of spots, beautiful waves, and curling veins. These were called tigrinae or pantherinae, according to the marks on them, or are compared to a peacock's tail (cf. lectus pavoninus, Mart. 14.85). The finest specimens of tables so adorned were sold for many thousand pounds. Pliny (l.c.) mentions such prices as a table bought by Cicero for 500,000 sesterces, by Asinius Pollio for a million (= about 8,500l.).

One of the principal improvements was the invention of the monopodium, a round table (orbis) supported by a single foot; this with other kinds of expensive and elaborate furniture was introduced into Rome from Asia Minor by Cn. Manlius after the war with Antiochus, B.C. 187 (Plin. Nat. 34.14; cf. Liv. 39.6). The value of these orbes, which were sections of the trunk of the tree, depended on their size. Pliny (13.93) mentions as remarkable the table of Ptolemy, king of Mauretania, 4 1/2 feet in diameter, but of two joined pieces; that of Nomius, a freedman of Tiberius, 3 ft. 11 1/4 in.; and that of Tiberius, 4 ft. 2 in. in diameter. These orbes were often supported on ivory feet (Juv. 11.122; Mart. 2.43, 9.22). Sometimes the citrus or maple was only a veneering (Plin. Nat. 33.146). Tables were also made of metal, bronze, silver (Petron. 73) or gold (Mart. 3.31; perhaps overlaid with plates of gold). From the fashion of round tables came that of arranging the lecti so as to form a continuous crescent-shaped couch called sigma, from the form c of that letter (sigma was the couch, not the table), also called stibadium and accubitum (Mart. 10.48; 14.87). (For further description of the arrangement of table and couches, see TRICLINIUM; for mensae Delphicae, see ABACUS) The tables among the Greeks, and until later times among the Romans, were not covered by cloths, which only came into use about Domitian's time [MANTELE]. They were cleansed by wet sponges (Hom. Od. i. [p. 2.158]11, 20.151; cf. Mart. 14.144), for which purpose the Romans also used a thick cloth with a woolly nap (gausape, Hor. Sat. 2.8, 11).

Among the Greeks the small tables described above were removed bodily with their course of dishes on them (Athen. 2.60 b, v. p. 150 a), whence the phrase πρῶται, δεν́τεραι τράπεζαι, which answer to the Latin cena prima, &c. As the board of the Greek table is sometimes called by a distinct name, ἐπίθημα (Athen. 2.49 a; Pollux, 10.81), it appears that it was sometimes separate from the tripod or other stand (κιλλίβας) on which it was set. The Roman practice, however, was to bring in the courses (fercula or missus) on trays (repositoria), which were set down on the mensa. Such phrases as mensas removere, &c. (Verg. A. 1.216, &c.) mean the conclusion of the meal; and the phrase mensae secundae means not “second course,” but dessert, which was regarded as a break in the entertainment, and came after the offering to the Lares, which was the Roman grace after meat. [See CENA Vol. I. p. 396 b; LRARIUM.]

The name of τράπεζα or mensa was also given to a flat tombstone (Cic. de Leg. 2.2. 6, 66). Of mensae sacrae in the temples there were two sorts: (i.) a sort of subsidiary altar set before the image in the cella, to receive offerings of fruit, flowers, coins, &c., so that in inscriptions we find dedication of “ara et mensa” (C. I. L. 10.205); and (ii.) mensae anclabres, tables about the temple upon which vessels, &c., required in the sacred rites might be placed, like credence tables (Marquardt, Staatsverw. 3.165). Like the former kind were the mensae curiales, for the offerings (to Juno Curitis especially) by the Flamen curialis in each curia. (For the mercantile sense, see ARGENTARII; and, for further description of mensae and τράπεζαι, Becker-Göll, Charikles, iii. p. 81; Gallus, 2.350; Marquardt, Privatleben, p. 723; Mayor's notes on Juv. 1.137.)

[J.Y] [G.E.M]

hide References (19 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (19):
    • Xenophon, Anabasis, 7.3
    • Cicero, Against Verres, 2.4.37
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 1.216
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 13
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 34.14
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 39, 6
    • Cicero, De Legibus, 2.2
    • Athenaeus, of Naucratis, Deipnosophistae, 2.47
    • Athenaeus, of Naucratis, Deipnosophistae, 2.49
    • Athenaeus, of Naucratis, Deipnosophistae, 2.60
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 10.48
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 14.144
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 14.85
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 14.87
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 14.89
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 14.90
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 2.43
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 3.31
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 9.22
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