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PA´TERA (φιάλη), a round shallow vessel like a large saucer, but somewhat deeper than our ordinary saucer. Varro (L. L. 5.122) and Macrobius (Macr. 5.21) derive its name from its: flat, expanded shape ( “planum ac patens” ). It had neither the foot and stem nor the two handles which belonged to the cylix [CALIX; VAS]. It must be observed that alike in sacred and common use it served only for liquids, and those writers who have described it as also used for solids have confounded it with patella, which they have erroneously taken to be a diminutive of patera. Another error to be avoided is the confusion of the Homeric φιάλη with the later φιάλη, which was identical with the Latin patera. As Curtius points out (Etym. 498), the Homeric φιάλη was not used for drinking, but as a kind of smaller λέβης or kettle, which could be placed on the fire (whence the epithet ἀπύρωτος for a new φιάλη, Il. 23.270), and also as an urn for ashes. Aristarchus teaches this in the words ὅτι φιάλην (of Homer) οὐ τὸ [p. 2.350]παρ᾽ ἡμῖν ποτήριον, ἀλλὰ γένος τι λέβητος ἐκπέταλον. From these words and from its use in Homer we may conclude that, though shallower than the λέβης and probably smaller, it was still a deep vessel and not of that saucer shape which belongs to the familiar patera. The epithet ἀμφίθετος of the Homeric φιάλη was a puzzle to Athenaeus, a solution of which cannot now be given with confidence. It is not possible in etymology to accept the view that it means round, nor the suggestion of Athenaeus himself that it may mean “excellently made.” We are left with the view of Aristarchus that it was a vessel which could stand on either end. Heyne understands this to mean a double cup of the hour-glass or dice-box shape: more probably it was so called because, whereas the ordinary Homeric λέβης was rounded at the bottom so that, if otherwise unsupported, it could only stand inverted, the Homeric φιάλη had a flat bottom, and could stand either way (for the discussion, see Athen. 11.501).

The post-Homeric φιάλη was of the shape described at the beginning of this article; it never had a handle (differing in that respect from one form of the Italian patera mentioned below), nor any stem, but often, as in the examples given below, a low base; sometimes, as we are told, it had knobs or supports, which were called ἀστράγαλοι: the φιάλη with these knobs at the bottom was called βαλανωτὴ or καρυωτή (Ath. 11.502 b), the knobs being compared to nuts or acorns. Another feature very common in φιάλαι and paterae was the ὄμφαλος. This was a hollow boss in the centre of the interior or upper side, as shown in the woodcut. Athenaeus distinguishes φιάλαι ὀμφαλωτοί,

Φιάλη ὀμφαλωτός. (From the British Museum.)

and gives an equivalent name φθοῖς. The φιάλη or patera was usually held in the flat of the hand (though not always, as may be seen in the famous Sosias-cylix, Baumeister, Taf. xcii.), and it is easy to understand that the ὄμφαλος gave a better hold, the fingers catching in the hollow of the boss underneath. The material was either earthenware or metal, bronze, silver and gold (ἀργυρὶς and χρυσίς): the φιάλαι in Plat. Crit. 120 A are of gold. (Examples of gold and silver paterae found in Cyprus are given in Cesnola, pp. 316, 337.) The φιάλη of post-Homeric times was used for drinking (Plat. Symp. 223 C; Pind. N. 9.121), and so classed among ἐκπώματα (Hdt. 9.80); but its most characteristic use was for pouring libations (Hdt. 2.151; Plat. Crit. l.c., &c.). The φιάλη for libations, held by the officiating person, was usually filled by an attendant from an οἰνοχόη: in the passage cited from Plato's Crit. the wine seems to be dipped in the φιάλη from the κρατήρ.

The usual Italian patera was identical with the φιάλν in shape [see SIMPULUM]. One of white marble found at Hadrian's villa is now in the British Museum. It is 14 inches in diameter and 1 3/4 high. It is cut with skill, the

Patera, from Hadrian's Villa.

marble being not much more than a quarter of an inch thick. In the centre is a female bucchante with a long tunic and a scarf floating over her head, encircled by a wreath of ivy. The decorations indicate a patera dedicated to Bacchus. Some paterae, however, had one handle (which the φιάλη never had), as in the woodcut below, a bronze patera found at

Patera, from Pompeii.

Pompeii. This seems to have been commoner in Etruscan paterae, of which there are several in bronze and terracotta in the British Museum with the single handle. An Etruscan relief in Inghirami, Mon. Etrus. vi. pl. M, shows a youth bringing for libation the two vessels, an oinochoe [p. 2.351]and a patera, the latter having a handle. It is possible that the addition of the handle may be an Etruscan invention. The material was often only earthenware (Hor. Sat. 6.116); but often also silver (Mart. 3.41, 6.13, 8.33; Plin. Nat. 33.156); sometimes gold (Mart. 14.95; Juv. 5.39--in both, the word phiala is used; Verg. A. 1.729). It was originally used as a drinking cup (Varro, L. L. 5.122), but> afterwards especially for libations (Hor. Od. 1.31, 2; 4.5, 34;--Ov. Met. 9.160), whence it became the insigne of the EPULONES though often it served both purposes, as in the passage cited from Virgil. A representation of the libation, from Trajan's Column, is given under PAENULA [For libations, see SACRIFICIUM]

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

hide References (13 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (13):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.151
    • Herodotus, Histories, 9.80
    • Homer, Odyssey, 1.31
    • Homer, Odyssey, 4.34
    • Homer, Iliad, 23.270
    • Homer, Odyssey, 1.2
    • Homer, Odyssey, 4.5
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 9.160
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 1.729
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 14.95
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 3.41
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 6.13
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 8.33
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