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ALABASTRUM and ALABASTER (ἀλάβαστρον, or rather ἀλάβαστος, as it is written in classical Greek: in pl. ἀλάβαστρα or -στα. Lat. pl. Alabastra, sometimes -tri; see inscription below), a small tapering or pear-shaped vessel, having no feet, used for holding perfumes and ointments. Such vessels were originally made of alabaster, of which the variety called onyx-alabaster was usually employed for this purpose ( “nardi parvus onyx,” Hor. Carm. 4.12.17; Plin. Nat. 13.19: “lapidem alabastriten . . . quem cavant ad vasa unguentaria, quoniam optume servare incorrupta dicatur,” ib. 36.60). It is doubtful, however, whether the vessels were named from the material or vice versâ. They are also found of stone and terra-cotta, with a white or cream-coloured ground and black figures. The right-hand woodcut on the next page shows an alabastrum from Chiusi, carved into female faces above, and having a hole in the crown for pouring out the ointment or perfume. (Dennis, Etruria, i. p. cxxv.) Other materials were in use, as glass, and even gold (χρύσεια ἀλάβαστρα, Theocr. 15.114). The alabastra usually had no handles, though we sometimes find specimens with them. (See left-hand figure.) The Scholiast on Aristoph. Ach. 1053 defines the ἀλάβαστος as λήκυθος ὦτα μὴ ἔχουσα; cf. Hesych. and Suidas s.v. Pollux, 10.120, 121; and Pliny indicates the shape (H. N. 9.113): “elenchos appellant fastigata longitudine alabastrorum figura in pleniore orbe desinentes.” In an inscription they are called “graciles alabastri” (Orelli, [p. 1.96]4832). Such scent bottles are first mentioned by Herodotus (3.20, where see Stein), who speaks of a μύρου ἀλάβαστρον as one of the presents sent by Cambyses to the Ethiopian king; and after his time they occur both in Greek and Roman writers (Aristoph. Acharn. l.c.; Aelian, Ael. VH 12.18; “alabaster plenus unguenti,” Cic. ap. Non. 15.17; “Cosmi redolent alabastra,” Martial, 11.8; Matt. 26.7; Mark 14.3; Luke 7.37). Some of these vessels had a long narrow neck, which was sealed; so that when the woman in the Gospels is said to break the alabaster box of ointment, it appears probable that she only broke the extremity of the neck, which was thus closed. (Cf. Becker-Göll, Gallus, ii. p. 378). [W.S]

Alabastrum. (British Museum.)

Alabastrum. (Dennis, Etruria, i. p. cxxv.)

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