Furniture and the Greek House

Michael Lahanas

Το αρχαίο ελληνικό έπιπλο

Häuser und Möbel im antiken Griechenland

Part 1

Plato had a catalogue of his furniture. From Diogenes Laertios we know his testament:

...Euclides the stonecutter owes me three minae. I leave Diana her liberty. My slaves Sychon, Bictas, Apolloniades, and Dionysius, I bequeath to my son; and I also give him all my furniture, of which Demetrius has a catalogue. I owe no one anything. My executors shall be Tozthenes, Speusippus, Demetrius, Hegias, Eurymedon, Callimachus, and Thrasippus.

Carpenter


The kline (bed or sofa) image reminds John 5:1-47 Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your bed and walk."


Kline from klino (cause to lean), from which also the word clinic and clinical is derived (that on which one reclines). It was made of wood or bronze, and was often richly adorned. Greek bedsteads were exported to foreign parts. (White and Morgan, illustrated dictionary of Xenophon's Anabasis)


kline reconstruction

Decoration of a kline from Pella

Theseus and Procrustes , Vase painting. The kline with "walking" legs.

William Smith :

In the heroic ages of Greece beds were very simple; the bedsteads, however, are sometimes represented as ornamented (treta lexea, Il. iii.448; compare Odyss. xxiii.219,&c.). The principal parts of a bed were the chlainai and rigea (Odyss. xix.337); the former were a kind of thick woollen cloak, sometimes coloured, which was in bad weather worn by men over their chiton, and was sometimes spread over a chair to render the seat soft. That these chlainai served as blankets for persons in their sleep, is seen from Odyss. xiv.488, 500, 504, 513, 529, xx.4. The rigea, on the other hand, were probably a softer and more costly kind of woollen cloth, and were used chiefly by persons of high rank. They were, like the chlainai, sometimes used to cover the seat of chairs when persons wanted to sit down (Odyss. x.352). To render this thick woollen stuff less disaagreeable, a linen cloth was sometimes spread over it (Odyss. xiii.73). It has been supposed that the rigea were pillows or bolsters; but this opinion seems to be refuted by the circumstance that, in Odyss. vi.38, they are described as being washed without anything being said as to any operation which would have necessarily preceded the washing had they been pillows. Beyond this supposition respecting the rigea, we have no traces of pillows or bolsters being used in the Homeric age. The bedstead (lexos, lektron, demnion) of persons of high rank was covered with skins (koea) upon which the rigea were placed, and over these linen sheets or carpets were spread; the chlaina, lastly, served as a cover or blanket for the sleeper (Odyss. iv.296,&c.; Il. xxiv.643, &c.; ix.660, &c.). Poor persons slept on skins or beds of dry herbs spread upon the ground (Odyss. xiv.519; xx.139, &c.; xi.188,&c.; compare Nitzsch, zur Odyss. vol. i p210). These simple beds. to which shortly after the Homeric age a pillow for the head was added, continued to be used by the poorer classes among the Greeks at all times. Thus the bed of the orator Lycurgus is said to have consisted of one sheep-skin (kodion) and a pillow (Plut. Vit. Dec. Orat. Lycurg. p842c). But the complete bed (eune) of a wealthy Greek in later times, generally consisted of the following parts: kline, epitonoi, tuleion or kefalon, proskefaleion, and stromata.

The kline is properly speaking only the bedstead, and seems to have consisted only of posts fitted into one another and resting upon four feet. At the head part alone there was a board (anaklintron or epiklintron) to support the pillow and prevent its falling out. Sometimes the anaklintron was wanting, as we see in drawings on ancient vases (Pollux, x.34, vi.9). Sometimes, however, the bottom part of a bedstead was likewise protected by the board, so that in this case a Greek bedstead resembled a modern so-called French bedstead. The kline was generally made of wood, which in quality varied according to the means of the persons for whose use it was intended; for in some cases we find that it was made of solid maple or box-wood, or veneered with a coating of these more expensive woods. At a later period, bedsteads were not only made of solid ivory or veneered with tortoiseshell, but sometimes had silver feet (Pollux, l.c.; Aelian, V.H. xii.29; Athen. vi. p255).

The bedstead was provided with girths (tonoi, epitonoi, keiria) on which the bed or mattress (kefalon, tuleion, koinos or tuli) rested; instead of these girths poorer people used strings (Aristoph. Av. 814, with the Schol.). The cover or ticking of a mattress was made of linen or woollen cloth, or of leather, and the usual material with which it was filled (to emballomenon, pliroma, or gnafalon) was either wool or dried weeds. At the head part of the bed, and supported by the epiklintron, lay a round pillow (proskefaleion) to support the head; and in some ancient pictures two other square pillows are seen, which were intended to support the back. The covers of such pillows are striped in several pictures on ancient vases (see the woodcut under SYMPOSIUM), and were therefore probably of various colours. They were undoubtedly filled with the same materials as the beds and mattresses.

The bed-covers, which may be termed blankets or counterpanes, were called by a variety of names, such as peristromata, upostromata, epiblimata, erestrides, chlainai, amfiestrides, epibolaia, dapides, yilodapides, custides, xrusopastoi, tapites or amfitapitea. The common name, however, was stromata. They were generally made of cloth, which was very thick and woolly either on one or on both sides (Pollux, vi.9). It is not always easy to distinguish whether the ancients, when speaking of klinai, mean beds in our sense of the word, or the couches on which they lay at meal times. We consequently do not know whether the descriptive epithets of klinai, enumerated by Pollux, belong to beds or couches. But this matters little, as there was scarcely any difference between the beds of the ancients and their couches, with this exception, that the latter being made for appearance as well as for comfort, were, on the whole, undoubtedly more splendid and costly than the former. Considering, however, that bedsteads were often made of the most costly materials, we may reasonably infer that the coverings and other ornaments of beds were little inferior to those of couches. Notwithstanding the splendour and comfort of many Greek beds, the Asiatics, who have at all times excelled the Europeans in these kinds of luxuries, said that the Greeks did not understand how to make a comfortable bed (Athen. ii. p48; Plut. Pelop. 30). The places most celebrated for the manufacture of splendid bed-covers were Miletus, Corinth, and Carthage (Aristoph. Ran. 410, 542, with the Schol.; Lysistr. 732; Cic. c. Verr. i.34; Athen. i. pp27, 28). It appears that the Greeks, though they wore night-gowns, did not simply cover themselves with the stromata, but wrapt themselves up in them. Less wealthy persons continued, according to the ancient custom, to use skins of sheep and other animals, especially in winter, as blankets (Pollux, x.123; Aristoph. Nub. 10).

The bedsteads of the poorer classes are designated by the names skimpous, askantis, and krabbatos, and an exaggerated description of such a bed is given by Aristophanes (Plut. 540, &c.; compare Lysistr. 916). The words xameuni and xameunion, which originally signified a bed of straw or dry herbs made on the ground (Theocrit. iii.33; Plut. Lycurg. 16), were afterwards applied to a bed which was only near the ground, to distinguish it from the kline which was generally a high bedstead. Xameunia were the usual beds for slaves, soldiers in the field, and poor citizens, and the mattresses used in them were mere mats made of rushes or bast (Pollux, l.c., and vi.11; Becker, Charikles, vol. ii pp114-122; Pollux, x. c7, 8, vi.1).

Helena Modrzejewska (Helena Modjeska) (1840-1909), Polish-American actress, as Laodamia on a Klismos chair


Another modern version

Klismos (chair) reconstruction. According to Bishop (1979), the backs of these chairs, referred to as Stiles, were designed to the curvature of the back for comfort and extended to the shoulders. Used mainly by women.

The first aesthetically significant chair form was created in ancient Greece. The klismos as a graceful, symmetrical chair which became a prototype of designs that reappeared throughout the centuries of chair design that follow. (Caroline Kelly, The Beauty of Fit: Proportion and Anthropometry in Chair Design and Encyclopedia Britannica 2005)

Seats in the Dionysus Theater in Athens


A women holding a basket (situla). Behind her a stool with a woven cushion. Attic Red Figure Hydria ca.460-450 BC


Look at the design of the chair, especially the legs which look like that of an animal. A so called “diphros okladias” X-frame style. It is a folding stool and can be seen in Aegean reliefs around 2000 BC and in Egypt.


A chair designed for small children. Baby on Stool with Mother, Attic red-figure and white-ground stemless kylix, probably from the Sotades Painter Workshop, about 460 BC. Musées royaux d'art et d'histoire, Brussels, A 890



Trapeza, usually tables had 3 legs (A three legged table is a solution to the wobbly aspect ). (Trapeza means also bank since the first banks were nothing else than a simple table set somewhere outside by a banker, not like the banks today, the huge and luxurious buildings!) (Probably adapted from similar furniture from Egypt)

"Trapezophore", Part of a Table from Dion

Trapezophoren

Recently a high-energy physicist proposed a solution to the four legs tables problem of wobbly tables. Just rotate the table and at some point, all four feet will touch the ground : PDF.

Chests


A woman holding a box lifts the lid of an inlaid chest. Attic Red Figure Kylix 480-470 BC

A large chest "Larnax", women ready to put clothes or fabric in a chest (Click Images to enlarge)

And we have not forgotten to provide for our weary spirits many relaxations from toil; we have regular games and sacrifices throughout the year; our homes are beautiful and elegant; and the delight which we daily feel in all these things helps to banish sorrow. Because of the greatness of our city the fruits of the whole earth flow in upon us; so that we enjoy the goods of other countries as freely as our own...Pericles' Funeral Oration (Thucydides 2.35-46)


Sometimes a kline could be used even on a horse!!!

Greeks after influenced by Egyptian Furniture style developed their own style around the 5th to 4th century BC, such as the klismos chair. We know most from images on pottery or from reliefs and not from the original pieces usually made using wood that did not survive.

Images of pieces of furniture from a sunken Roman ship, 1st century BC. All these precious objects were probably commissioned to a Greek workshop (the assembly numbers are in Greek) by a wealthy Roman living in the province”

Part 2, Description of the furniture and houses

 
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