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Though "Penelope's web" is become a proverb, it would be unpardonable here to omit specific mention of it. Antinoiis thus complains of her :—
"Elusive of the bridal day, she gives
The Greek costume was rich and elegant; and though, from our familiarity with colourless statues, we are apt to suppose it gravely uniform in its hue, such was not the fact; for the tunic was often adorned with ornamental embroidery of all sorts. The toga was the characteristic of Roman costume: this gradually assumed variations from its primitive simplicity of hue, until at length the triumphant general considered even the royal purple too unpretending, unless set off by a rich embroidery of gold. The first embroideries of the Romans were but bands of stuff, cut or twisted, which they put on the dresses: the more modest used only one band; others two, three, four, up to seven; and from the number of these the dresses took their names, always drawn from the Greek: molores, dilores, trilores, tetralores, &c.
Pliny seems to be the authority whence most writers derive their accounts of ancient garments and needlework.
"The coarse rough wool with the round great haire hath been of ancient time highly commended and accounted of in tapestrie worke: for even Homer himself witnesseth that they of the old world used the same much, and tooke great delight therein. But this tapestrie is set out with colours in France after one sort, and among the Parthians after another. M. Varro writeth that within the temple of Sangus there continued unto the time that he wrote his booke the wooll that lady Tanaquil, otherwise named Caia Cecilia, spun; together with her distaff and spindle: as also within the chapel of Fortune, the very roiall robe or mantle of estate, made in her own hands after the manner of water chamlot in wave worke, which Servius Tullius used to weare. And from hence came the fashion and custome at Rome, that when maidens were to be wedded, there attended upon them a distaffe, dressed and trimmed with kombed wooll, as also a spindle and yearne upon it. The said Tanaquil was the first that made the coat or cassocke woven right out all through; such as new beginners (namely young souldiers, barristers, and fresh brides) put on under their white plaine gowns, without any guard of purple. The waved water chamelot was from the beginning esteemed the richest and bravest wearing. And from thence came the branched damaske in broad workes. Fenestella writeth that in the latter time of Augustus Caesar they began at Rome to use their gownes of cloth shorne, as also with a curled nap.—As for those robes which are called crebrse and papaveratse, wrought thicke with floure worke, resembling poppies, or pressed even and smooth, they be of greater antiquitie: for even in the time of Lucilius the poet Torquatus was noted and reproved for wearing them. The long robes embrodered before, called prsetextee, were devised first by the Tuscanes. The Trabese were roiall robes, and I find that kings and princes only ware them. In Homer's time also they used garments embrodered with imagerie and floure, work, and from thence came the triumphant robes. As for embroderie itselfe and needle-worke, it was the Phrygians invention: and hereupon embroderers in Latine bee called phrygiones. And in the same Asia king Attalus was the first that devised cloth of gold: and thence come such colours to be called Attalica. In Babylon they used much to weave their cloth of divers colours, and this was a great wearing amongst them, and cloths so wrought were called Babylonica. To weave cloth of tissue with twisted threeds both in woofe and warpe, and the same of sundrie colours, was the invention of Alexandria; and such clothes and garments were called Polymita, But Fraunce devised the scutchion, square, or lozenge damaske worke. Metellus Scipio, among other challenges and imputations laid against Capito, reproached and accused him for this:—'That his hangings and furniture of his dining chamber, being Babylonian work or cloth of Arras, were sold for 800,000 sesterces; and such like of late days stood Prince Nero in 400,000 sesterces, i. e. forty millions.' The embrodered long robes of Servius Tullius, wherewith he covered and arraied all over the image of Fortune, by him dedicated, remained whole and sound until the end of Sejanus. And a wonder it was that they neither fell from the image nor were motheaten in 560 yeares." *
It was long before silk was in general use, even for patrician garments. It has been supposed that the famous Median vest, invented by Semiramis, was silken, which might account for its great fame in the west. Be this as it may, it was so very graceful, that the Medes adopted it after they had conquered Asia; and the Persians followed their example. In the time of the Romans the price of silk was weight for weight with gold, and the first persons who brought silk into Europe were the Greeks of Alexander's army. Under Tiberius it was forbidden to be worn by men; and it is said that the Emperor Aurelian even refused the earnest request of his empress for a silken dress, on the plea of its extravagant cost. Heliogabalus was the first man that ever wore a robe entirely of silk. He had also a tunic woven of gold threads; such
* Book viii. chap. 48.
gold thread as we referred to in a prior chapter, as consisting of the metal alone beaten out and rounded, without any intermixture of silk or woollen. Tarquinius Priscus had also a vest of this gorgeous description, as had likewise Agrippina. Goldthread and wire continued to be made entirely of metal probably until the time of Aurelian, nor have there been any instances found in Herculaneum and Pompeii of the silken thread with a gold coating.
These examples will suffice to show that it was not usually the material of the ancient garments which gave them so high a value, but the ornamental embellishments with which they were afterwards invested by the needle.
The Medes and Babylonians seem to have been most highly celebrated for their stuffs and tapestries of various sorts which were figured by the needle; the Egyptians certainly rivalled, though they did not surpass them; and the Greeks seem also to have attained a high degree of excellence in this pretty art. The epoch of embroidery amongst the Romans went as far back as Tarquin, to whom the Etruscans presented a tunic of purple enriched with gold, and a mantle of purple and other colours, " tels qu'en portoient les rois de Perse et de Lydie." But soon luxury banished the wonted austerity of Rome; and when Caesar first showed himself in a habit embroidered and fringed, this innovation appeared scandalous to those who had not been alarmed at any of his real and important innovations.
We have referred in a former chapter to the