Tassels on Garments in Ancient Greece
Tassels on Garments in Ancient Greece
A reference to tassels in a passage from the Iliad may bridge the gap between what is known about garments in ancient Greece and what is known about the Minoan culture on ancient Crete. The ancient Minoan garment for women is illustrated in an image on a golden ring from the Minoan culture click here The ancient Greek garment for women was the peplos. A image of a belted peplos is at Click here.. The question is why the Minoan garment seems to fit the shape of the body better than the Greek one seems to. One suggestion is that the Minoan garment is not woven as the Greek garment is. It is possible that the Minoan garment is of string that is gathered loosely rather than woven.
The relevant passage about Hera from the Iliad (Homer, Iliad 14.177) is “Then she clothed her about in a robe (ἑανός) ambrosial, which Athene had wrought for her with cunning skill, and had set thereon broideries full many; and she pinned it upon her breast with brooches of gold, and she girt about her a girdle set with an hundred tassels(θύσανος). It seems significant that the word used for robe in this passage is ‘ἑανός’ and not ‘πέπλος’. ‘ἑανός’ — robe from Indo-European ‘2. eu-‘ ‘to dress, put on’ and ‘2. nei-, neiə-, nī-‘, ‘to be moved, excited; to shine’. From this possible derivation the question is whether string would be exciting or shining. In the context of the above quote the tassels may be adding the excitement. Note that both words ‘ἑανός’ and ‘πέπλος’ seems to be of Indo-European origin. It is the garment of men ‘χῐτών’ which may relate to the Minoan culture.
Now the question turns to the tassels to consider whether they might in fact be long strings. θύσανος — tassel from Indo-European ‘dheu̯es-, dhu̯ē̆s-, dheus-, dhū̆s-‘, ‘to blow, dissipate, fly about like dust, etc.’ and ‘4. an-, anu, anō, nō’, ‘on, along, over there’. Not only are there references to tassels in the Iliad but there are illustraions of them from the lightly later classical period. Some examples are as follows:
- This female figure wears an epiblema, or rectangular shawl, with tassels at the corners
- Above the seated woman, a fillet with white tassels hangs on the wall. A fillet is a narrow strip of ribbon.
- Red: wreaths, tassels of belts, rim of skyphos.
- Added red is used for the flames on the altar and bloodstains on its side, wine, the tassels of the woman’s belt, and the fumes from the thymiaterion
The fact is that tassels were illustrated in the art of ancient Greece and some of them are quite long. But the words in the quote are Indo-European and do not seem to connect with the Minoan Culture.
A further aspect of tassels relates to their connection to that of Athena. In the Iliad (Homer, Iliad 2.446) Athena wears an outfit with tassels similar to thaose of Hera: “and in their midst was the flashing-eyed Athene, bearing the priceless aegis, that knoweth neither age nor death, wherefrom are hung an hundred tassels all of gold, all of them cunningly woven, and each one of the worth of an hundred oxen.” In Heradotus (Herodotus, The Histories 4.188) There is another reference to the tassels of Athena: “but the dwellers by the Tritonian lake sacrifice to Athena chiefly, and next to Triton and Poseidon.
It would seem that the robe and aegis of the images of Athena were copied by the Greeks from the Libyan women; for except that Libyan women dress in leather, and that the tassels (θύσανοι) of their goatskin cloaks are not snakes but thongs of hide, in everything else their equipment is the same. And in fact, the very name betrays that the attire of the statues of Pallas has come from Libya; for Libyan women wear the hairless tasselled “aegea” over their dress, colored with madder, and the Greeks have changed the name of these aegeae into their ‘aegides.'”
The quote from Herodotus suggests that the tassels are significant in diameter if they are to represent snakes. And Homer says there are one hundred in all. This might make a string skirt that shimmered when the wearer moved. An image of Athena with a gittering Aegis and snake tassels is at Click here. Herodotus suggests that the worship of Athena came from Lybia. There is a suggestion that Athena comes from Crete and the Minoan culture. This is discused at click here. This does not contradict Herodotus since it is possible that the Cretans were descended from Africans. This is discussed at click here. It is not here necessary to debate whether Greeks have African ancestors since the Greeks could have borrowed Athena from the Minoans without genetic mixing. At the time of Homer there were five separate cultures on Crete, Eteocretans, Pelasgians, Ahaeans, Dorians, and Kydonians with only the Eteocretans relate to the Minoans. Of these only the Eteocretans might have been related to the Minoans. Unfortunately very little evidence of the Eteocretans survives. See click here.
The passages in Homer about tassels does seem consistent with the images of dress from Minoan archaeology, but they are not convincing. It is supportive that the garments appear on goddesses that may have made their way from Crete to the mainland. Athena is more likely a Minoan goddess, but though Hera seems to have Indo-European affinities, she also seems to borrow from the Minoan Culture. The garments on goddesses seem likely to be more conservative and may represent a clothing style from the past.
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