1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lamp

LAMP (from Gr. λαμπάς, a torch, λάμπειν, to shine), the general term for an apparatus in which some combustible substance, generally for illuminating purposes, is held. Lamps are usually associated with lighting, though the term is also employed in connexion with heating (e.g. spirit-lamp); and as now employed for oil, gas and electric light, they are dealt with in the article on Lighting. From the artistic point of view, in modern times, their variety precludes detailed reference here; but their archaeological history deserves a fuller account.

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Fig. 1.
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Fig. 2.
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Fig. 3.

Ancient Lamps.—Though Athenaeus states (xv. 700) that the lamp (λύχνος) was not an ancient invention in Greece, it had come into general use there for domestic purposes by the 4th century B.C., and no doubt had long before been employed for temples or other places where a permanent light was required in room of the torch of Homeric times. Herodotus (ii. 62) sees nothing strange in the “festival of lamps,” Lychnokaie, which was held at Sais in Egypt, except in the vast number of them. Each was filled with oil so as to burn the whole night. Again he speaks of evening as the time of lamps (περὶ λύχνων, vii. 215). Still, the scarcity of lamps in a style anything like that of an early period, compared with the immense number of them from the late Greek and Roman age, seems to justify the remark of Athenaeus. The commonest sort of domestic lamps were of terra-cotta and of the shape seen in figs. 1 and 2 with a spout or nozzle (μυκτήρ) in which the wick (θρυαλλίς) burned, a round hole on the top to pour in oil by, and a handle to carry the lamp with. A lamp with two or more spouts was δίμυξος, τρίμυξος, &c., but these terms would not apply strictly to the large class of lamps with numerous holes for wicks but without nozzles. Decoration was confined to the front of the handle, or more commonly to the circular space on the top of the lamp, and it consisted almost always of a design in relief, taken from mythology or legend, from objects of daily life or scenes such as displays of gladiators or chariot races, from animals and the chase. A lamp in the British Museum has a view of the interior of a Roman circus with spectators looking on at a chariot race. In other cases the lamp is made altogether of a fantastic shape, as in the form of an animal, a bull’s head, or a human foot. Naturally colour was excluded from the ornamentation except in the form of a red or black glaze, which would resist the heat. The typical form of hand lamp (figs. 1, 2) is a combination of the flatness necessary for carrying steady and remaining steady when set down, with the roundness evolved from the working in clay and characteristic of vessels in that material. In the bronze lamps this same type is retained, though the roundness was less in keeping with metal. Fanciful shapes are equally common in bronze. The standard form of handle consists of a ring for the forefinger and above it a kind of palmette for the thumb. Instead of the palmette is sometimes a crescent, no doubt in allusion to the moon. It would only be with bronze lamps that the cover protecting the flame from the wind could be used, as was the case out of doors in Athens. Such a lamp was in fact a lantern. Apparently it was to the lantern that the Greek word lampas, a torch, was first transferred, probably from a custom of having guards to protect the torches also. Afterwards it came to be employed for the lamp itself (λύχνος, lucerna). When Juvenal (Sat. iii. 277) speaks of the aenea lampas, he may mean a torch with a bronze handle, but more probably either a lamp or a lantern. Lamps used for suspension were mostly of bronze, and in such cases the decoration was on the under part, so as to be seen from below. Of this the best example is the lamp at Cortona, found there in 1840 (engraved, Monumenti d. inst. arch. iii. pls. 41, 42, and in Dennis, Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, 2nd ed. ii. p. 403). It is set round with sixteen nozzles ornamented alternately with a siren and a satyr playing on a double flute. Between each pair of nozzles is a head of a river god, and on the bottom of the lamp is a large mask of Medusa, surrounded by bands of animals.

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Fig. 4.—Bronze Lamp in British Museum.

These designs are in relief, and the workmanship, which appears to belong to the beginning of the 5th century B.C., justifies the esteem in which Etruscan lamps were held in antiquity (Athenaeus xv. 700). Of a later but still excellent style is a bronze lamp in the British Museum found in the baths of Julian in Paris (figs. 3, 4, 5). The chain is attached by means of two dolphins very artistically combined. Under the nozzles are heads of Pan (fig. 3); and from the sides project the foreparts of lions (fig. 5).
Fig. 5.
To what extent lamps may have been used in temples is unknown. Probably the Erechtheum on the acropolis of Athens was an exception in having a gold one kept burning day and night, just as this lamp itself must have been an exception in its artistic merits. It was the work of the sculptor Callimachus, and was made apparently for the newly rebuilt temple a little before 400 B.C. When once filled with oil and lit it burned continuously for a whole year. The wick was of a fine flax called Carpasian (now understood to have been a kind of cotton), which proved to be the least combustible of all flax (Pausanias i. 26. 7). Above the lamp a palm tree of bronze rose to the roof for the purpose of carrying off the fumes. But how this was managed it is not easy to determine unless the palm be supposed to have been inverted and to have hung above the lamp spread out like a reflector, for which purpose the polished bronze would have served fairly well. The stem if left hollow would collect the fumes and carry them out through the roof. This lamp was refilled on exactly the same day each year, so that there seems to have been an idea of measuring time by it, such as may also have been the case in regard to the lamp stand (λύχνειον) capable of holding as many lamps as there were days of the year, which Dionysius the Sicilian tyrant placed in the Prytaneum of Tarentum. At Pharae in Achaia there was in the market-place an oracular statue of Hermes with a marble altar before it to which bronze lamps were attached by means of lead. Whoever desired to consult the statue went there in the evening and first filled the lamps and lit them, placing also a bronze coin on the altar. A similar custom prevailed at the oracle of Apis in Egypt (Pausanias vii. 22. 2). At Argos he speaks of a chasm into which it was a custom continued to his time to let down burning lamps, with some reference to the goddess of the lower world, Persephone (ii. 22. 4). At Cnidus a large number of terra-cotta lamps were found crowded in one place a little distance below the surface, and it was conjectured that there must have been there some statue or altar at which it had been a custom to leave lamps burning at night (Newton, Discoveries at Halicarnassus, &c., ii. 394). These lamps are of terra-cotta, but with little ornamentation, and so like each other in workmanship that they must all have come from one pottery, and may have been all brought to the spot where they were found on one occasion, probably the funeral of a person with many friends, or the celebration of a festival in his honour, such as the parentalia among the Romans, to maintain which it was a common custom to bequeath property. For example, a marble slab in the British Museum has a Latin inscription describing the property which had been left to provide among other things that a lighted lamp with incense on it should be placed at the tomb of the deceased on the kalends, nones and ides of each month (Mus. Marbles, v. pl. 8, fig. 2). For birthday presents terra-cotta lamps appear to have been frequently employed, the device generally being that of two figures of victory holding between them a disk inscribed with a good wish for the new year: annv nov favstv felix. This is the inscription on a lamp in the British Museum, which besides the victories has among other symbols a disk with the head of Janus. As the torch gave way to the lamp in fact, so also it gave way in mythology. In the earlier myths, as in that of Demeter, it is a torch with which she goes forth to search for her daughter, but in the late myth of Cupid and Psyche it is an oil lamp which Psyche carries, and from which to her grief a drop of hot oil falls on Cupid and awakes him. Terra-cotta lamps have very frequently the name of the maker stamped on the foot. Clay moulds from which the lamps were made exist in considerable numbers.  (A. S. M.)