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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

William Davis, A Day in Old Athens


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Athenian Costume













Page 3

The Masculine Chiton, Himation, and Chlamya


    The essential garments of an Athenian man are only two—the chiton and the himation. The chiton may be briefly described as an oblong of woolen cloth large enough to wrap around the body somewhat closely, from the neck down to just above the knees. The side left open is fastened by fibulæ—elegantly wrought pins perhaps of silver or gold; in the closed side there is a slit for the arm. There is a girdle, and, if one wishes, the skirt of the chiton may be pulled up through it, and allowed to hang down in front, giving the effect of a blouse. The man of prompt action, the soldier, traveler, worker, is "well girded,"—his chiton is drawn high, but the deliberate old gentleman who parades the Agora, discussing poetry or statecraft, has his chiton falling almost to a trailing length. Only occasionally short sleeves were added to this very simple garment; they are considered effeminate, and are not esteemed. If one's arms get cold, one can protect them by pulling up the skirt, and wrapping the arms in the blouse thus created.

    An Athenian gentleman when he is in the house wears nothing but his chiton; it is even proper for him to be seen wearing nothing else upon the streets, but then more usually he will add an outer cloak,—his himation.

    The himation is even simpler than the chiton. It is merely a generous oblong woolen shawl. There are innumerable ways of arranging it according to the impulse of the moment; but usually it has to be worn without pins, and that involves wrapping it rather tightly around the body, and keeping one of the hands confined to hold the cloak in place. That is no drawback, however, to a genteel wearer. It proclaims to the world that he does not have to work, wearing his hands for a living; therefore he can keep them politely idle.[3] The adjustment of the himation is a work of great art. A rich man will often have a special slave whose business it is to arrange the hang and the folds before his master moves forth in public; and woe to the careless fellow if the effect fails to display due elegance and dignity!

    There is a third garment sometimes worn by Athenians. Young men who wish to appear very active, and genuine travelers, also wear a chlamys, a kind of circular mantle or cape which swings jauntily over their shoulders, and will give good protection in foul weather.

    There are almost no other masculine garments. No shirts (unless the chiton be one), no underwear. In their costume, as in so many things else, the Athenians exemplify their oft-praised virtue of simplicity.


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