Ass and Name
Zola and Zoilus
A few Neos
What's in a Nem?
Pleo III-Two More Pleons
Achron.. and Acroam..
Per IV--Perpotation et al.
Per and Pre--Prevenient
Perpense and Perpend
Epi I--Epiplexis, et al.
The Doric Column
Epi III--Episemon et al.
The Doric Column
Bill Long 10/08/04
Getting the Terminology Straight
Most people, I suppose, who ever looked at a Doric temple, such as the Parthenon, were probably impressed by it either because their professors told them to be impressed or because the arresting beauty and symmetry of the building worked its magic independently of any professorial endorsement. But one of the things that happened to me when I began studying ancient architecture was that I got suberged in a sea of words. I not only had to sort out the Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and (in Rome) the Composite and Tuscan styles of pillars and architechture, but I began to see that after time architects could play "mix and match" with the styles and that, in fact, there was not full uniformity even within a particular style or order of what constituted the order. Thus, as is usually the case for me, I will go to the smallest unit possible, in this case the pillar or column, and the Doric column at that, and introduce words that give some elegance and understanding to the various parts.
Starting from the Bottom
There is no base for the traditional Doric column. There is no plinth (the rectangular or square base on which some columns rest), and it rests directly on the stylobate. The stylobate can refer either to the floor of the temple itself or the (usually) three steps which one had to ascend to reach the floor. The stylobate can also be called the stereobate (Vitruvius, the first architectural historian, so calls it). It is called the stereobate not because it plays nice music but because it is "stereos" ("solid" in Greek). So, we have the Doric column resting on the stylobate. Then it begins to climb towards the heavens, tapering slightly as it rises. It is a fluted column, which means it has grooves in it, with the normal number of flutings being 20. There is a ratio of diameter of column to height of column that I will not get into here (principally because I don't know all the ratios at this point!), but the columns keep rising. Somewhere in the middle the columns received entasis, which doesn't mean that they were hyper-excited about anything, but means that they bowed slightly outward so that, when seen from a distance, they would appear straight and not slightly concave. Then we get to the interesting part of the column.
From Column to Capital
We really have to see it to know what we are talking about now. I found the following image on the Illustrated Architecture Dictionary website, and use it here with my gratitude to them. It
shows the "top part" of a Doric column. Le's take things apart one inch at a time. I don't have any arrows here, so you just are going to have to listen closely to me. Ok. You see, first, the sort of break or gap in the pillar near the top. That actually has a name, and it is called the hypotrachelium or, in Greek, the hypotrachelion. Literally meaning "under the neck," (because the continuation of the flutings about the hypotrachelium is called the trachelion--the "neck") it is the spot where the shaft and the capital joined. I never found how they were joined, either by Elmer's or just by fitting grooves together, but its function, as one dictionary has it, "was to preserve the sharp arrises of the capital from chipping when the block was put in place." An arrise may be defined as the "raised edges that separate the flutings in a Doric column." So, somehow they got things to fit together, and we get two nice words in the process (hypotrachelium and arrise).
But, of course, there is more. The continuation of the grooves in the capital is called the trachelion--the "neck." Oh boy, some confusion may arise because we have another term in English called trachelium which is not the same as trachelion (I guess the hypotrachelium/hypotrachelion identity was so complex that no one else wanted the word), but a trachelium is a flower, also known as "throatwort," and comes in blue, pink, purple and white with a vase life of 5-10 days. No flowers in this "manly" Doric column. So, up we go.
Then, though you can't really see it, there is the apophyge, that part of the column that "escapes" or "flees" toward the very top. The illustration I gave for the apophyge in my mini-essay on that word is of a Tuscan column, where the apophyge is very clear. Let's assume there is one here, where the trachelion gradually tapers to those little rings up at the top. You can barely see them, either, but they have two names; you can either call them the annulets or the fillets. The OED neatly combines the two in one when it defines an annulet as "a small fillet encircling a column. Usually applied to the three, four, or five fillets under the echinus. Chambers' famous 18th century Cyclopedia defines an annulet as "small square members in the Doric capital, placed under the quarter found--also called Fillets, Listels, etc." Square? That is unexpected. According to the picture above, if you look real closely, those narrow bands are rings that go around the column. Maybe I am not understanding something about the definition. But, in any case, those three or five bands are called either the annulets or fillets.
Then, to conclude this essay, we have the echinus, which I mentioned in my apophyge essay, and is the "quarterround" that leads to the square-shaped abacus, which is on top of the column. The OED says that it is a square, flat plate in the Tuscan, Doric and Ionic orders, while in the Corinthian and Composite is can be variously cut and ornamented. It is derived from the Greek meaning "a board or slab." [It is also a 'draught-board,' which captures the use more familiar to us].
Phew. That gets us through the Doric column. It really was a lot more work than I anticipated. But, at least, we now have at least five or so new words at our disposal, which have their home in these columns but may, with some imagination, some day be loosed from their Doric identity and flow into a broader stream of usage.
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long