• Pannawat Sermsuk

PART I: TRADITIONS & CUSTOMS

Updated: Sep 5

Dining tables are the most fundamental forms of furniture since the dawn of human civilisation. From a dining couch of Ancient Greece to the Lazy Susan, dining tables took on a greater social significance with the growing formality of life. The privilege of dining together at the table is the highest form of companionship.

TRADITIONS & CUSTOMS

RECLINE-TO-DINE
Illustration: Pannawat Sermsuk reproduced from Pedar William Foss, ‘Mealtime in the Roman House’, Quem Dizere Chaos, 1997
LECTUS IMUS

The Greeks were among the first civilisation to recognise dining as an expression of wealth and power. To dine in ‘secluded comfort reinforced status and class cohesion’ . The spatially defined chamber accommodated up to eleven couches, klinais, on which the elite Greeks recline to dine. These luxuries were reserved and enjoyed among men and, rarely, their female companions. On the rare occasions in which women were invited, they had to feast while sitting upright.

Planet Pompeii, ‘The House of The Ephebe’ via: Planet Pompeii
SUMMER TRICLINIUM IN HOUSE OF EPHEBUS POMPEII, ANCIENT ROME

Frederick Litchfield, Illustrated History of Furniture: From the Earliest to the Present Time, 4th edn (London: Truslove, Hanson & Comba, 1899), p 9.
GREEK KLINAI WITH A TABLE FIGURE

With the collapse of the Roman Empire came the beginning of the dark age. During the 4th and 5th centuries of the early Medieval era, Europe sank into a period of primitive furniture. The dining table was simply a trestle construction: a rectangular plank placed atop the supported braced frame. Each ensemble was assembled and dismantled for dining, ‘a practice that survives the expression “set the table”’. In the era where collectivism was highly valued, dinner was performed in the great hall. A medieval meal was enjoyed as a communal affair, servants included. The upper- and lower-class distinction was subtly made: a head table on a raised dais.


EXPRESSIONS & TALES

SET THE TABLE

With the collapse of the Roman Empire came the beginning of the dark age. During the 4 th and 5 th centuries of the early Medieval era, Europe sank into a period of primitive furniture. The dining table was simply a trestle construction: a rectangular plank placed atop the supported braced frame. Each ensemble was assembled and dismantled for dining, ‘a practice that survives the expression “set the table”’. In the era where collectivism was highly valued, dinner was performed in the great hall. A medieval meal was enjoyed as a communal affair, servants included. The upper- and lower-class distinction was subtly made: a head table on a raised dais.

TALE OF THE ROUND TABLE
Evrard d’Espinques, ‘Compilation Arthurienne de Micheau Gonnot’, 1470, p 13.
THE KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE

However, the passing of the 11th century saw the full-fledged return of social classifications within the dining-scape. The noble increasingly sought privacy to escape the regime of strict collectivism. With its linear arrangement that suggested order of ranks, the long trestle table began to pose a problem. In Wace of Jersey’s ‘Roman de Brut’ (1155), the long table fuelled quarrels among King Arthur’s vassals who refused to be positioned lower than the others. On account of his noble barons, Arthur commissioned the Round Table where his vassals sat ‘all noble and all equal’. The circular form proved ethically ideal. It emphasised the democratic nature and prevented further dispute from Arthur’s barons trying to claim precedence over one another.


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