The Rise and Fall of the First Umbrellas

It’s raining here in Northern California and my mind is on umbrellas. I was writing a  far more complex post called The Platforming Secrets of Diogenes the Cynic when it started to pour, the raindrops pounding on the water like kids on a mattress. Now, that post will have to wait. It should be written after friends, wine, and laughter, i.e. at a writer meetup.

In any case, reading about Diogenes, I became distracted by the image (below) which brought on curiosity and a modicum of derision. It’s bad enough that Diogenes is depicted living in an enormous terracotta barrel (apparently, this was an important part of the abnegation and want which helped him illustrate the vanity and greed of others).  Naturally, a few Athenian lovelies have dropped by to taunt him where he sits thinking deep thoughts in his barrel lined with straw, a scroll and his famous lantern nearby. He looks like he is ready to punch someone.

A bigger question went through my mind which was, “Did they even have parasols in ancient Greece?” I wagered myself a dollar and went to look…

Waterhouse-Diogenes.jpg
Diogenes by John William Waterhouse (1882)

It turns out umbrellas and parasols were available in Greece from the Fifth Century BC where they were used by women and only for protection from the sun. According to some sources, men who used parasols were considered effeminate. Later, for a period of time between 505 BC and 470 BC, the Aristoi, or finest citizens, used parasols as a luxury good, one frequently carried by a slave.

After the Fall of Rome, umbrellas disappeared once again not to reappear until the Renaissance. If you were born between that roughly one-thousand-year period of time and you needed a parasol, you just had to do without. Later, the Chinese were credited with waterproofing the parasol for use in the rain.

National Umbrella Day is celebrated on February 10th and no one seems to know where this holiday came from. National “return that umbrella” day was proposed on February 13th, 1920, in The Kane Republican of Pennsylvania.

Who said history isn’t full of good stuff!

 

8 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of the First Umbrellas

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