Meditations from the Classics
Plautus, Captives 4:1 (200 B.C.)
Bible readers often hear the phrase “girding the loins.” An example of this is found in Ephesians 6:14 where saints are urged to stand firm in faith:
“Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth (περιζωσάμενοι τὴν ὀσφὺν ὑμῶν ἐν ἀληθείᾳ), and having put on the breastplate of righteousness.”
The Romans practiced this custom of gathering up the pallium (the Roman cloak they wore). We see this in one of Plautus’ plays entitled Captives. Although known for his comedies, in the instance the play has some somber moments. The father in the story, Hegio, longs to reunite with his son Philipolemus, who has been captured in Elis. He decides he can stand it no longer and so he initiates a swap. He sends one of his slaves to find Philipolemus hoping the captors will send him home.
Then not long after, an incredible thing happens. A local slave saw Philipolemus getting off a boat in the harbor. It must have worked! The slave who saw this marvels that he is the one blessed with news and decides to rush to Hegio’s house to inform the old man. It’s at this point that we see the custom. The slave girds himself and races on his way.
“Now will I wend my way to this old gentleman Hegio, to whom I am carrying blessings as great as he himself prays for from the Gods, and even greater. Now, this is my determination, in the same fashion that the slaves of Comedy3 are wont, so will I throw my cloak around my neck, that from me, the first of all, he may learn this matter.”1
A girded servant usually meant that person was on an urgent mission. Hegio, for example, when he saw the slave hustling toward him, noticed this:
“Surely he has got his cloak gathered up. What, I wonder, is he going to do?”
So now we understand the practice a little better. A girded Christian then is one visibly doing a task, visibly running an errand for the Master. Are you girded?
David R. Denny Ph.D.
1. Latin text: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0096%3Aact%3D4%3Ascene%3D1
2. Roman fashion: http://www.fashion-era.com/ancient_costume/roman-costume-history-toga.htm