For the most part, looking into bedrooms is not polite … bedrooms, being what they are, people, being what we are, et cetera.  And yet, the bedroom will reveal much worthy of knowing, if we should look into the thing.  Mostly, by looking in we learn that people aspire to privacy.  In fact, the history of the house is a history of privacy, a gradual development toward increasing singularity, a thing not unlike intelligent selection.

Looking to origins, the creation of the bedroom, we rummage through archeology, you know, bones and stones, stories invented from fertile bits, cinders and other fossils, ossified by time, verdant by imagination.  You will be told, the world’s oldest bed was found in South Africa, a thing 227,000 years-old, composed of woven reeds and insect-repelling leaves, maybe.  The Chinese, alike the Texans, are jealous of being one-upped, and soon, likely, the Chinese will discover a yet older bed, as they have found a yet older man than Neanderthal, the Homo Longi, “Dragon Man”.  Yes, science is the most political of arts.

There is much we cannot know, much we choose not to know; of what we do know, we might begin in Sumer, Babylon, Jerusalem, Egypt … Egypt, yes, Egypt, what do we know for certain, by pedigree.  Our pedigree, yours and mine, begins, largely, in Egypt, let us say … O, I don’t know, choose one, let us say, “King Tutankhamen’s bed, King Tut’s campaign bed”, discovered by Howard Carter, 1922, a bed some 3,300 year’s old.


Michael Curtis The Bedroom 20 Minute King Tut Mask 1332 – 1323 BC

The Mask of Tutankhamun; c. 1327 BC; gold, glass and semi-precious stones; Egyptian Museum (Cairo)


An Egyptian Bed Room

Here, we might begin a brief scan of the bed, the bed’s room, a place sometimes wealthy, sometimes poor, a place sometimes interesting, sometimes mundane, a place that all-we-all share-in-common the day’s reminiscence, repose, rest, a place, as a friend insists, of power … if she means the power of dreams, the power-switch of lights, a flipping, alike a god of Light & Dark, or of some other power, I cannot with certainty say.  I can say, that likely, you will enjoy a look into King Tut’s bed.


Michael Curtis The Bedroom 20 Minute Tuts Campaign Chest

King Tut’s “Campaign Chest”, c. 1320 BC

This bed, you will notice, is fit for a pharaoh on campaign, in fact, the painted campaign chest found near the bed depicts Tut, majestic in chariot, scattering, slaughtering his enemies.  Then too, Tut’s skeletal remains show severe damage to his torso and leg, left side, as might be expected in a fall from a chariot, yet, of this, we cannot be certain: no evidence … could be, Tut, rescuing a kitten from a tree, slipped and fell from frond to floor.  As mentioned, archeology is political.

Tut’s bed in life, you will notice, is jointed twice, into three parts; it is tightly woven, finely carved; standing low upon lion-pawed legs who themselves rest upon copper discs; the bed is generous, seeming comfortable, especially when cushioned and covered in thick linen, as it would have been … and what else is worthy of mention: in all, Tut’s bed gives the impression of a rattan lounge, Hollywood Regency, for some Egyptian spectacle.  We are little changed then till now.  True, Tut lived in, slept in palaces, Karnack and Memphis, on a fancy bed, a ḥ’tj; yet, the homes of many Egyptians were much alike today’s middle-class homes, especially the adobe homes of the Southwest.  There, Hollywood, and there, Memphis (Egypt), you will find a home with an entrance hall, living and dining room, kitchen, an inside bathroom, several bedrooms (each with its middling bed, a ṯi.t), gardens, gates, other rooms for this-or-that.


King Tut’s “Campaign Bed”

King Tut’s “Campaign Bed”, c. 1320 BC

Bedrooms?  Yes, well, as you know, the bedroom is a room rich in use, conception, birth, rest, and that final rest; sometimes a bedroom is rich in books, alike a library, sometimes there is a television beyond the baseboard, above the dresser, sometimes, conditioning equipment is crowded into a corner; and then there is the time of family gathering-in, of chairs and pillows and toys about, and, you will notice, ancient Egyptians were alike us, for the most part, excepting televisions and conditioning equipment, and pillows.  A people more alike us, the people who we are, Greeks … Athenian-Americans, mostly.

More than any other single source, even the Bible, the men of Athens formed us, as they formed much of the Bible’s New Testament … those testaments, as you know, were composed in Greek by Greek writers schooled in Classive philosophy, Classive literature … we find even in Christ himself a perfectly formed Aristotelian lecture in his “Sermon on the Mount”; that is, an ethics of, “purity in heart”.  And why mention this necessary detail: Because we are one people, Athens-to-America, and any consideration of our habits, of our material condition, must begin in Athens, or by Homer.


Michael Curtis The Bedroom 20 Minute Athenian Red Figureware

Achilles and Priam, Athenian Red-Figure, c. 480 BC


An Athenian Bed Room

Our oldest reference to bed comes to us from a tale of the King of Uruk, Gilgamesh, whose companions chop down the Huluppu tree (willow) to create for Inanna, the Queen of Heaven, a throne, a shinning bed to lie upon, though not with Gilgamesh, for which Inanna becomes exceeding angry, unleashes upon the world the Bull of Heaven, et cetera.

Our most telling, early references to bed comes to us from Homer, as you would expect, and this both in Iliad and Odyssey, two stories of bed uniquely differing.  Of Iliad: Achilles directs his servants to lay a bed for King Priam, whose son, Hector, Achilles has lately killed … and following some brief discussion of Hector’s funeral, Achilles sends Priam outdoors to sleep in the bed, tent-side, while Achilles lays at bed in the inner room, fair Briseis (Hector’s cousin) at his side.  The other telling, perhaps the most beautiful tale of bed in all human history, is revealed in the tête-à-tête, Penelope to Odysseus, and vice versa.

Distrustful of the man she has not seen in twenty years, unsure that he is who he says he is, her “husband”, Penelope asks the servants to prepare for Odysseus a nearby bed with best fleeces and comfortable coverlets, and to move the bed, “just over there”.  Odysseus grows angry, in jest, reminding Penelope that he carved for her with his own hands a bed from a stout olive tree rooted to bountiful earth, around which the living bed, the very room, and all the palace grew … as you will have guessed, in tears Penelope throws herself weeping, yielding into Odysseus’ arms, orders away the servants, falls into love, and after having their fill, both fall into conversation of twenty years adventure, longing, homecoming, et cetera.  Both tales, Iliad, Odyssey, in excerpt, as translated by Samuel Butler, can be found at bottom of this consideration of bed, and the vicissitudes of bedrooms.


Michael Curtis The Bedroom 20 Minute Sicilian Vth BC Slaveboy Carrying Furniture Ashmolean Museum

Slave-boy Carrying Furniture to a Symposion, Sicilian, 5th Century BC, Ashmolean Museum

Here, worthy of mention: Alexander III of Macedon, the Great, thought himself to be ascended from Achilles, as might have been, if the stories of his mother, Olympias, were true; I cannot know if Alexander’s teacher, Aristotle, thought the story true, yet I can say that, “Alexander, each night, on campaign or in palace, slept with the copies of Iliad and Odyssey gifted him by Aristotle (and personally annotated)  … well, those, and with a dagger.”

Wish we had a surviving example of an Athenian bed, a kline, we do not, best we have is preserved from Roman Pompeii, which later shall serve as example.  Here, must discuss the bed, the kline, as depicted on Athenian pottery, red-figure, mostly.  Then too, practically no Athenian literary reference to bedrooms survive in literature.

Sure, Xenophon describes a new-bride being shown around her new-house, visiting the men’s rooms and the women’s rooms, as today an eager suitor might describe the garage and workshop being the man’s, the kitchen and dinning and most all the rest the house, being the woman’s rooms; and, Lysias reports a speech by a man who explains how his wife was able to commit adultery in his house, without his knowledge, when he was home (hum, right, well…): both accounts locate the man’s room on the first floor, the woman’s on the second.

Now, by evidence of the fact that you and I exist, we know that Athenian men and women slept, and all the rest, on a bed, in a bedroom … in this, we are confirmed by Aristophanes who references newlyweds sleeping together.  Yes, but where in the house was the bedroom: here-or-there as chance, design, or tradition, varying over hundreds of years, was most convenient to a family, most pleasing to man and wife … if for me and my honey, second floor, with balcony over an inner court, and this, where scholars have lately, reasonably, identified the his-and-her bedroom location.  If a servant, or a metic, as I would have been (not having an Athenian mother – citizenship deriving from the female), likely, I would have slept on a mat, in a street-side room, near the dog.

Yes, the kline: of wood, likely, olive; four legs, straight or anthropomorphic or turned; woven at plinth, likely, of strapped leather; covered with throws, pillows filled with hay, leaves, feathers; employed when dining, resting, lovemaking, sleeping, and as a couch when in symposion or at kattobos, that game of skill most-often concluded with the prize of a sweet-cake, or of a sweeter, kiss.


kline, roman bed

This kline, rebuilt from fragments, is likely from the villa of Lucius Verus (co-emperor, A.D. 161–169), Metropolitan Museum


A Roman Bed Room

If Roman, if a citizen, if wealthy, you would have slept in your tablinium, your “man’s room”, the master’s room, the office of your business, the office of your family (you are, after-all, paterfamilias, eldest male of the household, burdened with legal authority over your family), here you would accept clients, here you would bed the wife, and all else that attends a man’s responsibility.  The room is not cluttered, you are a man of taste, refinement, likely, stoic: there is an episodic fresco telling of some biographical detail, let us say, “Ulysses outwitting Polyphemus”, you are an attorney; each expensive object is well placed, with some ostentation, you can afford it, and would like it known; the fountained court is beyond the columns in antis, and there clients wait to pay you court, these people are an ornament to your status; your wife is well-born, also an ornament to your status, which has increased by wedding her; she is not pretty, she is strong, a very Lucretia, noble, honorable; she knows her place, matriarch, bred to breed Romans, masters of the world: clients away, family managed, Lucretia awaits, you climb the short stair to a wide, high bed, ivory and silver, there in heat to do for her, for Rome, for yourself, a cool breeze from the colmned court, and sleep.  Yes, quite like that.  Romans are not Greeks, Greeks would have been up the night, drinking and talking, as yet they do … not judging, just saying.

That bed, a kline, though rather indulgent, luxurious in silver and bronze inlay, rich in silked fabric, sensual in feel, in summoning hue.  True, different beds for different purposes, as today:

the lectus cubicularis, the normal, sleeping bed;
the lectus genialis, the marriage bed … in miniature, charmed, located in atrium, on axis with the proportioned bed, spirited with her “Juno”, his “Genius”;
the lectus discubitorius, alike dining chairs lying around a dining bed, reclining to the left;
the lectus lucubratorius, alike a lounge for study and relaxation;
the lectus funebris, the emortualis, that bed purposed to life’s ceremonies, birth to death to funeral to pyre.


the bedroom

Illumination from the Roman de la Rose, 1525 AD, MS M 948, The Morgan Library


Medieval Bed Room

If, as some suppose, we suffer reincarnation to perfection, ad nauseum, you might in this life have ascended from peasant or from royal.  Let us say, “peasant”, then, at bed, you’d have been content on the floor of the Lord’s Hall, in the Lord’s manner, being, as you are, a serf, the practical property of the Lord and the Lady, Master and Mistress.  And here, upon the straw strewn stone floor you would have slept in thick smoke from the room’s central fire-pit (fireplaces, not yet invented), and you would draw your coarse, woolen blanket over eyes and nose, as next to you your husband and children will cover themselves, while all about some hundred others are scattered, stone-straw-floor-hard, logs for pillow, covering eyes and noses, the people you have known, and will know the whole of your life through.

If not reincarnated from serf, perhaps you are middling, resident of a hamlet, a crossroads where you serve others’ needs, where you have a one-room house of split-timber, clay and dung bound, hay for roof, a boxed bed on floor, stuffed with fur, down, straw, where your siblings, parents, and their servants sleep, cuddled all together for warmth, while nearby the chickens and pigs and prized sheep baa you to sleep.

Well then … now a minor royal in ease, cause of this life’s correction: last-life, being born a Lady.  Peeking through the long window that spies the Hall, below, you draw kerchief over mouth, to halt the chocking cough; turn and pass you friends, those who by merit are favored into your grace, gathered on sleeping boards in the largess of the Hall’s upper floor.  Most, already lain-in, in their place, in whispers.  You pass.  Before, the heavy bed, a hard board, broad and cushioned, sided … the floorboards creak, the breeze breaths, you shiver.  He, already to bed, seen handsome beyond the thick, long velvet draping from the canopy.  Tonight, you notice carvings on bed’s post; the hero, looking bold, stage left, the heroine, looking beguiling, stage right.  Adjusting your bonnet with a scratch, “Lord no: not bedbugs.”  No, a phantasm.  Lifting skirts, “Did they see?”, over the high platform you raise the knee, settle, draw close the wide violet drapes, recline onto the mattress of feathers and down, draw-up the fine, linen sheets, steal the covers-brocade, snuggle, and cuddle yourself into he, into him.


Michael Curtis The Bedroom 20 Minutes Lucas Cranach the Elder Albrecht Brandenburg as St Jerome His Study 1526

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Albrecht Brandenburg as St Jerome His Closet, 1526


The Inventive Bed Room

Heat, nearly as-much-as privacy, has caused intelligent selection in the evolution of the bedroom.  The Duke of Este, husband of Lucrezia Borgia, for his castle of Ferrara, asked Raphael for advice on fireplaces … “fireplaces”, an invention that served miserably to heat a great Hall, yet served well the convenience and purpose of smaller rooms, especially that room in which we enjoy the typical 25 years of a lifetime, the bedroom.  Would like to speak of the commissioned Raphael fireplace, yet, I cannot, having never seen the thing, yet, I can mention, that: the bedroom increasingly became the center of social life, because the place could be warmed, and, because it was often the first room of the house fireplace heated … and too, a bedroom is typically scaled for convenience, a convenience lending itself to a 10’ circumference, a “conversation circle”, that space into which a pleasing number of persons can with convenience hear modulations of voice, can observe facial expression.

Should mention: the “closet” describes that “private room” just off the “public” bedroom where a husband, or, a wife, might each enjoy their private place with their private things.  In those days, the days of public bedrooms, the husband was most-often cultured, as was the wife, and in the closet was found a Bible, family pictures, objects of art, of literature, fine things that improved the mind, sweetened the soul, things differing from the technological clutter of today’s men’s and women’s caves, those places of noise and televised idiocy, pink-spiked tackle games, and talkity issues of marzipan.  Then, the closet was a space wherein a person might try-on themselves; today, a closet is a place for the hanging of costumes, a little room for little more than clothes.  These days, in closet and bedroom, there is little of culture to improve the mind, to sweeten the soul, and yet, the bedroom is warm.

Louis XIV complained of Versailles, “No door or window shuts properly, and we have drafts that are like nothing so much as American hurricanes.”  Don’t know if King Louis asked advice of Benjamin Franklin on heating when Franklin was at Versailles to negotiate with France a treaty of alliance (1778) … should have done; Franklin invented his stove in 1742, an invention of convenience nearly as-useful-as doors and windows, and roofs, certainly, an invention that by experiment in use developed into central heating, first by wood, then by coal, oil, then by electricity, which also allows cooling, as I’ve no need of mention.


Hollywood Regency bed, Jean Harlow

Jean Harlow in the Hollywood Regency bed, Dinner at Eight, MGM, 1933

In all, the HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) has allowed reason, rather than necessity, to suggest the use and placement of rooms, as we shall find next time in a consideration of Thomas Jefferson’s private rooms.

As you will have noticed: for thousands of years, beds were placed almost without division in space, in time; there was not a division of a room for night’s rest and pleasures separate from the all of life; we by reason in invention have organized into outline the hours of the day, the spaces of our place, efficiently.  And what has this to do with bedrooms.

Might like to mention tenements, three generations crowded into one room, that narrow-walled all of everything for everyone, to demonstrate how organization of life into spaced time serves convenience, happiness, how today’s clueless youth are nose-ring led to believe absurdities of equality; instead, shall observe but a few, telling details.

Hollywood, as-much-as heat, banished clients, friends, relations and children from the bedroom: picture, if you will, the comedy of romance, the Hollywood Regency, she witty in slinking negligee, he, handsome in black-tie, teasing, they, in tete-a-tete, before she will let … et cetera, off screen … and which lady does not novel in romance, curled in bedded comfort, reading, imaging into dreams, into a place where children are in pleasured imagination made, but not in annoying reality, seen.  Yes: thank, or blame, Hollywood pillow-comedies for the now universal assumption in bed.  Here, might like to digress on the, “Tragedy”, ending in death, the, “Comedy”, ending in marriage, yet, haven’t the time.


The Bedroom 20 Minute North Star Blankets advertisement

North Star Blankets, advertisement

The two, single beds of husband and wife were not the shackles of Victorian prudery, but the elegance of privacy, alike Victorian kings and queens each enjoying their individual, separate bed.  In fact, to accompany the two, single beds, manuals of sex to encourage procreation, generation, pleasure and fulfillment … these, distributed by government, by mattress manufacturers, by enterprising entrepreneurs anticipating increase of population, new markets.

And the “waterbed”, the “airbed”: novelty, adventures progressively short-lived, conservatively abandoned because unnatural (we, neither creatures of cloud nor water).  Novelty-beds, things political, in the way of science and archeology, tools crafted to shape social change.  Picture Bob, Ted, Carol, Alice all a-bed, and see the family die into modernity.

Looking into the thing, it seems that by intelligent selection the bedroom has become a private place, comfortable, sensual, safe, the place where, most often, the family is made and maintained.  As by liberty of exchange, we have grown wealthy, our bedrooms have become rich in appointments, decorations, technologies.  The bedroom has moved in space away from the street, in time, away from the utility rooms, the public and the family rooms, chronologically logical as we move through the day.  The “master bedroom” persists, and shall do, where liberty lives, while each person might yet be the master of his or of her fate, life and soul.  I cannot speak for you, would not, should not: language, alike life, alike the bedroom, is a public, private thing.


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Here, a concluding pause to consider all beyond our Classive culture.  As I’ve no need of telling you, most of us, through most our history, have slept upon the ground, in branches, or suspended from a tree.

The Mayan, and others of the low Americas, swayed and slept in hammocks of bark and sisal woven, well above the biting, swallowing slitherings below.  An excellent habit, as Columbus found, especially when shipboard, the ship a-sway and you in rum merely a-glide.


traditional Japanese bed

Traditional Japanese bed, albumen print, c. 1870


Asians preferred the mat on floor, the Japanese, the mat tatami, these 1,300 years; if common, a mat of straw, if noble, a mat of aromatic grass.  Eighteen-hundred-years-ago, the Chinese slept on stone, tile and pillowed pottery, until the heated kang, a platform raised and built of bricks that would be heated when the air was cool; on the kang families would gather, tire, then lay to sleep; soon, railings were formed about the platform, thick-woven mats were laid to make a proper bed, diverse in shape and in variety; in time, the platform was legged, became a luohan, a daybed, of sorts, sometimes posted, carved and canopied.

In India, a woven mat raised on legs, the charpai, has been in use a thousand years, and since the British, European mixed again with the Indo, the Indians have formed a bed alike ours, yet lighter, delicate and intricate.

The bed of indigenous, southern Africans has little changed these 227,000 years, and many Eskimos yet sleep in snow-bricked igloos on platforms made of sticks, bottomed with the fur of seals, topped with the fur of bear, and between, you, and, if you are lucky, someone close who by nature has warm toes.


*   *   *


A consideration of Thomas Jefferson’s Private Rooms is considered in the fifth week of the Jeffersonian issue.


*   *   *

Excerpt from Iliad, Samuel Butler translator.

Achilles told his men and the women-servants to set beds in the room that was in the gatehouse, and make them with good red rugs, and spread coverlets on the top of them with woollen cloaks for Priam and Idaeus to wear. So the maids went out carrying a torch and got the two beds ready in all haste. Then Achilles said laughingly to Priam, ‘Dear sir, you shall lie outside, lest some counsellor of those who in due course keep coming to advise with me should see you here in the darkness of the flying night, and tell it to Agamemnon. This might cause delay in the delivery of the body. And now tell me and tell me true, for how many days would you celebrate the funeral rites of noble Hector? Tell me, that I may hold aloof from war and restrain the host.’ … As he spoke he laid his hand on the old man’s right wrist, in token that he should have no fear; thus then did Priam and his attendant sleep there in the forecourt, full of thought, while Achilles lay in an inner room of the house, with fair Briseis by his side.


Excerpt from Odyssey, Samuel Butler translator.

“My dear,” answered Penelope, “I have no wish to set myself up, nor to depreciate you; but I am not struck by your appearance, for I very well remember what kind of a man you were when you set sail from Ithaca. Nevertheless, Euryclea, take his bed outside the bed chamber that he himself built. Bring the bed outside this room, and put bedding upon it with fleeces, good coverlets, and blankets.”

Ulysses was very angry and said, ‘Wife, I am much displeased at what you have just been saying. Who has been taking my bed from the place in which I left it? He must have found it a hard task, no matter how skilled a workman he was, unless some god came and helped him to shift it. There is no man living, however strong and in his prime, who could move it from its place, for it is a marvellous curiosity which I made with my very own hands. There was a young olive growing within the precincts of the house, in full vigour, and about as thick as a bearing-post. I built my room round this with strong walls of stone and a roof to cover them, and I made the doors strong and well-fitting. Then I cut off the top boughs of the olive tree and left the stump standing. This I dressed roughly from the root upwards and then worked with carpenter’s tools well and skilfully, straightening my work by drawing a line on the wood, and making it into a bed-prop. I then bored a hole down the middle, and made it the centre-post of my bed, at which I worked till I had finished it, inlaying it with gold and silver; after this I stretched a hide of crimson leather from one side of it to the other. So you see I know all about it, and I desire to learn whether it is still there, or whether any one has been removing it by cutting down the olive tree at its roots.’

… When {Penelope] heard the sure proofs Ulysses now gave her, she fairly broke down. She flew weeping to his side, flung her arms about his neck, and kissed him. “Do not be angry with me Ulysses,” she cried, “you, who are the wisest of mankind. We have suffered, both of us. Heaven has denied us the happiness of spending our youth, and of growing old, together; do not then be aggrieved or take it amiss that I did not embrace you thus as soon as I saw you. I have been shuddering all the time through fear that someone might come here and deceive me with a lying story; for there are many very wicked people going about. Jove’s daughter Helen would never have yielded herself to a man from a foreign country, if she had known that the sons of Achaeans would come after her and bring her back. Heaven put it in her heart to do wrong, and she gave no thought to that sin, which has been the source of all our sorrows. Now, however, that you have convinced me by showing that you know all about our bed (which no human being has ever seen but you and I and a single maidservant, the daughter of Actor, who was given me by my father on my marriage, and who keeps the doors of our room) hard of belief though I have been I can mistrust no longer.”  Then Ulysses in his turn melted, and wept as he clasped his dear and faithful wife to his bosom … Thus did [Penelope and Odysseus] converse.

  Meanwhile Eurynome and the nurse took torches and made the bed ready with soft coverlets; as soon as they had laid them, the nurse went back into the house to go to her rest, leaving the bed chamber woman Eurynometo show [them] to bed by torch light. When she had conducted them to their room she went back, and they then came joyfully to the rites of their own old bed … When Odysseus and Penelope had had their fill of love, they fell talking with one another.