Most people think of handkerchiefs as coming into use in Victorian times, but they have a very long history. In Classical Greece, a cloth like our handkerchief was called a ‘mouth cloth’ or a ‘perspiration cloth’, an item used by the wealthy.
In 1 B.C., Roman men of high rank wiped sweat with an oblong piece of linen, called a sudarium. During the Roman Empire, women began to keep cotton or silk cloths close at hand, to blot anything as unwomanly as perspiration from their brows, a constant bother while attending a festival or tournament of gladiators in a hot, dusty arena.
In the Byzantine era, at the beginning of a spectacle, the emperor dropped a white cloth, not different from today’s handkerchief, to signal the beginning of the games.
When tournaments became more civilized, frequented by knights and squires in a more restrained atmosphere, a combatant would wear a lady’s cloth to show the favor of an admirer. Renaissance women referred to the personal item as a ‘napkyn’. When I was a child, my mother tied our church offering (coins) in one corner of our handkerchief when we went to Sunday School so we wouldn’t lose the offering before the plate was passed.
I’d love to hear from any readers about any “handkerchief” memories they may have, whether serious or humorous.