Apropos of Nothing, Achilles Calls the Commander-in-Chief a Dog[-face]

Tuesdays seem to be tawdry enough these days without Greek and Latin profanity. Here are some dog insults from ancient Greece and and a little bit on how their meaning relies on immanent misogyny.

Homer, Iliad 1.158–168 [Achilles addressing Agamemnon]

“But, you great shamepot, we follow you so that you feel joy,
As we collect honor for Menelaos and you, dog-face,
From the Trojans—you don’t shudder at this, you don’t care.”

ἀλλὰ σοὶ ὦ μέγ’ ἀναιδὲς ἅμ’ ἑσπόμεθ’ ὄφρα σὺ χαίρῃς,
τιμὴν ἀρνύμενοι Μενελάῳ σοί τε κυνῶπα
πρὸς Τρώων· τῶν οὔ τι μετατρέπῃ οὐδ’ ἀλεγίζεις·

Iliad 1.224–228 [Achilles Addressing Agamemnon]

“Wine-sod! Dog-eyes! You have the heart of a deer!
You never suffer to arm yourself to enter battle with the army
Nor to set an ambush with the best of the Achaeans.
That seems like death itself to you!”

οἰνοβαρές, κυνὸς ὄμματ’ ἔχων, κραδίην δ’ ἐλάφοιο,
οὔτέ ποτ’ ἐς πόλεμον ἅμα λαῷ θωρηχθῆναι
οὔτε λόχον δ’ ἰέναι σὺν ἀριστήεσσιν ᾿Αχαιῶν
τέτληκας θυμῷ· τὸ δέ τοι κὴρ εἴδεται εἶναι.

Elsewhere in Homer, the insult is used primarily for women and it builds on basic Greek associations between women and dogs—dogs as animals of shame who are expected to be loyal.

Odyssey 4.154-146 [Helen speaking]

“…Telemachus, whom that man left when he was just born,
In his house, when the Achaeans went down to Troy
On account of dog-faced me, raising up their audacious war.”

Τηλεμάχῳ, τὸν ἔλειπε νέον γεγαῶτ’ ἐνὶ οἴκῳ
κεῖνος ἀνήρ, ὅτ’ ἐμεῖο κυνώπιδος εἵνεκ’ ᾿Αχαιοὶ
ἤλθεθ’ ὑπὸ Τροίην, πόλεμον θρασὺν ὁρμαίνοντες.”

Odyssey, 11.424-426

“…that dog-face
Went away and did not dare—even though I was on my way to Hades
To close my eyes with her hands or cover my mouth.”

… ἡ δὲ κυνῶπις
νοσφίσατ’ οὐδέ μοι ἔτλη, ἰόντι περ εἰς ᾿Αΐδαο,
χερσὶ κατ’ ὀφθαλμοὺς ἑλέειν σύν τε στόμ’ ἐρεῖσαι.

In Greek myth , the ‘dog’ nature of women comes as well from forces outside the home—a dog is a thieving creature.

Hesiod, Works and Days 67–68 [from the creation of Pandora]

“And Hermes, the slayer of Argos, that master guide,
Ordered that she possess a dog’s mind and a thief’s nature.”

ἐν δὲ θέμεν κύνεόν τε νόον καὶ ἐπίκλοπον ἦθος
῾Ερμείην ἤνωγε, διάκτορον ᾿Αργεϊφόντην.

But in the crown jewel of Greek mythology, Semonides’ “Diatribe against women”—which presents a lists of complaints about women categorized by different kinds of animals—emphasizes the inability of men to control female voices through the symbol of a dog. Note, as well, that violence is described as a regular reaction but is considered useless.

Semonides of Amorgos, fragment 7

“One women is from a dog, a sinful beast, a thorough mother—
She listens to everything and wants to know everything,
Lurking around everywhere and wandering
She barks even when she doesn’t see anyone.
She can’t stop this, not even if her husband threatens her
Nor if he is angry enough to bash her teeth
With a stone. You can’t change her by talking nicely either.
Even when she happens to be sitting among guests,
She keeps on an endless, impossible yapping.”

τὴν δ’ ἐκ κυνός, λιτοργόν, αὐτομήτορα,
ἣ πάντ’ ἀκοῦσαι, πάντα δ’ εἰδέναι θέλει,
πάντηι δὲ παπταίνουσα καὶ πλανωμένη
λέληκεν, ἢν καὶ μηδέν’ ἀνθρώπων ὁρᾶι.
παύσειε δ’ ἄν μιν οὔτ’ ἀπειλήσας ἀνήρ,
οὐδ’ εἰ χολωθεὶς ἐξαράξειεν λίθωι
ὀδόντας, οὐδ’ ἂν μειλίχως μυθεόμενος,
οὐδ’ εἰ παρὰ ξείνοισιν ἡμένη τύχηι,
ἀλλ’ ἐμπέδως ἄπρηκτον αὑονὴν ἔχει.

Franco, Cristina. 2014. Shameless: The Canine and the Feminine in Ancient Greece. Translated by Michael Fox. Berkeley and Los Angeles.

4: “In the ancient Greek imagination the figure of the dog seems, in fact, to be interwoven with the disparaging discourse on the nature of woman in afar from casual manner…Moreover, the dog appears as a paradigm for the base nature of women in two cornerstone texts of Greek misogyny” (referring to the creation of Pandora in Hesiod and Agamemnon’s comments on Clytemnestra in the Odyssey).

To call a woman–and a person of color–a dog is to use an ancient dehumanizing symbol which expresses implicitly the expectation that the insulted party should be subservient and under control of the speaker. The frustration evoked is both about controlling the ability to speak and the ability to consume. To make such a comment is baldly misogynistic and clearly also racist in the modern context.

See also:

Graver, Margaret. 1995. “Dog-Helen and Homeric Insult.” Classical Antiquity 14: 41–61.

 

Image result for ancient greek dogs

Some Roman stuff too:

4 responses

  1. Something that’s quite interesting is the epithet of Hermes used to describe Him when Pandora is being created. Argeiphontes has been interpreted to mean two things: Slayer of Argus and Dog-Killer. Hermes as God of Thieves and God of Animal Husbandry has a complicated relationship with dogs: when He is Good Shepherd they are His allies and He blesses them but He destroys them when He plays the thief. So to drive the point home about women being dogs the poet attributes the characteristics given to women by Hermes to a form of Hermes specifically linked to dogs. Hermes in general is quite dog-like in that He is one of the only major Olympians to serve other Gods. He is the servant par excellence just like man’s bestfriend. So if women are meant (in the Greek mindset) to be servile then it makes sense that the divine servant is their patron. If we consider that Hermes is also the deity that either incites or takes away speech then it would also make sense that Greek men would think that women talk too much when they shouldn’t talk at all. I could go on and on. There’s so much to dig here in regards to Hermes’ relationship with women. No wonder He gets along with Dionysos so much: They are both Gods associated with women in Greek thought!

    • Good points! The only thing I would add in is that in the Hesiod passage, he is one of a series of gods who gives attributes to women.

      But to add, Hermes is also a liminal god who can go to the underworld and back and women are often associated with death in ancient Greece (Hekate also receives puppy sacrifices…)

      • Well, it’s a polytheistic religion we’re talking about. Of course many Gods give Pandora gifts.

        Good point about Hekate. Hermes’ relationship with Her is pretty interesting. As referenced in in Cicero’s On the Nature of the Gods, Hermes is the father of Eros with either Aphrodite or Artemis (Artemis here being syncretized with Hekate who is being syncretized with Brimo). When we consider that Hermes is the God of Animal Fecundity who goes into the Underworld, that Hekate is a chthonic Goddess that is described by Hesiod as giving plenty, the epithets of Aphrodite that mean Grave-Digger and She Who Dances Upon the Tombs, and the fact that Eros is often seen in funerary art guiding dead initiates to the afterlife then we can see that Hermes is essentially the deity of the life force that goes into death and out of it generationally as well as mystically ad thus is our guide in all sorts of identit ahifting transitions.

        This even has a legal dimension. Hermes is a trickster and yet Aesop describes Him as recording the misdeeds of humanity for Zeus. He breaks and upholds the law. Therefore, I propose that feminists should adopt Hermes as their patron since clearly He oversees both styles of womanhood (both the “good wife” and the “nasty woman”) which are both options of a woman’s life when she is given freedom. There are so many levels to this it’s making my head spin. The mysteries of the Gods truly are vast

  2. Hello … I’m a beginner here. Perhaps later this year I’ll be able to commence studying Greek (at the urging of my pals Norman Sandridge and Brett Rogers and others … “Classical Geeks” as I affectionately refer to what’s getting to be a larger group of pals on FB. I was going to ask you a question about translations and the numbering of the lines (my Fagles’ Iliad was what caused that). But after a bit of pointing and clicking (plus a review of what Fagles said about his translation), I ordered Herbert Jordan’s recent line by line translation. If you have any recommendations in this area ^^^ I’d appreciate them.Thanks for your “blog” … btw, “blog” seems quite inadequate for what I receive from SENTENTIAE ANTIQUA in my inbox. Cheers from Portland, Oregon where today’s skies are smoky from forest fires,reynolds potter

    From: SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE To: reynolds@rpotter.us Sent: Tuesday, August 14, 2018 11:50 AM Subject: [New post] Apropos of Nothing, Achilles Calls the Commander-in-Chief a Dog[-face] #yiv4128908640 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv4128908640 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv4128908640 a.yiv4128908640primaryactionlink:link, #yiv4128908640 a.yiv4128908640primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv4128908640 a.yiv4128908640primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv4128908640 a.yiv4128908640primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv4128908640 WordPress.com | sententiaeantiquae posted: “Tuesdays seem to be tawdry enough these days without Greek and Latin profanity. Here are some dog insults from ancient Greece and and a little bit on how their meaning relies on immanent misogyny.Homer, Iliad 1.158–168 [Achilles addressing Agamemnon]“B” | |

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