One Way to Deal With Men: “The Lame Man is the Best Lover”

Mimnermus fr. 21 [=] Corp. Paroem. suppl., 1961, V), p. 15

“The lame man is the best lover.” They say that the Amazons crippled their male offspring by cutting off either a leg or a hand. When the Skythians were fighting them and they offered to make a treaty, they promised the Amazons that they would not be married to any Skythians who were crippled or mutilated. The leader of the Amazons, Antianeira, responded “The lame man is the best lover.” Mimnermus preserves this proverb.”

“ἄριστα χωλὸς οἰφεῖ.” φησὶν ὅτι αἱ Ἀμαζόνες τοὺς γιγνομένους ἄρσενας ἐπήρουν, ἢ σκέλος ἢ χεῖρα περιελόμεναι· πολεμοῦντες δὲ πρὸς αὐτὰς οἱ Σκύθαι καὶ βουλόμενοι πρὸς αὐτὰς σπείσασθαι ἔλεγον ὅτι συνέσονται τοῖς Σκύθαις εἰς γάμον ἀπηρώτοις καὶ οὐ λελωβημένοις· ἀποκριναμένη δὲ πρὸς αὐτοὺς ἡ Ἀντιάνειρα ἡγεμὼν τῶν Ἀμαζόνων εἶπεν· “ἄριστα χωλὸς οἰφεῖ.” μέμνηται τῆς παροιμίας Μίμ<ν>ερμος.

Cf. Diogenianus 2.2.1

“The lame man is the best lover.” They say that the Amazons crippled their male offspring by cutting off either a leg or a hand. When the Skythians were fighting them and they wanted to deceive them, they said that they would have no crippled or mutilated men marry them, since their husbands were all mutilated. In response to this, the leader of the Amazons, said “A cripple fucks the best” instead of using “sunosiazei” [to have sex with]

῎Αριστα χωλὸς οἰφεῖ: φασὶν ὅτι αἱ ᾿Αμαζόνες τοὺς γεννωμένους ἄῤῥενας ἐπήρουν. ῞Οθεν πολεμοῦντες αὐταῖς οἱ Σκύθαι, καὶ βουλόμενοι αὐτὰς ἐξαπατῆσαι,ἔλεγον ὅτι συνέσονται αὐταῖς εἰς γάμον ἀπήρωτοι καὶ οὐ λελωβημένοι, ὡς τῶν ἐκείνων ἀνδρῶν λελωβημένων ὄντων. ᾿Εξ ὧν ἀποκριθεῖσα ἡ ἡγεμὼν τῶν ᾿Αμαζόνων, ῎Αριστα, φησὶ, χωλὸς οἰφεῖ, ἀντὶ τοῦ συνουσιάζει.

Pausanias, Attic Lexicon alpha 149

“This proverb is used for those who choose local evils rather than foreign goods. For when the Skythians were warring against the Amazons and there was a ceasefire, while they were considering other things they were also saying to the woman that if they consented to them they would have un-disabled husbands instead pf the mutilated, lame, and useless men who were already among them. Antineira, who was leading them, was both bold and persistent, and she said to them: “A lame man fucks the best” instead of using the term for intercourse. For the Amazons handicap those male children born to them in either their legs or their right hands. [hence it is clear they they have lame husbands.]”

     ἄριστα χωλὸς οἰφεῖ (com. fr. ad. 36 K.)· ἐπὶ τῶν οἰκεῖα κακὰ μᾶλλον αἱρουμένων ἢ τὰ ἀλλότρια ἀγαθά. τῶν γὰρ Σκυθῶν ποτε ταῖς ᾿Αμαζόσι πολεμούντων καὶ ἀνοχῆς γενομένης, τά τε ἄλλα φιλοφρονουμένων καὶ φασκόντων αὐταῖς, ὅτι εἰ τούτοις πεισθεῖεν, ἀπηρώτοις συνέσονται ἀνδράσιν, ἀλλ’ οὐχὶ λελωβημένοις καὶ χωλοῖς καὶ ἀχρείοις ὡς οἱ παρ’ αὐταῖς, ᾿Αντιάνειρα ἡ τούτων ἡγουμένη, θρασεῖα ἅμα καὶ ἀκόλαστος οὖσα, εἶπε πρὸς αὐτούς· ‘ἄριστα χωλὸς οἰφεῖ’ ἀντὶ τοῦ συνουσιάζει. αἱ γὰρ ᾿Αμαζόνες τῶν τικτομένων παρ’ αὐταῖς ἀρρένων ἐπήρουν τὰ σκέλη ἢ τὰς δεξιὰς χεῖρας. [δῆλον οὖν ὅτι χωλοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἐχρῶντο].

Photios offers an explanation for the proverb:

“The lame man is the best lover” for, lame men are inclined towards sex. Douris in the 6th book of his Philippika records that the Amazons crippled their male offspring.”

῎Αριστα χωλὸς οἰφεῖ· καταφερεῖς γὰρ οἱ χωλοὶ πρὸς συνουσίαν. Δοῦρις δὲ ἐν ζ′ τῶν Φιλιππικῶν ἱστορεῖ (fr. novum) τὰς ᾿Αμαζόνας χωλοῦν τὴν ἄρρενα γενεάν.

Scholia to Theocritus Prolog. 4.6263

“The proverb, which they say is given, “the lame man makes the best lover, is said since lame men sit at home constantly having sex…”

καὶ ἡ παροιμία ‘ἄριστα χωλὸς οἰφεῖ’, ἥν φασι διαδοθῆναι, ἐπεὶ οἱ χωλοὶ ἐν οἴκῳ καθεζόμενοι συνεχῶς ἀφροδισιάζουσιν.

Image result for ancient greek amazon and lover

A short lexical note to explain why I should translate οἰφεῖ as “fuck”.

In the fourth translation of the proverb I introduce a vulgar variation that I think is probably closer to what is going on with the anecdote. I think the point is that the Amazon queen is being vulgar to put off the Skythians. The verb used here, oiphein, is rare and vulgar enough that the LSJ does not provide a decent translation.

oipho lsj

Henderson (Maculate Muse, 157) follows LSJ in translating as “mount”

oipho hend

But Beekes (2010) seems to see the verb as more specific and active:

oipho beeks

Some additional Thoughts:

There is an interesting cultural dynamic behind these statements that engages with some of the myths from Ancient Greece that I have mentioned recently, especially in the tension between heroic beauty and disabled bodies. In ancient Greek myth and poetry there is a problematic fetish of the perfect heroic body and within this system, a disfigured body is non-heroic. As a result of an overlap between heroic virtue and the body, negative ethics and character are expressed through a symbolic disfigurement of the body as with Thersites. The Odyssey, of course, adjusts this and deploys Odysseus as a compromised heroic body: he is nearly lamed and thus is capable of demonstrating intelligence instead of force. In the Odyssey, the beautiful and perfect bodies of the suitors are contrasted with Odysseus’ older, scarred body: their perfection becomes a type of deformity and their morals are accordingly distorted.

What I think is going on with this anecdote and the connected proverb is that there is a basic assumption that the disabled are morally corrupt and here that their moral corruption emerges in the form of licentiousness. But the Amazon queen turns the tables on the heroized Skythian leaders and privileges the disabled bodies for their sexual ability over the promised domination of the proper marriage to the able-bodied men. In addition, there is the symbolic valence of the disabled man, who does not represent the threatened violence implicit in the able-bodied man. In a way, this may also help us to think about Odysseus’ value as a husband.

4 responses

  1. This is making me wonder if this is yet another connection between Hephaestus and His brothers Dionysos and Hermes. Believe it or not, all of Them have something to do with mead production in a way according to an essay that my dear friend, colleague, and co-religionist Markos Gage teased out in his Mead and Metal essay (which I will link in this comment).

    http://polytheist.com/dionysianartist/2015/03/24/mead-and-metal/

    If I may add my own contribution, I would like to point out that both Hephaestus and Hermes have been identified with the Great God of the Samonthrakian Mysteries and the Kaberoi of those mysteries are said to have been involved with the death of Dionysos and the subsequent burial of His genitals in Sicily. Obviously as anyone can recall Dionysos is the one that reconciled Hera and Hephaestus and both were helped by Thetis. Metallurgy surely can be said to be under the auspices of both Hermes and Hephaestus if we recall that Hermes Trismegistus is associated with alchemy. Both Dionysos and Hephaaestus are connected to limping (with Dionysos’ name possibly even meaning the Limp of Zeus) and all three have the satyrs in Their retinue. All three have Aphrodite as a lover and all three have something to do with fire (Hermes invents the making of fire, Hephaestus is fire, and Dionysos was born among flames and has torchlight revels in addition to His maenads being immune to extreme heat or cold). All three have connections to the Cyclopes (Hephaestus has cyclopes working for Him, cyclopes were numbered in Dionysos’ army during His invasion of India, and Hermes dresses up as a cyclops at the bidding of one of the sea deities to scare the Neirides into behaving). I could go on and on probably but I think all of these threads must mean something

      • Hmm that’s true. I was more looking at it from the sexuality and fertility aspect (how is Hephaestus connected to His brothers who are quite literally dicks?)

        Though I’m sure a part of the point is that Amazons being barbarians probably would prefer someone outside what good Greeks would consider the norm

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