“Does anyone know the ancient Greek for shitting the bed?”
It is a sign of the high rhetoric of our sophisticated era that this (perhaps rhetorical) question was posed in Marina Hyde’s Guardian opinion piece on the befuddled blond-con PM Boris Johnson who just happens to have a Classical education.* It is perhaps also a sign of my esteemed place in this ecology of elevated discourse that multiple people tweeted me the question. And, finally, it is a sign of my own academic training that I resisted the urge initially because my first thought was “well, now, Ancient Greek just does not have that idiom.”
But, if it did, well, it might look like one of these:
“to shit the bed,” κλινοχέζειν
“to recline in dung,” κοπροκλίνειν
(for Ancient Greek students, we have two compound infinitives, a compound agentive noun, and a compound participle!)
There are many Greek words for bed apart from klinê. One could also select koitê, strômnê, lektron, or lekhos. I chose klinê because it may be familiar from the English clinomania. I avoided koitê because it has a sexual use in English and the last thing I would want to do is imply that we are talking about a shit-fucking politician. I chose khezein for the verb because it is, according to Henderson’s Maculate Muse, the “standard term” (188). The ending χέστης is a totally made-up agentive from khezein. The participle χέσας appears for the “shitter” at Aristophanes Birds 790.
Based on the parallel βορβορκοίτης (“lying in filth,” Batrakh 220) we could have σκατοκοίτης / κοπροκοίτης (“lying in shit”) but I don’t think this compound gets to the sense of the English idiom which is, essentially, to fuck up so completely that you might as well be lying in a post-mortem pile of shit.
If you want to play along, here’s an earlier post about various words for excrement and here’s another with compounds for beds. Apparently this is a “chiefly US expression” reddit is divided on the origin of the phrase, one person asserting that it has to do with bowel evacuation after death.
Ancient Greek seems sadly deficient in scatological proverbs. I found only one:
“You have fallen into Augeus’ dung: this means “you are immersed in filth”
Εἰς τὴν Αὐγέου κόπρον ἐμπέπτωκας: ἤγουν ἐβορβορώθης.
*”happens to have” is perhaps unfair and untrue. He has this education because he is part of a moneyed elite who use education as one of many tools to decorate the facade of their elitist pillaging of their country and blithe assumption to the privilege of rule.
h/t @brixtandrew and the others who brought this to my attention
I found this while searching:
Sophron, fr. 11
“They filled their bedroom with shit while dancing”
βαλλίζοντες τὸν θάλαμον σκάτους ἐνέπλησαν
Damox, fr. 2. 15-16
“Rub him down with shit / and expel him from school”
μινθώσας ἄφες / ὡς ἐκ διατριβῆς