Informers, Flatterers, and Figs: On Sycophants

From the Suda

“To be a sykophant: To rub sexually. That’s how Plato and Menander use it.”

Συκοφαντεῖν: κνίζειν ἐρωτικῶς. οὕτως Πλάτων καὶ Μένανδρος.

Browse the Suda on the Scaife Viewer. Or, check out translation and commentary on the Suda Online

More from the Suda

“To be a sykophant: to falsely accuse someone. They the Athenians called it this at the time when a fig-plant was first discovered and they were stopping the export of figs for this reason. Those people who reported that figs were being exported were called “sykophants” [lit. “fig speakers”]. Over time, anyone who accused people in a super annoying manner were named in this way.

Aristophanes writes “these things are small and indigenous” since being a sykophant is a native characteristic of Athenians. Aelian adds “he alleged [sukophantei] that he god was negligent. For these reasons plagues and famine over came the Himerians’ city.”

Συκοφαντεῖν: τὸ ψευδῶς τινος κατηγορεῖν. κεκλῆσθαι δέ φασι τοῦτο παρ’ ᾿Αθηναίοις πρῶτον εὑρεθέντος τοῦ φυτοῦ τῆς συκῆς καὶ διὰ τοῦτο κωλυόντων ἐξάγειν τὰ σῦκα. τῶν δὲ φαινόντων τοὺς ἐξάγοντας συκοφαντῶν κληθέντων, συνέβη καὶ τοὺς ὁπωσοῦν κατηγοροῦντας τινῶν φιλαπεχθημόνως οὕτω προσαγορευθῆναι. ᾿Αριστοφάνης· καὶ ταῦτα μὲν δὴ σμικρὰ κἀπιχώρια. ἴδιον γὰρ ᾿Αθηναίων τὸ συκοφαντεῖν. Αἰλιανός· ὁ δὲ ἐσυκοφάντει τὸν θεὸν ὀλιγωρίας. ἐκ δὴ τούτων νόσοι καὶ τροφῶν ἀπορίαι τὴν ῾Ιμεραίων κατέσχον.

Even more from the Suda

“Sykophant: When there was a famine in Attica, some people were gathering figs in secrete which had been promised to the gods. After this, when times were good again. Some people were prosecuting these men. This is where the term developed. Look at the term “fig squeezer” too.

Συκοφάντης: λιμοῦ γενομένου ἐν τῇ ᾿Αττικῇ, τινὲς λάθρα τὰς συκᾶς τὰς ἀφιερωμένας τοῖς θεοῖς ἐκαρποῦντο· μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα εὐθηνίας γενομένης, κατηγόρουν τούτων τινές. ἐκεῖθεν οὖν συκοφάντης λέγεται. ζήτει ἐν τῷ ἀποσυκάζεις.

“Sykophant: The devil. For he made a false accusation of god, claimed that he prevented [humans] from having a share of the tree [of knowledge]. He also spoke slanderously against Job: “Does Job worship god with no return?”

Consider also sykophantia, which means false prosecution.

Συκοφάντης: ὁ διάβολος· τὸν γὰρ θεὸν ἐσυκοφάντησε, φήσας κεκωλυκέναι τοῦ ξύλου τὴν μετάληψιν· καὶ κατὰ τοῦ ᾿Ιώβ· μὴ δωρεὰν σέβεται ᾿Ιὼβ τὸν θεόν; καὶ Συκοφαντία, ἡ ψευδὴς κατηγορία.

For the story of Solon and the sycophants, see Plutarch’s Life of Solon on the Scaife Viewer. The sense of flatterer or parasite is somewhat present in the ancient Greek but becomes more prominent in English usage. The negative use can be seen in the fragment from Alexis’ The Poet (fr. 187) preserved in Athenaeus:

The name of sykophant is not rightly
Given to corrupted men.
For it should have been right for any man
Who was good and sweet to have figs
Attached to him to reveal his character.
But it fills us with confusion on why something sweet
Has been attached to someone bad.

ὁ συκοφάντης οὐ δικαίως τοὔνομα |
ἐν τοῖσι μοχθηροῖσίν ἐστι κείμενον.
ἔδει γάρ, ὅστις χρηστὸς ἦν ἡδύς τ᾿ ἀνήρ,
τὰ σῦκα προστεθέντα δηλοῦν τὸν τρόπον·
νυνὶ δὲ πρὸς μοχθηρὸν ἡδὺ προστεθὲν
ἀπορεῖν πεπόηκε διὰ τί τοῦθ᾿ οὕτως ἔχει.

Syc OED

 

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