Extreme Toilet Circumstances and A Wish for Good Fortune

Extreme bowel movements

 Explosive diarrhoea can in fact be funny when you’re not the one suffering it (and for which a certain Patrocleides was the butt of at least one Aristophanic joke, see Birds 790-2, and scholia ad loc., as was Kinesias in Ecclesiazusae 329-30).

A comically-large stool also features as a joke in Blepyrus’ big entrance in Ecclesiazusae, where his neighbour comments that he ‘must be shitting a cable’ (Eccl. 351-2, ἀλλὰ σὺ μὲν ἱμονιάν τιν᾽ ἀποπατεῖς trans. Barrett, Penguin) given how long he has been outside assuming the position. Compare the contemporary idiom ‘laying cable’. 

Here the assumed – but in Blepyrus’ case not yet produced – bowel movement is compared to a himonia (ἱμονιά, ἡ), the (long) rope used to draw a water bucket from a well.  Anyone who has played Cards Against Humanity, UK edition might also recall the choice phrase ‘curling out the perfect Cumberland Sausage’.


Good luck in the toilet

Keeping cheerful is very important when doing your business. Crouching to defecate leaves one physically exposed and temporarily out-of-action – as well as leaving the body metaphysically open to potential dangers. In much more recent times after all, Godfrey IV (‘the Hunchback’), Duke of Lower Lorraine was murdered on the loo in 1076, as was probably Edmund II (Ironside) in 1016. A graffito from Ephesus (GR 147, in Jansen, Koloski-Ostrow & Moormann (eds.), p. 174) perhaps serious, perhaps not, either way conveys good wishes to the defecator, or defecatrix:

ἀγαθὰ τῷ χέζο(ν)τι
best wishes to he who shits
have a good shit!

Philippi, Archaeological site of Philippoi, Ancient Roman latrinae

Amy Coker has a PhD in Classics from the University of Manchester, UK. She taught and held research positions in University-land for the best part of a decade after her PhD, before jumping ship to school teaching (11-18 year olds) in 2018. She still manages to find time to think and write about Ancient Greek offensive words, pragmatics, and historical linguistics. She can be found on Twitter at @AECoker.

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