Oaths, Relief, and Restoration

Homer, Iliad 3.230

“You are all witnesses: ensure the oaths are kept”

ὑμεῖς μάρτυροι ἔστε, φυλάσσετε δ’ ὅρκια πιστά ῾

Michael Apostolios, Proverbs 15.17

“An oath of Rhadamanthys: [a proverb] applied to those bearing witness to justice”

῾Ραδαμάνθυος ὅρκος: ἐπὶ τῶν ἐπὶ δικαιοσύνῃ μαρτυρουμένων.

 

Plato, Republic 9

“So we should not believe that pleasure is a release from grief nor that grief is a relief from pleasure.”

Μὴ ἄρα πειθώμεθα καθαρὰν ἡδονὴν εἶναι τὴν λύπης ἀπαλλαγήν, μηδὲ λύπην τὴν ἡδονῆς.

 

Valerius Maximus, 2.2

“What then has our returned restraint, our renewed labor accomplished? Well, it brought forth many victories over the enemy whose back was impossible for a Roman soldier to see under such a narcissistic leader.”

quid ergo restituta continentia, quid repetita industria profecit? crebras scilicet victorias et multa tropaea peperit ex eo hoste cuius tergum sub ambitioso imperatore Romano militi videre non contigerat.

 

Cicero, Letters 12.3

“We rejoice at both the safety of the Republic and its victory and the restoration of your honors…”

Cum rei publicae vel salute vel victoria gaudemus tum instauratione tuarum laudum…

he altar dedicated to Hermes, late 2nd century BC. Agora of the Competaliasts (or Hermaists) on Delos.

Knowledge, Cooperation, and the Common Good

Manilius, Astronomica 67-84

“Humanity waited, thunderstruck by the new light in the sky,
First grieving as it disappeared, then overjoyed at its return.
The human race was incapable of understanding the reasons
Why the sun rose so frequently once it sent the stars
In flight, why the length of days and nights was uncertain
And why the shadows changed too as the sun moved farther away.

Stubborn obsession had not yet taught humankind knowledge and skill
And the land was resting open at the hands of untrained farmers.
At that time gold was resting in untouched mountains
And the untroubled sea hid strange worlds—
For the human race did not dare to risk life
In the waves or wind—people believed that they did not know enough.

But the passage of long days sharpened mortal thought
And hard work produced invention for the miserable
Just as each person’s luck compelled him to turn to himself to make life better.
Then, they competed with each other once their interests were divided
And whatever wisdom practice found through testing,
They happily shared for the common good.”

et stupefacta novo pendebat lumine mundi,
tum velut amisso maerens, tum laeta renato,
surgentem neque enim totiens Titana fugatis
sideribus, variosque dies incertaque noctis
tempora nec similis umbras, iam sole regresso
iam propiore, suis poterat discernere causis.
necdum etiam doctas sollertia fecerat artes,
terraque sub rudibus cessabat vasta colonis;
tumque in desertis habitabat montibus aurum,
immotusque novos pontus subduxerat orbes,
nec vitam pelago nec ventis credere vota
audebant; se quisque satis novisse putabant.
sed cum longa dies acuit mortalia corda
et labor ingenium miseris dedit et sua quemque
advigilare sibi iussit fortuna premendo,
seducta in varias certarunt pectora curas
et, quodcumque sagax temptando repperit usus,
in commune bonum commentum laeta dederunt.

17th-century chart of the universe, with zodiac signs and the earth at the center
From Wikipedia. 17th-century depiction in Andreas Cellarius‘s Harmonia Macrocosmica.

Giving The Finger in Ancient Greek

Since we have a short time left to salute a certain someone…

In Aristophanes’ Peace a rude hand gesture is mentioned (549):

Καὶ τὸν δορυξὸν οἷον ἐσκιμάλισεν.

Perseus’ translation (“this sickle-maker is thumbing his nose at the spear-maker?” ) may not do justice to the gesture or its meaning. Ancient commentary glosses this in a slightly different way. (See this site for a reference to the digitus impudicus in the Clouds)

Schol ad Ar. Pax. 549

Eskimálisen: “instead of he stuck his finger up” for to skimalísai is properly to shove a finger into a bird’s anus. But when people wish to insult someone, they extend their middle finger, retract the rest, and show it.”

ἐσκιμάλισεν: ἀντὶ τοῦ “κατεδακτύλισεν”· σκιμαλίσαι γάρ ἐστι κυρίως τὸ τὸν δάκτυλον εἰς τὸν πρωκτὸν τοῦ ὀρνέου βαλεῖν. οὐ μόνον δὲ τοῦτο, ἀλλὰ καὶ ὅταν βουλόμενοι ἐφυβρίσαι τινὰ τὸν μέσον δάκτυλον ἐντείνοντες καὶ τοὺς λοιποὺς συνάγοντες δείξωσιν αὐτόν.

Apart from loving this passage’s instructions about how to give a middle finger, I am intrigued by the fact that Greeks gave the middle finger at all and by the chance that the reference to a bird’s anus might provide an amusing folk etymology for why we call it the “bird”. But, first and foremost, we can learn why the Greeks gave the finger.

A popular article in Slate claims that the middle finger is offensive because it is phallic, so sticking it up is like rudely showing someone a penis. Wikipedia says it is all about sexual intercourse. The Greek evidence, however, indicates that while phallic meaning is operative, what one does with the threatened phallus is truly insulting (at hubris levels even!). So, let’s go through some of the extant evidence.

We have some confirmation of the synonymy the scholion indicates between giving the middle finger and sticking a finger in an anus:

Phrynichus, 83.15

Katadaktulizein: “to wantonly touch through the rectum with a finger. Attic Greeks use the term skimalizein.

καταδακτυλίζειν: τὸ ἀσελγῶς τῷ δακτύλῳ τῆς τοῦ πέλας ἕδρας ἅπτεσθαι. τοῦτο καὶ σκιμαλίζειν οἱ ᾿Αττικοὶ λέγουσιν.

The Suda provides a gloss on an adjective related to this verb:

Katadaktulikos: a phrase for wanting to penetrate the anus’s sphincter.

Καταδακτυλικός: ἀντὶ τοῦ συνουσιαστικὸς κατὰ τοῦ δακτυλίου τοῦ πρωκτοῦ.

There is also a proverb recorded that repeats much of the same material as we find in the scholion.

Michal. Apostol. Parom. 7.98

“You should get fingered” : [This is a proverb applied] for those worthy of insult. For skimalísai means when someone wants to insult someone, people raise their middle finger, retract the rest, and show it. Properly, this indicates shoving a finger into a bird’s anus.”

     ᾿Εσκιμαλίχθαι σε χρή: ἐπὶ τῶν ἀξίων ὕβρεως· σκιμαλίσαι δὲ λέγεται, ὅταν βουλόμενος ἐνυβρίσαι τινὰ τὸν μέσον δάκτυλον ἐντείναντες καὶ τοὺς λοιποὺς συνάγοντες ἐνδείξωσιν αὐτῷ· κυρίως δὲ λέγεται τὸ τὸν δάκτυλον εἰς τὸν πρωκτὸν τοῦ ὀρνέου βαλεῖν.

Picture
Image from thefinger.org

The Suda pretty much provides the same information but with an opening alternative:

Eskimalisen: [This is when] one insults by joining thumb and middle finger and striking them. Or, instead it means to give the finger [katedaktulise]: for “to finger” is, properly, to place your middle finger into a bird’s anus. But it is not only this: whenever people want to insult someone, they stretch out their middle finger, withdraw the rest, and show it. So Aristophanes says: “[see] how he fingered the spear-maker.”

Ἐσκιμάλισεν: τῷ μέσῳ δακτύλῳ συναρμόσας τὸν μέγαν καὶ πλήξας ἐφυβρίζει. ἢ ἀντὶ τοῦ κατεδακτύλισε: σκιμαλίσαι γάρ ἐστι κυρίως τὸ μέσον τὸν δάκτυλον εἰς τὸν πρωκτὸν τοῦ ὀρνέου ἐμβαλεῖν. οὐ μόνον δὲ τοῦτο, ἀλλὰ καὶ ὅταν βουλόμενοι ἐνυβρίσαι τινά, τὸν μέσον δάκτυλον ἐντείνοντες καὶ τοὺς λοιποὺς συνάγοντες δείξωσιν αὐτῷ. Ἀριστοφάνης: καὶ τὸν δορυξὸν οἷον ἐσκιμάλισεν.

In another entry we find a more abstract use of the verb with several options for translation. (There is also an explanation about why people are sticking fingers in birds.) Don’t sleep on the Suda: the entry combines agricultural information with an anecdote from philosophy:

Skimalisô: “I treat as nothing; I mock; I grab with a little finger as I would a woman’s ass”. Skimalizein means to examine with a little finger, to see if chickens are about to lay eggs.

When two men were resting above at one of Zeno’s drinking parties, and the one below him was sticking his foot in the other’s ass, and Zeno was doing the same thing to him with his knee, he turned around and said, “what kind of pain do you think you were causing the man below you?”

Σκιμαλίσω: ἐξουδενώσω, χλευάσω, τῷ μικρῷ δακτύλῳ ὡς τῶν γυναικείων πυγῶν ἅψομαι. λέγεται δὲ σκιμαλίζειν κυρίως τὸ τῷ μικρῷ δακτύλῳ ἀποπειρᾶσθαι, εἰ ᾠοτοκοῦσιν αἱ ἀλεκτορίδες. δυοῖν ὑπερανακειμένοιν ἐν πότῳ τοῦ Ζήνωνος, καὶ τοῦ ὑπ’ αὐτὸν τὸν ὑφ’ ἑαυτὸν σκιμαλίζοντος τῷ ποδί, αὐτὸς ἐκεῖνον τῷ γόνατι. ἐπιστραφέντος δέ, τί οὖν, οἴει, τὸν ὑποκάτω σου πάσχειν ὑπὸ σοῦ;

The entries from the Suda are pretty far removed from the time of Aristophanes’ Peace (only 1500 years or so). Although the steady tradition from the scholia through the lexicographers indicates some consistency, we still need a little more to help flesh this out.

So, a final piece of evidence to wrap this all up. One of the words for the middle finger in Attic Greek is καταπύγων (a meaning attested by both Photius and Hesychius: Καταπύγων: ὁ μέσος δάκτυλος).  This word, when not referring to fingers, generally indicates someone “given to unnatural lust” (LSJ) or one who is lecherous, derived from the preposition kata and the noun pugê (buttocks, ass). The point, if I may, is that the middle finger in this colloquialism is directly associated with something that goes deep in the buttocks.

To stay with the assertion in Slate, as the largest finger, the middle finger raised does seem to have a phallic association, but in the Greek usage at least the showing of such a phallic symbol is a threat of its use. Based on the association of the gesture and the word for the middle finger with “wantonness”, the gesture threatens deep anal penetration, a threat like Catullus’ pedicabo (“I will sexually violate your ass”). Google searches will find this answer, but without the pleasant lexical tour!

Image result for ancient greek chicken vase
A FALISCAN BLACK-GLAZED ASKOS | CIRCA 4TH CENTURY B.C. | Ancient Art & Antiquities Auction | Ancient Art & Antiquities, vases | Christie’s from Pinterest

But lest you fear that the gesture is now too base and vulgar to be used, no less a luminary than the philosopher Diogenes employed it:

Diogenes Flips off Demosthenes (Diogenes Laertius, 6.34 and 35)

Once, when some foreigners wanted to see Demosthenes, he put up his middle finger, and said, “this is the Athenian demagogue!”

ξένων δέ ποτε θεάσασθαι θελόντων Δημοσθένην, τὸν μέσον δάκτυλον ἐκτείνας, “οὗτος ὑμῖν,” ἔφη, “ἐστὶν ὁ ᾿Αθηναίων δημαγωγός.”

 “[Diogenes] used to say that most people were a single finger away from insanity. If someone walks around holding out his middle finger, he seems nuts. But if he is holding his index, he doesn’t.”

τοὺς πλείστους ἔλεγε παρὰ δάκτυλον μαίνεσθαι· ἐὰν οὖν τις τὸν μέσον προτείνας πορεύηται, δόξει μαίνεσθαι, ἐὰν δὲ τὸν λιχανόν, οὐκέτι.

See also Jeffrey Henderson, The Maculate Muse (New Haven, 1975).

Thanks to Justin Arft and Matt Farmer for comments on an earlier version of this.

Suda Online, epsilon 3150; kappa 516; sigma 606

 

A Recipe For Your, Um, Growing Problem

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists Book 7, 326f

“If you immerse a red mullet in wine while it is still alive and a man drinks this, he will be impotent, as Terpsikles records in his work On Sexual Matters. If a woman drinks the same mixture, she will not get pregnant. The same thing does not happen with a chicken.”

ἐὰν δ᾿ ἐναποπνιγῇ τρίγλη ζῶσα ἐν οἴνῳ καὶ τοῦτο ἀνὴρ πίῃ, ἀφροδισιάζειν οὐ δυνήσεται, ὡς Τερψικλῆς ἱστορεῖ ἐν τῷ Περὶ Ἀφροδισίων· κἂν γυνὴ δὲ πίῃ τοῦ αὐτοῦ οἴνου, οὐ κυΐσκεται. ὁμοίως δὲ οὐδὲ ὄρνις.

Image result for ancient mosaic red mullet
Spot the (extra)potence cure.

If Only Everyone Were Like Me

Menander, Dyskolos 742-746

“I would like to tell you a few things about me and my character.
If everyone were like me, there wouldn’t be any courts at all,
They wouldn’t take each other to prison.
There would be no war and everyone would be happy because they had enough.
Ah, maybe the way things are is more pleasing. Act as you will.
This old cranky grump will be out of your way.”

πὲρ ἐ]μοῦ γὰρ βούλομ᾿ εἰπεῖν ὀλίγα σοι καὶ τοῦ τρόπου.
εἰ τοιοῦτ]οι πάντες ἦσαν, οὔτε τὰ δικαστήρια
ἦν ἄν, ο]ὔθ᾿ αὑτοὺς ἀπῆγον εἰς τὰ δεσμωτήρια,
οὔτε π]όλεμος ἦν, ἔχων δ᾿ ἂν μέτρι᾿ ἕκαστος ἠγάπα.
ἀ[λ]λ᾿ ἴσως ταῦτ᾿ ἔστ᾿ ἀρεστὰ μᾶλλον· οὕτω πράττετε.
ἐκποδὼν ὑμῖν ὁ χαλεπὸς δύσκολός τ᾿ ἔσται γέρων.

Image result for medieval old fool
“The Fool and His Double”, José Frappa

Cranky about the State of the Country

Cicero, letters to Atticus 375 (11 May 44)

“I have no doubt that our state is looking at war. This affair has been managed with a man’s bravery and a child’s planning. Can’t everyone see that a king was removed but his heir was left on the throne?

What is more ridiculous? To fear this but not to consider that a risk at all! There is still in this moment much which is crooked. That the house of Pontius near Naples is held by the mother of that tyrannicide! Oh!

I should read the “Cato the Elder” I made for you more often. Old age is making me rather cranky. I am annoyed by everything. But, certainly, I have lived. Let the young men see to these things. You will care for my affairs as you do.”

Mihi autem non est dubium quin res spectet ad castra. acta enim illa res est animo virili, consilio puerili. quis enim hoc non vidit, <regem sublatum>,2 regni heredem relictum? quid autem absurdius? ‘hoc metuere, alterum in metu non ponere!’ quin etiam hoc ipso tempore multa ὑποσóλοικα. Ponti Neapolitanum a matre tyrannoctoni possideri! legendus mihi saepius est ‘Cato maior’ ad te missus. amariorem enim me senectus facit. stomachor omnia. sed mihi quidem βεβíωται; viderint iuvenes. tu mea curabis, ut curas.

cranky cicero

The Greatness of Freedom

Epictetus, Discourses 4.54-55

“Tell me this then—does freedom seem to be something great, noble, and valuable to you?

How wouldn’t it be?

Is it possible for someone who receives something so great, noble, and valuable to be miserable?

It is not.

So, when you see someone begging someone else or flattering them against what they really believe, be brave enough to say that this person is not free. And it is not just if someone does this for a meal but if they do it for a cabinet position or another office too…”

Ἔτι οὖν ἀπόκριναί μοι κἀκεῖνο· δοκεῖ σοι μέγα τι εἶναι καὶ γενναῖον ἡ ἐλευθερία καὶ ἀξιόλογον; —

Πῶς γὰρ οὔ;—

Ἔστιν οὖν τυγχάνοντά τινος οὕτως μεγάλου καὶ ἀξιολόγου καὶ γενναίου ταπεινὸν εἶναι;

Οὐκ ἔστιν.

Ὅταν οὖν ἴδῃς τινὰ ὑποπεπτωκότα ἑτέρῳ ἢ κολακεύοντα παρὰ τὸ φαινόμενον αὐτῷ, λέγε καὶ τοῦτον θαρρῶν μὴ εἶναι ἐλεύθερον· καὶ μὴ μόνον, ἂν δειπναρίου ἕνεκα αὐτὸ ποιῇ, ἀλλὰ κἂν ἐπαρχίας ἕνεκα κἂν ὑπατείας

Sophocles, fr. 873 [= Mich. Apostol 13.8]

“Whoever does business with a tyrant is
That man’s slave, even if he starts out free.”

ὅστις γὰρ ὡς τύραννον ἐμπορεύεται
κείνου ‘στι δοῦλος, κἂν ἐλεύθερος μόλῃ.

 

Traitors and Crowns

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 1068-1070

“I have learned to hate traitors
For there is no sickness
I reject greater than that”

τοὺς προδότας γὰρ μισεῖν ἔμαθον,
κοὐκ ἔστι νόσος
τῆσδ᾿ ἥντιν᾿ ἀπέπτυσα μᾶλλον.

Galen, Method of Medicine 1, 1 19k

“But what is this? For purse-snatchers envy purse-snatches and traitors envy traitors. It’s simple: there’s no person who does have some crowd ready to crown them.”

ἀλλὰ τί τοῦτο; καὶ γὰρ οἱ βαλαντιοτόμοι τὰ τῶν βαλαντιοτόμων ζηλοῦσι καὶ οἱ προδόται τὰ τῶν προδοτῶν καὶ οὐδείς ἐστιν ἁπλῶς ἄνθρωπος ὃς οὐκ ἂν σχοίη χορὸν οἰκεῖον ἐν ᾧ στεφθήσεται.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) gestures toward a crowd of supporters of President Donald Trump gathered outside the U.S. Capitol to protest the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral college victory Jan. 6, 2021 at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. Some demonstrators later breached security and stormed the Capitol. (Francis Chung/E&E News and Politico via AP Images)

No Greener Grass: Life is Painful Everywhere

Plutarch, On the Tranquility of Mind, 466

“Menander addresses those who believe that some kind of life is singularly free of pain, as some people think about the life of farmers, or of bachelors, or of kings. He reminds rightly (Men. Fr. 281):

‘I once thought, Phanias, that rich men,
who are not pressed to borrow money, do not groan
During the night, don’t turn over and over mumbling
“Alas”, and are able to sleep a sweet and
calm sleep.’

He then proceeds to describe how he has noted that the wealthy suffer the same things as the poor:

‘Is there some relation between life and pain?
Pain abides in a rich life; it’s in a famous one,
It grows old alongside a poor life too.’

But just as, while sailing, cowards and the sick believe that they would fare more easily if they moved from a skiff to a larger boat, or again if they went from there to a trireme, they achieve nothing since they carry their sickness and their cowardice with them. Changing your lifestyle doesn’t separate pains and troubles from the soul. These things come from inexperience in affairs, lack of reason, and an inability or ignorance concerning approaching the present circumstances correctly.

These things storm around the rich and poor; they annoy the married and unmarried too. Men avoid appearing in public because of these things but then cannot endure their peaceful life; because of these things, men pursue advancement in the seats of power but when they get there, they are immediately bored.”

Τοὺς μὲν γὰρ ἀφωρισμένως ἕνα βίον ἄλυπον νομίζοντας, ὡς ἔνιοι τὸν τῶν γεωργῶν ἢ τὸν τῶν ἠιθέων ἢ τὸν τῶν βασιλέων, ἱκανῶς ὁ Μένανδρος ὑπομιμνήσκει λέγων (fr. 281)

‘ᾤμην ἐγὼ τοὺς πλουσίους, ὦ Φανία,
οἷς μὴ τὸ δανείζεσθαι πρόσεστιν, οὐ στένειν
τὰς νύκτας οὐδὲ στρεφομένους ἄνω κάτω
‘οἴμοι’ λέγειν, ἡδὺν δὲ καὶ πρᾶόν τινα
ὕπνον καθεύδειν•’

εἶτα προσδιελθὼν ὡς καὶ τοὺς πλουσίους ὁρᾷ ταὐτὰ πάσχοντας τοῖς πένησιν

‘ἆρ’ ἐστί’ φησί ‘συγγενές τι λύπη καὶ βίος;
τρυφερῷ βίῳ σύνεστιν, ἐνδόξῳ βίῳ
πάρεστιν, ἀπόρῳ συγκαταγηράσκει βίῳ.’

ἀλλ’ ὥσπερ οἱ δειλοὶ καὶ ναυτιῶντες ἐν τῷ πλεῖν, εἶτα ῥᾷον οἰόμενοι διάξειν, ἐὰν εἰς γαῦλον ἐξ ἀκάτου καὶ πάλιν ἐὰν εἰς τριήρη μεταβῶσιν, οὐδὲν περαίνουσι τὴν χολὴν καὶ τὴν δειλίαν συμμεταφέροντες αὑτοῖς, οὕτως αἱ τῶν βίων ἀντιμεταλήψεις οὐκ ἐξαιροῦσι τῆς ψυχῆς τὰ λυποῦντα καὶ ταράττοντα• ταῦτα δ’ ἐστὶν ἀπειρία πραγμάτων, ἀλογιστία, τὸ μὴ δύνασθαι μηδ’ ἐπίστασθαι χρῆσθαι τοῖς παροῦσιν ὀρθῶς. ταῦτα καὶ πλουσίους χειμάζει καὶ πένητας, ταῦτα καὶ γεγαμηκότας ἀνιᾷ καὶ ἀγάμους• διὰ ταῦτα φεύγουσι τὴν ἀγορὰν εἶτα τὴν ἡσυχίαν οὐ φέρουσι, διὰ ταῦτα προαγωγὰς ἐν αὐλαῖς διώκουσι καὶ παρελθόντες εὐθὺς βαρύνονται.

Saving the State With A Single Body

Cicero, De Domo Sua 63-64

“Leaders, this violence, this crime, this rage was what I defended from the necks of all good people with my body—I met with my skin the full force of civil strife, the explosive savagery of criminals which was just now bursting out because it had found such daring leaders after it had grown for so long as hatred suppressed.

Against me alone the consular firebrands fell, thrown by the tribunes’ hands; all the criminal points of conspiracy which I had broken before struck me. But if I had done what many of the bravest men found pleasing and had decided to face this force in open arms, I would have been victorious with the death of so many criminals who were still citizens or I would have fallen with the Republic following the death of so many good people, something those criminals wished for most.”

Hanc ego vim, pontifices, hoc scelus, hunc furorem meo corpore opposito ab omnium bonorum cervicibus depuli omnemque impetum discordiarum, omnem diu collectam vim improborum, quae inveterata compresso odio atque tacito iam erumpebat nancta tam audaces duces, excepi meo corpore. In me uno consulares faces, iactae manibus tribuniciis, in me omnia, quae ego quondam rettuderam, coniurationis nefaria tela adhaeserunt. Quod si, ut multis fortissimis viris placuit, vi et armis contra vim decertare voluissem, aut vicissem cum magna internicione improborum, sed tamen civium, aut interfectis bonis omnibus, quod illis optatissimum erat, una cum re publica concidissem

Officer Eugene Goodman at the Capitol Building on January 6th, 2021. Image taken from The Hill https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/533657-capitol-police-officer-hailed-as-hero-for-drawing-rioters-away-from-senate