A friend and I have been reading through Herodotus together in Greek. He and I have had a recurring back-and-forth over my insistence that Greek accents were a vital component of expert knowledge of the language. So I keep my eye out for places where a different accent makes for a different meaning. He does, now, too. He’s found a fun chart in an old textbook that includes mundane ones such as ἄλλα (“other things”) and ἀλλά (“but”) or ἄρα (“therefore”) and ἆρα (“really?”) as well as some choicer ones like οἶος (“alone”) and οἰός (“of a sheep”) or ὦμος (“shoulder”) and ὠμός (“raw”).
In my own meanderings, I recently discovered this pair: θυμός, “spirit,” and θύμος, which LSJ defines as “warty excrescence.” (They have different vowel lengths, a short upsilon in the latter and a long upsilon in the latter, as attested by the circumflex on the Lesbian-dialect version of it in the Sappho quoted below). I was struck by the jarring juxtaposition between the two of refined, metaphysical concept and bodily grotesque. So I decided to re-translate a few passages of Greek literature with the θυμός misinterpreted as θύμος. The results were gruesome and absurd:
Homer, Odyssey 1.4
πολλὰ δ’ ὅ γ’ ἐν πόντῳ πάθεν ἄλγεα ὃν κατὰ θυμόν
And he suffered many pains on the sea in his own warty excrescence
line 5 of the Tithonus fragment of Sappho
βάρυς δέ μ’ ὀ [θ]ῦμο̣ς πεπόηται
And my warty excrescence has been made heavy
Homer, Odyssey 17.603
πλησάμενος δ’ ἄρα θυμὸν ἐδητύος ἠδὲ ποτῆτος
Having filled his warty excrescence with food and drink
ἐκ θυμοῦ στέργοισα κασίγνητόν τε πόσιν τε
Loving her brother-husband from the bottom of her warty excrescence
λογισάμενος ἢν εὑρίσκῃ πλέω τε καὶ μέζω τὰ ἀδικήματα ἐόντα τῶν ὑπουργημάτων, οὕτω τῷ θυμῷ χρᾶται
If, after reckoning, someone discovers that the wrongdoings are more and greater than the good works, then he can make full use of his warty excrescence
Sophocles, Electra 1346–1347
Ἠλ. τίς οὗτός ἐστ’, ἀδελφέ; πρὸς θεῶν φράσον.
Ὀρ. οὐχὶ ξυνίης; Ἠλ. οὐδέ γ’ ἐς θυμὸν φέρω.
ELECTRA: Who is he, brother? By the gods, tell me.
ORESTES: You really don’t know?
ELECTRA: No, nor do I carry it into my warty excrescence.
Plato, Republic 440c
οὐκ ἐθέλει πρὸς τοῦτον αὐτοῦ ἐγείρεσθαι ὁ θυμός;
[When someone punishes someone who has done something unjust,] isn’t it the case that their warty excrescence won’t want to be roused against that person?
Plato, Timaeus 70b
ὅτε ζέσειεν τὸ τοῦ θυμοῦ μένος
when the strength of the warty excrescence boils over…
Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics 1149a
ἧττον αἰσχρὰ ἀκρασία ἡ τοῦ θυμοῦ ἢ ἡ τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν
Unrestrainedness of the warty excrescence is less shameful than unrestrainedness of the desires
Gregory of Nazianzus, Carmina 34.43–44
θυμὸς μέν ἐστιν ἀθρόος ζέσις φρένος, | ὀργὴ δὲ θυμὸς ἐμμένων
A warty excrescence is an excessive boiling of the heart; anger is a persistent warty excrescence
T. H. M. Gellar-Goad is Associate Professor of Classics at Wake Forest University. He is author of Laughing Atoms, Laughing Matter: Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura and Satire, Plautus: Curculio, and two more books under contract, and was recently co-organizer of Feminism & Classics 2022. Send him stories (but not pictures) of your own warty excrescences at email@example.com.