Nothing of the Facts Themselves

Plato, Gorgias 459b7-c2

Socrates: “So, the politician and the art of rhetoric are also the same regarding the rest of the arts: it isn’t necessary for the speaker to know how the facts themselves stand, but he need only to have found some persuasive device so he seems to those who don’t know anything to know more than those who actually know.”

ΣΩ. Οὐκοῦν καὶ περὶ τὰς ἄλλας ἁπάσας τέχνας ὡσαύτως ἔχει ὁ ῥήτωρ καὶ ἡ ῥητορική· αὐτὰ μὲν τὰ πράγματα οὐδὲν δεῖ αὐτὴν εἰδέναι ὅπως ἔχει, μηχανὴνδέ τινα πειθοῦς ηὑρηκέναι ὥστε φαίνεσθαι τοῖς οὐκ εἰδόσι μᾶλλον εἰδέναι τῶν εἰδότων.

 

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Thanks to @diyclassics for making me read this Greek this morning.

The Fruit of Reading

Macrobius, Saturnalia 6.2

“I fear that, in my eagerness to show how much Vergil accomplished from his reading of the ancients, and what blossoms and what ornaments he poured forth from all of them into his own poetry, I may accidentally offer an opportunity of for criticism to those uncultured and malignant fools who censure such a man for his usurpation of other’s works, not considering that this is the fruit of reading: to imitate those things which you approve in others, and to turn the sayings of others which you marvel at into your own use by a fitting turn. Our poets have done this among themselves, just as much as the best of the Greeks did. And, to avoid talk of foreign precedent, I could show with numerous examples how much the authors of our ancient canon have lifted from one another.”

Etsi vereor me, dum ostendere cupio quantum Virgilius noster ex antiquiorum lectione profecerit et quos ex omnibus flores vel quae in carminis sui decorem ex diversis ornamenta libaverit, occasionem reprehendendi vel inperitis vel malignis ministrem, exprobrantibus tanto viro alieni usurpationem, nec considerantibus hunc esse fructum legendi, aemulari ea quae in aliis probes et quae maxime inter aliorum dicta mireris in aliquem usum tuum oportuna derivatione convertere, quod et nostri tam inter se quam a Graecis et Graecorum excellentes inter se saepe fecerunt. Et, ut de alienigenis taceam, possem pluribus edocere quantum se mutuo conpilarint bibliothecae veteris auctores.

On Translating to Latin From Greek

Gellius 11.16

“We have frequently noted more than a few words or expressions which we cannot say in a few words, as in Greek, and which, even if we use as many words as possible to say them, cannot be articulated as clearly or pointedly in Latin as the Greeks can convey in a few words. For recently, when a book of Plutarch came my way and I was reading the title, which was “Peri polypragmosunes”, a man who didn’t know Greek asked me whose book it was and what it was written about. I spoke the name of the writer immediately, but the subject of the book was something I hesitated on. At first, since I did not believe that it would be an elegant translation if I said that the book was De Negotiositate (about busyness), I began to search my mind for some other description which, as the saying goes, would express it “word for word”. But there was nothing which I could remember that I read nor anything I could invent that would not in some way be harsh or silly—if I made a new word out of multitude and negotium, in the same way we say “multifaceted” or “multicolored” or “multiform”. But it would be said no less awkwardly than if one were to translate into a single world polyphilia (having many friends), polytropia (of many ways) or polysarkia (with much flesh). Therefore, after I spent a while thinking silently, I responded that it did not seem possible to me to communicate the subject in a single word and that, as a result, I was considering how to convey the meaning of that Greek word with a phrase.”

Adiecimus saepe animum ad vocabula rerum non paucissima, quae neque singulis verbis, ut a Graecis, neque, si maxime pluribus eas res verbis dicamus, tam dilucide tamque apte demonstrari Latina oratione possunt, quam Graeci ea dicunt privis vocibus. 2 Nuper etiam cum adlatus esset ad nos Plutarchi liber et eius libri indicem legissemus, qui erat peri polypragmosynes, percontanti cuipiam, qui et litterarum et vocum Graecarum expers fuit, cuiusnam liber et qua de re scriptus esset, nomen quidem scriptoris statim diximus, rem, de qua scriptum fuit, dicturi haesimus. 3 Ac tum quidem primo, quia non satis commode opinabar interpretaturum me esse, si dicerem librum scriptum “de negotiositate”, aliud institui aput me exquirere, quod, ut dicitur, verbum de verbo expressum esset. 4 Nihil erat prorsus, quod aut meminissem legere me aut, si etiam vellem fingere, quod non insigniter asperum absurdumque esset, si ex multitudine et negotio verbum unum compingerem, sicuti “multiiuga” dicimus et “multicolora” et “multiformia”. 5 Sed non minus inlepide ita diceretur, quam si interpretari voce una velis polyphilian aut polytropian aut polysarkian. Quamobrem, cum diutule tacitus in cogitando fuissem, respondi tandem non videri mihi significari eam rem posse uno nomine et idcirco iuncta oratione, quid ucliet Graecum id verbum, pararam dicere.

Epitaphs for Homer and Orpheus

Greek Anthology 7.7

“Here lies Homer who sang of all Greece,
Born and bred in hundred-gated Thebes”

᾿Ενθάδε θεῖος ῞Ομηρος, ὃς ῾Ελλάδα πᾶσαν ἄεισε,
Θήβης ἐκγεγαὼς τῆς ἑκατονταπύλου.

Greek Anthology 7.8

“Orpheus, you will no longer lead away oaks or stones
Bewitched by your song, or the leaderless herds of beasts.
You will no longer sing the howl of the wind or the hail to sleep
Or calm blizzards of snow or the roaring of the sea.
For you have died. The daughters of memory mourn you
Much, and especially your mother Kalliope.
Why do we weep over our dead sons when not even the gods
Can ward Hades from their children?”

Οὐκέτι θελγομένας, ᾿Ορφεῦ, δρύας, οὐκέτι πέτρας
ἄξεις, οὐ θηρῶν αὐτονόμους ἀγέλας·
οὐκέτι κοιμάσεις ἀνέμων βρόμον, οὐχὶ χάλαζαν,
οὐ νιφετῶν συρμούς, οὐ παταγεῦσαν ἅλα.
ὤλεο γάρ· σὲ δὲ πολλὰ κατωδύραντο θύγατρες
Μναμοσύνας, μάτηρ δ’ ἔξοχα Καλλιόπα.
τί φθιμένοις στοναχεῦμεν ἐφ’ υἱάσιν, ἁνίκ’ ἀλαλκεῖν
τῶν παίδων ᾿Αίδαν οὐδὲ θεοῖς δύναμις.

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Epicurus’ Simple Boundary or Greed’s Endless Road?

Athenaeus’ “Epigram for Epicurus”, from Diogenes Laertius Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, 10.12

“People, you toil for lesser things, and start conflicts
And wars again and again for personal gain.
But nature’s abundance meets some modest limit,
While empty values wander over an endless road.
Neokles’ wise child heard this, either from the Muses
Or from the Pythians sacred altars.”

ἄνθρωποι, μοχθεῖτε τὰ χείρονα, καὶ διὰ κέρδος
ἄπληστοι νεικέων ἄρχετε καὶ πολέμων·
τᾶς φύσιος δ’ ὁ πλοῦτος ὅρον τινὰ βαιὸν ἐπίσχει,
αἱ δὲ κεναὶ κρίσιες τὰν ἀπέραντον ὁδόν,
τοῦτο Νεοκλῆος πινυτὸν τέκος ἢ παρὰ Μουσέων
ἔκλυεν ἢ Πυθοῦς ἐξ ἱερῶν τριπόδων.

 

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How to Give the Finger in Ancient Greek (And Why…)

[Thanks to new friend Matt Farmer for drawing the following to my attention and to Justin Arft for realizing Matt and I might have something to talk about]

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.

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. 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.

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.

Image result for Ancient Greek Vase chicken

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!

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)

Suda Online, epsilon 3150; kappa 516; sigma 606

The Greek Compound You Never Knew You Needed

[Thanks to a thread from Facebook for letting me know about this one]

Suetonius Tranquillus, Peri Blasphemon 11.12

“According to Hipponax [fr. 114c] the “messêgudorpoxéstês” is one who often relieves himself during a meal so that he may fill himself up again”

<Κατὰ δὲ ῾Ιππώνακτα (fr. 114 c Masson), καὶ ὁ> μεσσηγυδορποχέστης, ὁ μεσοῦντος τοῦ δείπνου πολλάκις ἀποπατῶν, ὅπως πάλιν ἐμπίπληται ὁ αὐτός.

For the word-builders: messêgu (“in the middle of”) + dorpos (“dinner, meal”)+ khestês (a nomina agentis—agentive noun—from the Greek verb χέζω, “to shit”).

This is a real vase at the Museum of Fine Arts

 

And another from the Walters Art Museum:

 

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