Tawdry Tuesday: Proctological Proverb Edition

Arsenius, 34a1

“May you fall into Hades’ asshole”: [a curse]: may you die.

῞Αιδου πρωκτῷ περιπέσῃς: ἤγουν τελευτήσῃς.

Note: Even though Ancient Greek prôktos can merely mean “rear end” (as in butt), it most often means ‘anus’ in comedy and insults. Also, I wanted to use something profane and given the British/American divide on arse/ass, I decided just to go with “asshole” because it is funnier.

Diogenianus (v.1 e cod. Marz. 2.42)

“I wish you’d fall into Hades’ asshole”: this is clear

῞Αιδου πρωκτῷ περιπέσοις: δῆλον.

Diogenianus (v.2 e cod. Vindob. 133, 1.97 )

“I wish you’d fall into Hades’ asshole”: Used for cursing someone

Αἵδου πρωκτῷ περιπέσοις: ἐπὶ τῶν καταρωμένων τινί.

Diogenianus, 3.58

“The asshole survives the bath” [or, “Ass surpasses the bath”]. Whenever someone is not able to wash himself, but his bowels still assail him. This is a proverb used for things done uselessly.

Πρωκτὸς λουτροῦ περιγίνεται: ὅταν τις μὴ δύνηται ἀπονίψασθαι, ἀλλ’ ἡ κοιλία αὐτῷ ἐπιφέρηται. λέγεται ἡ παροιμία ἐπὶ τῶν ἀνωφελῶς πραττομένων.

Michael Apostolius, 14.78

“The asshole survives the bath”: This proverb is used for things done uselessly and done for show. For people with thick asses and potbellies are not able to wash themselves off easily.”

Πρωκτὸς λουτροῦ περιγίνεται: ἐπὶ τῶν ἀνωφελῶν καὶ εἰκῇ πραττομένων ἐλέγετο· οἱ γὰρ παχύπρωκτοι καὶ προγάστορες οὐ δύνανται ἑαυτοὺς ἀπονίψασθαι εὐπετῶς.

Zenobius, Vulg. 1.52

“It was cured by Akesias”: this is a proverb for when things are healed for the worse. Aristotle provides the proverb in tetrameters: “Akesias healed his asshole.”

Ἀκεσίας ἰάσατο· ἐπὶ τῶν ἐπὶ τὸ χεῖρον ἰωμένων. ὅλην δὲ Ἀριστοφάνης ἐν τετραμέτροις τὴν παροιμίαν ἐκφέρει, λέγων· Ἀκεσίας τὸν πρωκτὸν ἰάσατο.

Suda, s.v. Ἀφευθεὶς

“Singed around the asshole:” Aristophanes has this instead of being “all burned up”

Ἀφευθεὶς τὸν πρωκτόν: Ἀριστοφάνης ἀντὶ τοῦ φλογισθείς.

Balneum Tripergulae – particolare da miniatura del Codice Angelico del “De Balneis Puteolanis� di Pietro da Eboli.

Bonus: Suda on defecation (And there is more of this)

Apopatêma: this is the same as ‘dung’ Eupolis has in his Golden Age: “What is that man? Shit of a fox.” And Kratinus has in Runaway Slaves: I knocked Kerkyon out at dawn when I found him shitting in the vegetables.” We also find the participle apopatêsomenoi (“they are about to shit”) which means they are going to evacuate the feces from their bodies. But patos also means path.

Aristophanes writes “No one sacrifices the old way any more or even enters the temple except for the more than ten thousand who want to shit. So, apopatos is really the voiding of the bowels. Aristophanes also says about Kleonymous: “He went off to shit after he got he army and shat for ten months in the golden mountains? For how long was he closing his asshole? A whole turn of the moon?”

Ἀποπάτημα: αὐτὸ τὸ σκύβαλον. Εὔπολις Χρυσῷ γένει: τί γάρ ἐστ’ ἐκεῖνος; ἀποπάτημ’ ἀλώπεκος. Κρατῖνος Δραπέτισι: τὸν Κερκύονά τε ἕωθεν ἀποπατοῦντ’ ἐπὶ τοῖς λαχάνοις εὑρὼν ἀπέπνιξα. καὶ Ἀποπατησόμενοι, τὴν κόπρον κενώσοντες. πάτος δὲ ἡ ὁδός. Ἀριστοφάνης: οὐδεὶς θύει τοπαράπαν οὐδ’ εἰσέρχεται, πλὴν ἀποπατησόμενοί γε πλεῖν ἢ μύριοι. Ἀπόπατος γὰρ ἡ κένωσις τῆς γαστρός. καὶ Ἀριστοφάνης περὶ Κλεωνύμου φησίν: εἰς ἀπόπατον ᾤχετο στρατιὰν λαβὼν κἄχεζεν ὀκτὼ μῆνας ἐπὶ χρυσῶν ὄρων. πόσου δὲ τὸν πρωκτὸν χρόνου ξυνήγαγε; τῇ πανσελήνῳ.

From Henderson’s Maculate Muse

proktos

Hegesias, The Death-Persuader

CW: Suicide, self-harm

In an earlier post I talked about “threshold” theory and some of the very different beliefs Ancient Greeks and Romans had about suicide. This excerpt from Cicero touches upon some of the philosophical ideas about taking one’s own life while also reflecting in part on the group effect. While Hegesias’ arguments are extreme, they have some affinity with Epicurean doctrines against fearing death. In this formulation, however, the argument that death is preferable because it frees us from evils reaches a bit of an absurd conclusion. Diogenes Laertius provides an over of the Cyrenaic School.

Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 1.83-84

“Therefore, death removes us from evils not from goods, if we are seeking the truth. This, in fact, is argued by Hegesias the Cyrenaic so fully that it is said he was prohibited from speaking on these matters in schools because many people killed themselves after they heard him speak.

There is also an epigram attributed to Callimachus on the topic of Cleombrotus the Ambracian who, he says, even though nothing bad happened to him, he threw himself from the wall into the see after reading a book of Plato. From that book of Hegesias I mentioned—Starving to Death—there is a person who while in the process of leaving life by starvation is called back by his friends to whom he responds by listing the unpleasantries of human life.

I could do the same, although I will not go as far as he who thinks that there is no point for anyone to live at all. I am overlooking all others—is it still meaningful for me to continue on? I live deprived of the comfort and decoration of a family or of a public life and, certainly, if I had died previously, death would have saved me from evils not from good.”

A malis igitur mors abducit, non a bonis, verum si quaerimus. Et quidem hoc a Cyrenaico Hegesia sic copiose disputatur, ut is a rege Ptolemaeo prohibitus esse dicatur illa in scholis dicere, quod multi iis auditis mortem sibi ipsi consciscerent. Callimachi quidem epigramma in Ambraciotam Cleombrotum est, quem ait, cum ei nihil accidisset adversi, e muro se in mare abiecisse lecto Platonis libro. Eius autem, quem dixi, Hegesiae liber est, ᾽Αποκαρτερῶν, in quo a vita quidam per inediam discedens revocatur ab amicis, quibus respondens vitae humanae enumerat incommoda. Possem idem facere, etsi minus quam ille, qui omnino vivere expedire nemini putat. Mitto alios: etiamne nobis expedit? qui et domesticis et forensibus solaciis ornamentisque privati certe, si ante occidissemus, mors nos a malis, non a bonis abstraxisset.

Suda, pi 1471

“Hegesias is called the ‘death-persuader’

Πεισιθάνατος ὁ ῾Ηγησίας ἐλέγετο.

If you or someone you know feel alone, uncertain, depressed or for any reason cannot find enough joy and hope to think life is worth it, please reach out to someone. The suicide prevention hotline has a website, a phone number (1-800-273-8255), and a chat line. And if we can help you find some tether to the continuity of human experience through the Classics or a word, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Ancient Biological Warfare

Suda, sigma 777

Solon: They [the Amphiktyones] selected this man to be their adviser for war against the Kirrhaians. When they were consulting the oracle about victory, the Pythia said: “you will not capture and raze the tower of this city before the wave of dark-eyed Amphitritê washes onto my precinct as it echoes over the wine-faced sea.”

Solon persuaded them to make Kirrhaia sacred to the god so that the sea would become a neighbor to Apollo’s precinct. And another strategy was devised by Solon against the Kirrhaians. For he turned a river’s water which used to flow in its channel into the city elsewhere.

The Kirrhaians withstood the besiegers by drinking water from wells and from rain. But [Solon] filled the river with hellebore roots and when he believed the water had enough of the drug, he returned it to its course. Then the Kirrhaians took a full portion of this water. And when they went AWOL because of diarrhea, the Amphiktyones who were stationed near the wall took it and then the city.”

Σόλων: τοῦτον εἵλοντο οἱ Κιρραίοις πολεμεῖν ᾑρημένοι σύμβουλον. χρωμένοις δὲ σφίσι περὶ νίκης ἀνεῖπεν ἡ Πυθώ: οὐ πρὶν τῆσδε πόληος ἐρείψετε πύργον ἑλόντες, πρίν κεν ἐμῷ τεμένει κυανώπιδος Ἀμφιτρίτης κῦμα ποτικλύζοι, κελαδοῦν ἐπὶ οἴνοπα πόντον. ἔπεισεν οὖν ὁ Σόλων καθιερῶσαι τῷ θεῷ τὴν Κίρραιαν, ἵνα δὴ τῷ τεμένει τοῦ Ἀπόλλωνος γένηται γείτων ἡ θάλαττα. εὑρέθη δὲ καὶ ἕτερον τῷ Σόλωνι σόφισμα ἐς τοὺς Κιρραίους: τοῦ γὰρ ποταμοῦ τὸ ὕδωρ ῥέον δι’ ὀχετοῦ ἐς τὴν πόλιν ἀπέστρεψεν ἀλλαχόσε. καὶ οἱ μὲν πρὸς τοὺς πολιορκοῦντας ἔτι ἀντεῖχον ἔκ τε φρεάτων καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ τὸ ἐκ θεοῦ πίνοντες. ὁ δὲ τοῦ ἑλλεβόρου τὰς ῥίζας ἐμβαλὼν ἐς τὸν ποταμόν, ἐπειδὴ ἱκανῶς τοῦ φαρμάκου τὸ ὕδωρ ᾔσθετο ἔχον, ἀντέστρεψεν αὖθις ἐς τὸν ὀχετόν, καὶ ἐνεφορήσαντο ἀνέδην οἱ Κιρραῖοι τοῦ ὕδατος. καὶ οἱ μὲν ὑπὸ τῆς διαρροίας ἐξέλιπον, οἱ δὲ ἐπὶ τοῦ τείχους τῆς φρουρᾶς Ἀμφικτύονες εἷλον τὴν φρουρὰν καὶ τὴν πόλιν.

Image result for medieval manuscript diarrhea
Roman d’Alexandre, Tournai 1338-1344.

From Apollonios Paradoxographus

“In his work On Plants, in the last part of the material, Theophrastos says that Eunomos, the Khian and purveyor of drugs, did not [cleanse himself/die] while drinking many draughts of hellebore. Once, even, when together with his fellow craftsmen he took over 22 drinks in one day as he sat in the agora and he did not return from his implements. Then he left to wash and eat, as he was accustomed, and did not vomit. He accomplished this after being in this custom for a long time, because he started from small amounts until he got to so many large ones. The powers of all drugs are less severe for those used to them and for some they are even useless.”

50 Θεόφραστος ἐν τῷ περὶ φυτῶν, ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ τῆς πραγματείας· Εὔνομος, φησίν, ὁ Χῖος, ὁ φαρμακοπώλης, ἐλλεβόρου πίνων πλείονας πόσεις οὐκ ἐκαθαίρετο. καὶ ποτέ, ἔφη, ἐν μιᾷ ἡμέρᾳ συνθέμενος τοῖς ὁμοτέχνοις περὶ δύο καὶ εἴκοσι πόσεις ἔλαβεν ἐν τῇ ἀγορᾷ καθήμενος καὶ οὐκ ἐξανέστη ἀπὸ τῶν σκευῶν <μέχρι δείλης>. τότε δ’ ἀπῆλθεν λούσασθαι καὶ δειπνῆσαι, ὥσπερ εἰώθει, καὶ οὐκ ἐξήμεσεν.

 τοῦτο δὲ ἔπραξεν ἐν πολυχρονίῳ συνηθείᾳ γεγονώς, ἀρξάμενος ἀπὸ ὀλίγων ἕως τοσούτων πόσεων. πάντων δὲ τῶν φαρμάκων αἱ δυνάμεις ἀσθενέστεραι τοῖς συνειθισμένοις, ἐνίοις δὲ καὶ ἄπρακτοί εἰσιν.

Porn-Songs and Camel-Sparrows: The Suda’s Strange Sirens

From the Suda, s.v. Seirênas

“The Sirens were some Greek women with beautiful voices in ancient Greek myth who sat on some island and so delighted passers-by with their euphony that they stayed there until death.  From the chest up they had the shape of sparrows but their lower halves were woman.

The mythographers claim that they were small birds with female faces who deceived passers-by, beguiling the ears of those who heard them with pornographic songs. And the song of pleasure has no end that is good, only death.

But the true story is this: there are certain places in the sea, narrowed between hills, which release a high song when the water is compressed into them. When people who sail by hear them they entrust their souls to the water’s swell and they die along with their ships.

The creatures who are called Sirens and Donkey-centaurs in Isaiah are some kind of demons who are foretold for abandoned cities which fall under divine wrath. The Syrians say they are swans. For after swans bathe, they fly from the water and sing a sweet melody in the air. This is why Job says, “I have become the Sirens’ brother, the companion of ostriches. This means that I sing my sufferings just like the ostriches.”

He calls the Sirens strouthoi, but he means what we call ostriches [strouthokamêmlos: “sparrow-camel”]. This is a bird which has the feet and neck of a donkey. There is a saying in the Epigrams “that chatter is sweeter than the Sirens’”. The Sirens were named Thelksiepeia, Peisinoê, and Ligeia. The Island they inhabited was called Anthemousa.”

Σειρῆνας: γυναῖκάς τινας εὐφώνους γεγενῆσθαι μῦθος πρὶν ῾Ελληνικός, αἵ τινες ἐν νησίῳ καθεζόμεναι οὕτως ἔτερπον τοὺς παραπλέοντας διὰ τῆς εὐφωνίας, ὥστε κατέχειν ἐκεῖ μέχρι θανάτου. εἶχον δὲ ἀπὸ μὲν τοῦ θώρακος καὶ ἄνω εἶδος στρουθῶν, τὰ δὲ κάτω γυναικῶν.

οἱ μυθολόγοι Σειρῆνας φασὶ θηλυπρόσωπά τινα ὀρνίθια εἶναι, ἀπατῶντα τοὺς παραπλέοντας, ᾄσμασί τισι πορνικοῖς κηλοῦντα τὰς ἀκοὰς τῶν ἀκροωμένων. καὶ τέλος ἔχει τῆς ἡδονῆς ἡ ᾠδὴ ἕτερον μὲν οὐδὲν χρηστόν, θάνατον δὲ μόνον. ὁ δὲ ἀληθὴς λόγος τοῦτο βούλεται, εἶναι τόπους τινὰς θαλαττίους, ὄρεσί τισιν ἐστενω-μένους, ἐν οἷς θλιβόμενον τὸ ῥεῖθρον λιγυράν τινα φωνὴν ἀποδίδωσιν· ἧς ἐπακούοντες οἱ παραπλέοντες ἐμπιστεύουσι τὰς ἑαυτῶν ψυχὰς τῷ ῥεύματι καὶ αὔτανδροι σὺν ταῖς ναυσὶν ἀπόλλυνται.

αἱ δὲ παρὰ τῷ ᾿Ησαΐᾳ εἰρημέναι Σειρῆνες καὶ ᾿Ονοκένταυροι δαίμονές τινές εἰσιν, οὕτω χρηματιζόμενοι ἐπ’ ἐρημίᾳ πόλεως, ἥτις χόλῳ θεοῦ γίνεται. οἱ δὲ Σύροι τοὺς κύκνους φασὶν εἶναι. καὶ γὰρ οὗτοι λουσάμενοι καὶ ἀναπτάντες ἐκ τοῦ ὕδατος καὶ τοῦ ἀέρος ἡδύ τι μέλος ᾄδουσιν. ὁ  οὖν ᾿Ιὼβ λέγει, ἀδελφὸς γέγονα Σειρήνων, ἑταῖρος δὲ στρουθῶν. τουτέστιν ᾄδω τὰς ἐμαυτοῦ συμφοράς, ὥσπερ Σειρῆνες.

στρουθοὺς δὲ λέγει, ὃν ἡμεῖς στρουθοκάμηλον λέγομεν, ὄρνεον μὲν ὄντα, πόδας δὲ καὶ τράχηλον ὄνου κεκτημένον. καὶ ἐν ᾿Επιγράμμασι· καὶ τὸ λάλημα κεῖνο τὸ Σειρήνων γλυκύτερον. ὀνόματα Σειρήνων· Θελξιέπεια, Πεισινόη, Λιγεία· ἡ δὲ νῆσος ἣν κατῴκουν ᾿Ανθεμοῦσα.

Image result for Medieval manuscript Greek Sirens
Mirror of History, a MS from Ghent (J. Paul Getty Museum)

Addictive Reading: Etymologies for Kirke and Pharmakon in the Suda

Some Words from the Suda

“Walled off”: This means “blocking”. As in the [unknown author’s line] “Because I have walled off my stomach, I am no longer susceptible to any drug.”

Ἀποτειχίζων: ἀποφράσσων. ἀποτειχίσας δὲ τὴν γαστέρα οὐδενὶ τῶν φαρμάκων ἔτι εἰμὶ ἁλώσιμος

 

Kirkê: This comes from “the woman who mixes [kirnôsa] the drugs. Or it is from kerkis [shuttle] from the verb kerkô. We call women who are especially subtle Kirkes.

Κίρκη: ἡ κιρνῶσα τὰ φάρμακα. ἢ παρὰ τὴν κερκίδα: κερκὶς δὲ παρὰ τὸ κρέκω. τὰς δὲ παιπαλώσεις γυναῖκας Κίρκας φαμέν.

 

“The oblivion of dogs”: [This is a proverb] for drugs that bring forgetfulness

Λήθην κυνῶν: λήθην ἐμποιούντων φαρμάκων.

 

Drug [Pharmakon]: this can mean persuasion, conversation: the etymology is said to be from bearing [pherein] the cure [akos]. Others claim that it comes from flowers.

Φάρμακον: παραμυθία, ὁμιλία, εἴρηται δὲ ἀπὸ τοῦ φέρειν τὴν ἄκεσιν: εἴρηται δὲ ἀπὸ τῶν ἀνθέων.

 

Circe and Odysseus, white-ground lekythos by the Athena Painter, ca. 490–480 BCE. From Eretria. National Archaeological Museum in Athens, 1133.

Wau! It’s Wednesday: A Few Proverbs

The Greek letter digamma (Ϝ), closest to our glide –w– existed in Mycenaean Greek (wanax instead of anaks) and its force can be felt in Homeric formulae (e.g. Il. 1.39: Κίλλάν τε ζαθέην Τενέδοιό τε ἶφι ἀνάσσεις where hiatus is twice  preserved because the line may have been τε Ϝἶφι Ϝἀνάσσεις ) and seen in inscriptions.

Digama image

For this reason, I can’t do the ever-clever thing where I pluck proverbs from the Suda that begin with the Greek letter that corresponds to the English day of the week. Lazily, I am reverting to upsilon. The results are, uber-interesting. And, since in late antiquity once a seven-day week was adopted in Greece our Wednesday was dedicated to Hermes, why not perform a ridiculous translation?

Not a proverb, but funny:

“Oo, oo, oo, oo…: A surprised utterance which we typically make when we smell some savory smoke.”

Ϋϋ ϋϋ, ϋϋ ϋϋ, ϋϋ ϋϋ: ἐπίρρημα θαυμαστικόν: ὅπερ ἐν τῇ συνηθείᾳ λέγομεν, ὀσφραινόμενοί τινος κνίσους.

 

Healthy Insects?

“Healthier than a tick”: A proverb used for people who are entirely healthy. It comes from the animal, the tick which is completely smooth and has neither blemish nor injury.”

Ὑγιέστερος Κρότωνος: ἐπὶ τῶν πάνυ ὑγιαινόντων ἡ παροιμία. ἀπὸ τοῦ ζῴου τοῦ κρότωνος: λεῖον γάρ ἐστιν ὅλον καὶ χωρὶς ἀμυχῆς καὶ μηδὲν ἔχον σίνος.

 

Insanity

“Turning a pestle”: A proverb used for people who keep doing the same things and accomplish nothing. These proverbs also indicate this: “Zeus’ son Korinthos”; “Again on the road to Pytho”; “The man carrying a plank”; and “Not blind, but eyeless.” Plato* writes also in the Adonis “I hope I don’t have a pestle’s turn”.

Ὑπέρου περιτροπή: ἐπὶ τῶν τὰ αὐτὰ ποιούντων καὶ μηδὲν περαινόντων. καὶ αὗται δ’ αἱ παροιμίαι τοῦτο δηλοῦσιν: ὁ Διὸς Κόρινθος. καί, αὖθις αὖ Πυθώδε ὁδός. καί, ὁ τὴν δοκὸν φέρων. καί, οὐ τυφλός, ἀλλ’ ἐξώρυκται. Πλάτων Ἀδώνιδι: εἶτ’ οὐχ ὑπέρου μοι περιτροπὴ γενήσεται.

*The comic poet, not the philosopher.

 

“A Pestle’s Turn”: A proverb about those who keep doing the same thing and accomplish nothing. There is also the proverb: “More naked than a pestle and a discarded skin.”

῾Υπέρου περίτροφον: παροιμία ἐπὶ τῶν τὰ αὐτὰ ποιούντων καὶ μηδὲ περαινουμένων. καὶ παροιμία· γυμνότερος ὑπέρου καὶ λεβηρίδος.

 

Aging

“Off the list”: A saying for those who have grown old.”

Ὑπὲρ τὸν κατάλογον: παροιμία ἐπὶ τῶν γεγηρακότων.

 

Risk

“A hog under a club”: A proverb applied by Deinolokhos to those who put themselves in danger.”

῝Υς ὑπὸ ῥόπαλον: παροιμία παρὰ Δεινολόχῳ ἐπὶ τῶν ἑαυτοὺς εἰς ὄλεθρον ἐμβαλλόντων.

Large Leo and his Larger Wife

From the Suda

“Leôn, the son of Leôn. He was a Peripatetic philosopher and sophist, a student of Plato or, as some claim, of Aristotle. He wrote about the time of Philip and Byzantium in 7 books, Teuthrantikos, On Bêsaios, On The Sacred War, Concerning Disagreements, and A History of Alexander.

He was very fat. And when he was on a delegation to Athens he both prompted laughter and secured the embassy’s mission, all while he appeared drinking wine with an enormous belly. When he wasn’t at all troubled by the laughter, he said “Why are you laughing Athenians, because I am this fat? My wife is even fatter! And our bed is large enough when we are in agreement—but when we argue, the house is not.” The Athenians came together, united by Leôn who had acted so wisely at the right time.

Philip slandered Leôn when he was trying to keep him from Byzantium in a letter that went like this: “If I gave as much money to Leôn as he asked for, I could have taken Byzantium at the start!” When the people heard these things, they prepared to Attack Leôn’s home. Because he was afraid that they would stone him, he choked himself to death, a wretch who gained nothing from his wisdom and his words.”

Λέων, Λέοντος, Βυζάντιος, φιλόσοφος Περιπατητικὸς καὶ σοφιστής, μαθητὴς Πλάτωνος ἢ ὥς τινες Ἀριστοτέλους. ἔγραψε τὰ κατὰ Φίλιππον καὶ τὸ Βυζάντιον βιβλίοις ζ#, Τευθραντικόν, Περὶ Βησαίου, Τὸν ἱερὸν πόλεμον, Περὶ στάσεων, Τὰ κατ’ Ἀλέξανδρον. οὗτος ἦν σφόδρα παχύς. καὶ πρεσβεύσας πρὸς Ἀθηναίους γέλωτά τε ἐκίνησε καὶ τῆς πρεσβείας ἐκράτησεν, ἐπειδὴ πίων ἐφαίνετο καὶ περιττὸς τὴν γαστέρα. ταραχθεὶς δὲ οὐδὲν ἀπὸ τοῦ γέλωτος, τί, ἔφη, ὦ Ἀθηναῖοι γελᾶτε; ἢ ὅτι παχὺς ἐγὼ καὶ τοσοῦτος; ἔστι μοι καὶ γυνὴ πολλῷ παχυτέρα, καὶ ὁμονοοῦντας μὲν ἡμᾶς χωρεῖ ἡ κλίνη, διαφερομένους δὲ οὐδὲ ἡ οἰκία. καὶ εἰς ἓν ἦλθεν ὁ τῶν Ἀθηναίων δῆμος, ἁρμοσθεὶς ὑπὸ τοῦ Λέοντος, σαφῶς ἐπισχεδιάσαντος τῷ καιρῷ. οὗτος ὁ Λέων ἀποκρουόμενος τὸν Φίλιππον ἀπὸ τοῦ Βυζαντίου διεβλήθη παρὰ Φιλίππου πρὸς τοὺς Βυζαντίους δι’ ἐπιστολῆς, ἐχούσης οὕτως: εἰ τοσαῦτα χρήματα παρεῖχον Λέοντι, ὁπόσα με ᾐτεῖτο, ἐκ πρώτης ἂν ἔλαβον τὸ Βυζάντιον. ταῦτα ἀκούσαντος τοῦ δήμου καὶ ἐπισυστάντος τῇ οἰκίᾳ τοῦ Λέοντος, φοβηθεὶς μή πως λιθόλευστος παρ’ αὐτῶν γένηται, ἑαυτὸν ἦγξε, μηδὲν ἀπὸ τῆς σοφίας καὶ τῶν λόγων κερδάνας ὁ δείλαιος.

 

A good piece on obesity in Roman Art by Mark Bradley

 

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

 

Pythagorean Self-Invention

Scholion to Sophocles Electra 62.2

“Pythagoras shut himself in a hole in the ground and told his mother to tell people that he was dead. After that, once he reappeared again later, he was telling fantastic tales of reincarnation and the people of Hades, explaining to the living about the matters of the dead. From these stories, he created that kind of repute for himself that, before the Trojan War, he was Aithalidês the son of Hermes and then Euphorbos, and then Hermotimos of Samos, then Delian Pythios and after all of them, Pythagoras.”

…Πυθαγόρας καθείρξας ἑαυτὸν ἐν ὑπογείῳ λογοποιεῖν ἐκέλευσε τὴν μητέρα, ὡς ἄρα τεθνηκὼς εἴη. καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἐπιφανεὶς περὶ παλιγγενεσίας καὶ τῶν καθ’ ᾅδου τινὰ ἐτερατεύετο, διηγούμενος πρὸς τοὺς ζῶντας περὶ τῶν οἰκείων, οἷς ἐν ᾅδου συντετυχηκέναι ἔλεγεν. ἐξ ὧν τοιαύτην ἑαυτῷ δόξαν περιέθηκεν, ὡς πρὸ μὲν τῶν Τρωϊκῶν Αἰθαλίδης ὢν ὁ Ἑρμοῦ, εἶτα Εὔφορβος, εἶτα Ἑρμότιμος Σάμιος, εἶτα Πύθιος Δήλιος, εἶτα ἐπὶ πᾶσι Πυθαγόρας.Monday

“No Knife for A Child”: A Proverb

Michael Apostolios, Centuria 11.51

“No knife for a child: don’t delegate serious matters to the inexperienced, lest they somehow use them for their own advantage.”

Μὴ παιδὶ μάχαιραν: μὴ τοῖς ἀπείροις ἐγχειρίζειν πράγματα μεγάλα, μή πως καθ’ ἑαυτῶν χρήσωνται.

Suda

“No knife for a child: for those who entrust to the incompetent. Eupolis also writes in the Demes “public affairs are not for a child.”

Μὴ παιδὶ μάχαιραν: ἐπὶ τῶν εἰκῆ ἐγχειριζόντων. καὶ Εὔπολις Δήμοις· μὴ παιδὶ τὰ κοινά.

children

Different takes on the two proverbs:

“Don’t give children a knife”

“Public affairs aren’t child’s play”