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