Dictatorships, Tyrants, and Kings

Hannah Arendt, Personal responsibility Under a Dictatorship 36

“Politically, the weakness of the argument has always been that those who choose the lesser evil forget very quickly that they chose evil.”

Call witnesses or live in a dictatorship.

Cicero, Letters to Quintus 19

“We have no small hope in our elections, but it is still uncertain. There is some suspicion of a dictatorship. We have peace in public but it is the calm of an old and tired state, not one giving consent.”

erat non nulla spes comitiorum sed incerta, erat aliqua suspicio dictaturae, ne ea quidem certa, summum otium forense sed senescentis magis civitatis quam acquiescentis

Philo, On Dreams 12.78

“Indeed, just as frightened horses raise their necks up high, in the same way all those devotees of empty glory raise themselves above everything else, above cities, laws, ancestral custom, and the affairs of individual citizens. As they move from demagoguery to dictatorship, they subdue some of their neighbors as they try to make themselves superior and upright–and then they plan to enslave however so many minds remain naturally free and unenslaved.”

τῷ γὰρ ὄντι καθάπερ οἱ γαῦροι τῶν ἵππων τὸν αὐχένα μετέωρον ἐξάραντες, ὅσοι θιασῶται τῆς κενῆς δόξης εἰσίν, ἐπάνω πάντων ἑαυτοὺς ἱδρύουσι, πόλεων, νόμων, ἐθῶν πατρίων, τῶν παρ᾿ ἑκάστοις πραγμάτων· εἶτα ἀπὸ δημαγωγίας ἐπὶ δημαρχίαν βαδίζοντες καὶ τὰ μὲν τῶν πλησίον καταβάλλοντες, τὰ δὲ οἰκεῖα διανιστάντες καὶ παγίως ὀρθοῦντες, ὅσα ἐλεύθερα καὶ ἀδούλωτα φύσει φρονήματα,

Zonaras, 7.13

“So, the dictatorship, as has been reported, was pretty much the same thing as a kingship, except that the dictator could not go on horseback…”

ἦν μὲν οὖν, ὡς εἴρηται, ἡ δικτατορία κατά γε τὴν ἐξουσίαν τῇ βασιλείᾳ ἰσόρροπος, πλὴν ὅτι μὴ ἐφ᾿ ἵππον ἀναβῆναι…

Cicero, Letters to Atticus

“This is no minor stink of dictatorship…”

et est non nullus odor dictaturae

Hannah Arendt, Personal responsibility Under a Dictatorship 45

“The dividing line between those who want to think and therefore have to judge by themselves, and those who do not, strikes across all social and cultural or educational differences. In this respect, the total moral collapse of respectable society during the Hitler regime may teach us that under such circumstances those who cherish values and hold fast to moral norms and standards are not reliable: we now know that moral norms and standards can be changed overnight, and that all that then will be left is the mere habit of holding fast to something. Much more reliable will be the doubters and skeptics, not because skepticism is good or doubting wholesome, but because they are used to examine things and to make up their own minds. Best of all will be those who know only one thing for certain: that whatever else happens, as long as we live we shall have to live together with ourselves.”

From the Suda:

“Tyrannos: The poets before the Trojan War used to name kings (basileis) tyrants, but later during the time of Archilochus, this word was transferred to the Greeks in general, just as the sophist Hippias records. Homer, at least, calls the most lawless man of all, Ekhetos, a king, not a tyrant. Tyrant is a a name that derives from the Tyrrenians because these men were quite severe pirates.* None of the other poets uses the name tyrant in any of their works. But Aristotle in the Constitution of the Cumaeans says that tyrants were once called aisumnêtai, because this name is a bit of a euphemism.”

Τύραννος: οἱ πρὸ τῶν Τρωϊκῶν ποιηταὶ τοὺς βασιλεῖς τυράννους προσηγόρευον, ὀψέ ποτε τοῦδε τοῦ ὀνόματος εἰς τοὺς Ἕλληνας διαδοθέντος κατὰ τοὺς Ἀρχιλόχου χρόνους, καθάπερ Ἱππίας ὁ σοφιστής φησιν. Ὅμηρος γοῦν τὸν πάντων παρανομώτατον Ἔχετον βασιλέα φησί, καὶ οὐ τύραννον. προσηγορεύθη δὲ τύραννος ἀπὸ Τυρρηνῶν: χαλεποὺς γὰρ περὶ λῃστείας τούτους γενέσθαι. οὐδεὶς δὲ οὐδὲ ἄλλος τῶν ποιητῶν ἐν τοῖς ποιήμασιν αὐτοῦ μέμνηται τὸ τοῦ τυράννου ὄνομα. ὁ δὲ Ἀριστοτέλης ἐν Κυμαίων πολιτείᾳ τοὺς τυράννους φησὶ τὸ πρότερον αἰσυμνήτας καλεῖσθαι. εὐφημότερον γὰρ ἐκεῖνο τὸ ὄνομα. ὅτι καὶ ἕτεροι ἐτυράννησαν, ἀλλ’ ἡ τελευταία καὶ μεγίστη κάκωσις πάσαις ταῖς πόλεσιν ἡ Διονυσίου τυραννὶς ἐγένετο.

For Aristotle’s distinctions, see Politics, book 3 (1285a)

*According to Louise Hitchcock and Aren Maeir (“Yo-ho, Yo-ho: A Seren’s Life For me.” World Archaeology 46:4, 624-640) the Philistines used the word seren to mean leader; this word may have been related to Hittite tarwanis and was possibly circulated by the ‘sea peoples’. Greek tyrannos may have developed from this. Chaintraine notes that the etymology of turannos is unclear but that it may be related to Etruscan turan or Hittite tarwana.

Etymologicum Magnum

“This is likely formed from Tursennians*. Or it derives from Gyges who was from a Turran city in Lykia, and he was the first one who was a tyrant. Others claim it is from truô [“to distress, wear out, afflict”], that it was truanos and that the rho and nu switched places through pleonasm. Ancients used to use the word Turannos for kings. There was a time when they used a call the tyrant ‘king’.

Τύραννος: ῎Ητοι ἀπὸ τῶν Τυρσηνῶν· ὠμοὶ γὰρ οὗτοι· ἢ ἀπὸ Γύγου, ὅς ἐστιν ἀπὸ Τύρρας πόλεως Λυκιακῆς, τυραννήσαντος πρῶτον. ῎Αλλοι δὲ ἀπὸ τοῦ τρύω, τὸ καταπονῶ, τρύανος· καὶ ὑπερβιβασμῷ τοῦ ρ, τύραννος, κατὰ πλεονασμὸν τοῦ ν. Τύραννον δὲ οἱ ἀρχαῖοι καὶ ἐπὶ βασιλέως ἔτασσον· ἔσθ’ ὅτε δὲ καὶ τὸν τύραννον βασιλέα ἔλεγον.

*A name for Etruscans

s.v. Αἰσυμνητήρ

“An aisiomêtês is one who has proper plans. A tyrant is the opposite.”

ὁ αἰσιομήτης, ὁ αἴσια βουλευόμενος· ὁ γὰρ τύραννος τοὐναντίον.

What’s the difference between a king and a tyrant?

s.v. Βασιλεύς

“For, a king must truly do noble things. One who does evil, he’s a tyrant.”

δεῖ γὰρ ἀληθῶς βασιλέα καλοποιεῖν· ὁ δὲ κακοποιῶν, τύραννος

Etymologicum Gudianum

“Tyranny: It differs from a kingship and a tyrant is different from a king. For a kingship is something that exercises power according the law. But a tyranny is a force without reason, following its own law. A king is someone who rules according to just laws; but a tyrant, who can never rule justly nor without the boundaries of the law, he steps outside of the laws.”

Tyrannos: from some tyrant, the one who first ruled badly, from the city of Tyre. It means two things: a kind and the man as a tyrant.”

Τυραννὶς, βασιλείας διαφέρει, καὶ τύραννος βασιλέως· βασιλεῖα μὲν γάρ ἐστι κατὰ νόμους ἄρχουσα ἐξουσία τίς· τυραννὶς δὲ ἡ ἄλογος ἐξουσία, αὐτωνομίᾳ χρωμένη· βασιλεύς ἐστιν ὁ κατὰ νόμους δικαίους ἄρχων· τύραννος δὲ, ὁ μήτε δικαίως ἄρχων, μήτε νομίμως, ἀλλὰ καὶ τοὺς νόμους ἐκπατῶν.

Τύραννος, ἀπὸ τυράννου τινὸς, πρώτου κακῶς διακειμένου, ἀπὸ Τύρου τῆς πόλεως· σημαίνει δὲ δύο, τὸν βασιλέα καὶ τὸν ἄνθρωπον τύραννον.

arrogant finger

Aristotle, Politics 1285a

“Citizens guard their kings with arms; foreigners protect tyrants. This is because kings rule according to the law and with willing citizens while tyrants rule the unwilling. As a result, kings have guards from their subjects and tyrants keep guards against them.”

οἱ γὰρ πολῖται φυλάττουσιν ὅπλοις τοὺς βασιλεῖς, τοὺς δὲ τυράννους ξενικόν: οἱ μὲν γὰρ κατὰ νόμον καὶ ἑκόντων οἱ δ᾽ ἀκόντων ἄρχουσιν, ὥσθ᾽ οἱ μὲν παρὰ τῶν πολιτῶν οἱ δ᾽ ἐπὶ τοὺς πολίτας ἔχουσι τὴν φυλακήν.

A Mother’s Day Reminder: We Have Two Ears, but one Mouth

In honor of mother’s day, our separation from each other, and missed parents everywhere, a re-post inspired by Paul’s Mom. I keep these words in mind all the time now when I reconnected with friends: we all have stories, we all want to be heard. As Arsenius records the proverb, “Conversation [ or ‘reason’] is the doctor for suffering in the soul” (Λόγος ἰατρὸς τοῦ κατὰ ψυχὴν πάθους.) To listen to another–and hear them– is a sacred act.  

“To a youth talking nonsense, he said “We have two ears, but one mouth so that we may hear more but speak less.”

πρὸς τὸ φλυαροῦν μειράκιον, “διὰ τοῦτο,” εἶπε, “δύο ὦτα ἔχομεν, στόμα δὲ ἕν, ἵνα πλείονα μὲν ἀκούωμεν, ἥττονα δὲ λέγωμεν.”

A few years ago now I noticed the Paul Holdengraber‘s 7-word autobiography from brainpickings.org.: “Mother always said: Two Ears, One mouth.” The phrase bounced around in my head a bit–it has that aphoristic perfection of brevity and familiarity. So, I reached out to Paul over twitter and told him it sounded like something from a Greek philosopher like Heraclitus.

Proverbs have a special place in language and society cross-culturally–they strike a promise of insight that demands  contemplation or explanation. They also have an air of authority and antiquity, even when they actually possess neither. And, unlike longer, less anonymized forms of language, they are repeated, borrowed, and stolen without end.

My late father was a great aphorist–perhaps missing him is part of why Paul’s tweet stuck with me. Most of my father’s words, however, were far more Archie Bunker than Aristotle. Those I can repeat were likely taken from his own father, a Master Sargent in WW2 who died a decade before I was born. The tendency to inherit and pass down proverbs is something I only really noticed when I had children and found myself ‘quoting’ (or becoming?) my father (“if you take care of your equipment it will take care of you”) or my grandmother (cribbing Oscar Wilde: “Only boring people get bored”).

So, when Paul thought it would be a gas if we actually translated his mother’s words into ancient Greek (and eventually Latin), I was ready. I got help from some great Classicists too. We came up with a few versions.

First, I went with classical rhetoric, a close antithesis: μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα μὲν δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα. But our friend the Fantastic Festus argued that Heraclitus or Hesiod would not use use μὲν and δὲ so, so he suggested losing them for something like this:

μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν στόμα [“mother always used to say two ears, one mouth”]

This gave us Paul’s mother’s advice in seven Greek words and his mother’s advice. But this didn’t get us out of trouble. The critic, author and Classicist Daniel Mendelsohn suggested hexameters and from across the Atlantic the extraordinary Armand D’Angour obliged with a composition of his own:

ῥᾴδιόν ἐστι Λόγον τε νοεῖν ξυνετόν τε ποιῆσαι·
τοῦτο γάρ ἐστι βροτῶν, ἓν στόμα τ᾽, ὦτα δύο.

[Literally, this is “it is easy to know the Logos and make it understood: Mortals have this [character]: one mouth and two ears” Go to the full post for all the compositional glory and an appearance from Salman Rushdie].

At this point, I felt like I had entertained myself on a Saturday morning, involved my internet friends in a silly, though somewhat academic caper, and done a favor for a new friend to please the spirits of parents no longer with us. But the world wide web had a a plot twist I should have thought of.

Ancient Greek and Roman authors and scholars loved proverbs. Writers like Zenobius and Photius made collections and interpretations of them. The Byzantine Encyclopedia, the Suda, uses the word for proverb (in Greek paroimia) over 600 times and presents nearly as many distinct proverbs. (Many of which are wonderful.) And in the modern world, we have an entire academic field dedicated to the study of proverbial sayings: paroemiology. Let me tell you, we could have used en expert last fall.

While we were playing around with translations, one of our ‘players’, the grand Gerrit Kloss, let us know we were, to use a proverbial saying, reinventing the wheel. Zeno, the Cynic philosopher, was credited with this saying over two thousand years ago:

Continue reading “A Mother’s Day Reminder: We Have Two Ears, but one Mouth”

Dictatorships, Tyrants, and Kings

Hannah Arendt, Personal responsibility Under a Dictatorship 36

“Politically, the weakness of the argument has always been that those who choose the lesser evil forget very quickly that they chose evil.”

Call witnesses or live in a dictatorship.

Cicero, Letters to Quintus 19

“We have no small hope in our elections, but it is still uncertain. There is some suspicion of a dictatorship. We have peace in public but it is the calm of an old and tired state, not one giving consent.”

erat non nulla spes comitiorum sed incerta, erat aliqua suspicio dictaturae, ne ea quidem certa, summum otium forense sed senescentis magis civitatis quam acquiescentis

Philo, On Dreams 12.78

“Indeed, just as frightened horses raise their necks up high, in the same way all those devotees of empty glory raise themselves above everything else, above cities, laws, ancestral custom, and the affairs of individual citizens. As they move from demagoguery to dictatorship, they subdue some of their neighbors as they try to make themselves superior and upright–and then they plan to enslave however so many minds remain naturally free and unenslaved.”

τῷ γὰρ ὄντι καθάπερ οἱ γαῦροι τῶν ἵππων τὸν αὐχένα μετέωρον ἐξάραντες, ὅσοι θιασῶται τῆς κενῆς δόξης εἰσίν, ἐπάνω πάντων ἑαυτοὺς ἱδρύουσι, πόλεων, νόμων, ἐθῶν πατρίων, τῶν παρ᾿ ἑκάστοις πραγμάτων· εἶτα ἀπὸ δημαγωγίας ἐπὶ δημαρχίαν βαδίζοντες καὶ τὰ μὲν τῶν πλησίον καταβάλλοντες, τὰ δὲ οἰκεῖα διανιστάντες καὶ παγίως ὀρθοῦντες, ὅσα ἐλεύθερα καὶ ἀδούλωτα φύσει φρονήματα,

Zonaras, 7.13

“So, the dictatorship, as has been reported, was pretty much the same thing as a kingship, except that the dictator could not go on horseback…”

ἦν μὲν οὖν, ὡς εἴρηται, ἡ δικτατορία κατά γε τὴν ἐξουσίαν τῇ βασιλείᾳ ἰσόρροπος, πλὴν ὅτι μὴ ἐφ᾿ ἵππον ἀναβῆναι…

Cicero, Letters to Atticus

“This is no minor stink of dictatorship…”

et est non nullus odor dictaturae

Hannah Arendt, Personal responsibility Under a Dictatorship 45

“The dividing line between those who want to think and therefore have to judge by themselves, and those who do not, strikes across all social and cultural or educational differences. In this respect, the total moral collapse of respectable society during the Hitler regime may teach us that under such circumstances those who cherish values and hold fast to moral norms and standards are not reliable: we now know that moral norms and standards can be changed overnight, and that all that then will be left is the mere habit of holding fast to something. Much more reliable will be the doubters and skeptics, not because skepticism is good or doubting wholesome, but because they are used to examine things and to make up their own minds. Best of all will be those who know only one thing for certain: that whatever else happens, as long as we live we shall have to live together with ourselves.”

From the Suda:

“Tyrannos: The poets before the Trojan War used to name kings (basileis) tyrants, but later during the time of Archilochus, this word was transferred to the Greeks in general, just as the sophist Hippias records. Homer, at least, calls the most lawless man of all, Ekhetos, a king, not a tyrant. Tyrant is a a name that derives from the Tyrrenians because these men were quite severe pirates.* None of the other poets uses the name tyrant in any of their works. But Aristotle in the Constitution of the Cumaeans says that tyrants were once called aisumnêtai, because this name is a bit of a euphemism.”

Τύραννος: οἱ πρὸ τῶν Τρωϊκῶν ποιηταὶ τοὺς βασιλεῖς τυράννους προσηγόρευον, ὀψέ ποτε τοῦδε τοῦ ὀνόματος εἰς τοὺς Ἕλληνας διαδοθέντος κατὰ τοὺς Ἀρχιλόχου χρόνους, καθάπερ Ἱππίας ὁ σοφιστής φησιν. Ὅμηρος γοῦν τὸν πάντων παρανομώτατον Ἔχετον βασιλέα φησί, καὶ οὐ τύραννον. προσηγορεύθη δὲ τύραννος ἀπὸ Τυρρηνῶν: χαλεποὺς γὰρ περὶ λῃστείας τούτους γενέσθαι. οὐδεὶς δὲ οὐδὲ ἄλλος τῶν ποιητῶν ἐν τοῖς ποιήμασιν αὐτοῦ μέμνηται τὸ τοῦ τυράννου ὄνομα. ὁ δὲ Ἀριστοτέλης ἐν Κυμαίων πολιτείᾳ τοὺς τυράννους φησὶ τὸ πρότερον αἰσυμνήτας καλεῖσθαι. εὐφημότερον γὰρ ἐκεῖνο τὸ ὄνομα. ὅτι καὶ ἕτεροι ἐτυράννησαν, ἀλλ’ ἡ τελευταία καὶ μεγίστη κάκωσις πάσαις ταῖς πόλεσιν ἡ Διονυσίου τυραννὶς ἐγένετο.

For Aristotle’s distinctions, see Politics, book 3 (1285a)

*According to Louise Hitchcock and Aren Maeir (“Yo-ho, Yo-ho: A Seren’s Life For me.” World Archaeology 46:4, 624-640) the Philistines used the word seren to mean leader; this word may have been related to Hittite tarwanis and was possibly circulated by the ‘sea peoples’. Greek tyrannos may have developed from this. Chaintraine notes that the etymology of turannos is unclear but that it may be related to Etruscan turan or Hittite tarwana.

Etymologicum Magnum

“This is likely formed from Tursennians*. Or it derives from Gyges who was from a Turran city in Lykia, and he was the first one who was a tyrant. Others claim it is from truô [“to distress, wear out, afflict”], that it was truanos and that the rho and nu switched places through pleonasm. Ancients used to use the word Turannos for kings. There was a time when they used a call the tyrant ‘king’.

Τύραννος: ῎Ητοι ἀπὸ τῶν Τυρσηνῶν· ὠμοὶ γὰρ οὗτοι· ἢ ἀπὸ Γύγου, ὅς ἐστιν ἀπὸ Τύρρας πόλεως Λυκιακῆς, τυραννήσαντος πρῶτον. ῎Αλλοι δὲ ἀπὸ τοῦ τρύω, τὸ καταπονῶ, τρύανος· καὶ ὑπερβιβασμῷ τοῦ ρ, τύραννος, κατὰ πλεονασμὸν τοῦ ν. Τύραννον δὲ οἱ ἀρχαῖοι καὶ ἐπὶ βασιλέως ἔτασσον· ἔσθ’ ὅτε δὲ καὶ τὸν τύραννον βασιλέα ἔλεγον.

*A name for Etruscans

s.v. Αἰσυμνητήρ

“An aisiomêtês is one who has proper plans. A tyrant is the opposite.”

ὁ αἰσιομήτης, ὁ αἴσια βουλευόμενος· ὁ γὰρ τύραννος τοὐναντίον.

What’s the difference between a king and a tyrant?

s.v. Βασιλεύς

“For, a king must truly do noble things. One who does evil, he’s a tyrant.”

δεῖ γὰρ ἀληθῶς βασιλέα καλοποιεῖν· ὁ δὲ κακοποιῶν, τύραννος

Etymologicum Gudianum

“Tyranny: It differs from a kingship and a tyrant is different from a king. For a kingship is something that exercises power according the law. But a tyranny is a force without reason, following its own law. A king is someone who rules according to just laws; but a tyrant, who can never rule justly nor without the boundaries of the law, he steps outside of the laws.”

Tyrannos: from some tyrant, the one who first ruled badly, from the city of Tyre. It means two things: a kind and the man as a tyrant.”

Τυραννὶς, βασιλείας διαφέρει, καὶ τύραννος βασιλέως· βασιλεῖα μὲν γάρ ἐστι κατὰ νόμους ἄρχουσα ἐξουσία τίς· τυραννὶς δὲ ἡ ἄλογος ἐξουσία, αὐτωνομίᾳ χρωμένη· βασιλεύς ἐστιν ὁ κατὰ νόμους δικαίους ἄρχων· τύραννος δὲ, ὁ μήτε δικαίως ἄρχων, μήτε νομίμως, ἀλλὰ καὶ τοὺς νόμους ἐκπατῶν.

Τύραννος, ἀπὸ τυράννου τινὸς, πρώτου κακῶς διακειμένου, ἀπὸ Τύρου τῆς πόλεως· σημαίνει δὲ δύο, τὸν βασιλέα καὶ τὸν ἄνθρωπον τύραννον.

Image result for ancient greek tyrant

Aristotle, Politics 1285a

“Citizens guard their kings with arms; foreigners protect tyrants. This is because kings rule according to the law and with willing citizens while tyrants rule the unwilling. As a result, kings have guards from their subjects and tyrants keep guards against them.”

οἱ γὰρ πολῖται φυλάττουσιν ὅπλοις τοὺς βασιλεῖς, τοὺς δὲ τυράννους ξενικόν: οἱ μὲν γὰρ κατὰ νόμον καὶ ἑκόντων οἱ δ᾽ ἀκόντων ἄρχουσιν, ὥσθ᾽ οἱ μὲν παρὰ τῶν πολιτῶν οἱ δ᾽ ἐπὶ τοὺς πολίτας ἔχουσι τὴν φυλακήν.

Giving The Finger in Ancient Greek

Since we are all about to be rendered powerless by shameless show trials, why not wrest back for ourselves a gesture appropriate to the tenor of our times.

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

 

From “Selling a Man….”

Suda, Alpha 2154

“Andropodizô: takes an accusative object: “The barbarians were dissolving the treaties and clearly enslaving their alliance.” There are also the words andropodismos (“enslavement”) and aikhmalôsia (“captivity”). We also have the form andropodistês, “slave-seller”.

The Thessalians are slandered as being slavers and untrustworthy people. The association clearly comes from Jason who enslaved Medea. Euripides has “There were many present, but the Thessalians were untrustworthy.” The word slave-seller [andrapodistês] comes from “exchanging a man” [apodidosthai andra], this means “to sell”. This is a person who enslaved free people.

᾿Ανδραποδίζω. αἰτιατικῇ. τὰς συνθήκας συνέχεον οἱ βάρβαροι τήν τε ὁμαιχμίαν ἐς τὸ φανερὸν ἀνδραποδίζονται. καὶ ᾿Ανδραποδισμός, αἰχμαλωσία. καὶ ᾿Ανδραποδιστής. διαβάλλονται οἱ Θετταλοὶ ὡς ἀνδραποδισταὶ καὶ ἄπιστοι. δῆλον δὲ καὶ ἀπὸ ᾿Ιάσονος, ὃς ἠνδραπόδισε τὴν Μήδειαν. Εὐριπίδης· πολλοὶ παρῆσαν,  ἄλλ’ ἄπιστοι Θετταλοί. εἴρηται δὲ ἀνδραποδιστὴς παρὰ τὸ ἀποδίδοσθαι ἄνδρα, τουτέστι πωλεῖν· ὁ τοὺς ἐλευθέρους καταδουλούμενος.

File:Mines 1.jpg
Enslaved people working in a mine

A Lover of Pleasure, A Hater of Toil

Suda entry on Aulus Postumius:

“Aulus Postumius was a man of property and the highest birth, and true to his own birth he was gossipy, loquacious, and notably given to boasting. Having taken an interest from his earliest youth in Greek education and language, he entirely immersed himself in these studies to such a degree that he scandalized the older and more dignified members of the Roman establishment. Finally, he wrote a poem and a history of practical deeds. In the preface to this work, he entreats his chance readers to grant him some pardon, if he as a Roman was not able to fully take command of the Greek language and the judicious use of it. This is a mark of absolute absurdity, and is almost as bad as if someone writing an account of athletic events like boxing or the pancration were to go to the stadium and, when the time to fight arrived, asked the pardon of the spectators in the event that he could not endure the physical exertion or the blows of his opponent. Obviously, this king of man incurs mockery and judgment out of hand. The same thing should happen to other history writers like him, lest they dare things beyond what is good. Aulus Postumius was a lover of pleasure and a hater of toil.”

Wall painting from Room H of the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale

Αὖλος Ποστόμιος οἰκίας μὲν ἦν καὶ γένους πρώτου, κατὰ τὴν ἰδίαν φύσιν στωμύλος καὶ λάλος καὶ πέρπερος διαφερόντως. ἐπιθυμήσας δ’ εὐθέως ἐκ παίδων τῆς ῾Ελληνικῆς ἀγωγῆς καὶ διαλέκτου πολὺς μὲν ἦν ἐν τούτοις καὶ κατακορής, ὥστε δι’ ἐκεῖνον καὶ τὴν αἵρεσιν τὴν ῾Ελληνικὴν προσκόψαι τοῖς πρεσβυτέροις καὶ τοῖς ἀξιολογωτάτοις τῶν ῾Ρωμαίων, τέλος δὲ καὶ ποίημα γράφων καὶ πραγματικὴν ἱστορίαν ἐνεχείρησεν· ἐν ᾗ διὰ τοῦ προοιμίου παρεκάλει τοὺς ἐντυγχάνοντας συγγνώμην ἔχειν, εἰ ῾Ρωμαῖος ὢν μὴ δύνηται κατακρατεῖν τῆς ῾Ελληνικῆς διαλέκτου καὶ τῆς κατὰ χειρισμὸν οἰκονομίας· ὅπερ ἐστὶ πάσης ἀτοπίας σημεῖον, καὶ παραπλήσιον, ὡς ἂν εἴ τις ἐς τοὺς γυμνικοὺς ἀγῶνας ἀπογραψάμενος πυγμὴν ἢ παγκράτιον, παρελθὼν ἐς τὸ στάδιον, ὅτε δέοι μάχεσθαι, παραιτοῖτο τοὺς θεωμένους συγγνώμην ἔχειν, ἐὰν μὴ δύνηται τὸν πόνον ὑπομένειν μήτε τὰς πληγάς. δῆλον γὰρ ὡς εἰκὸς γέλωτα τὸν τοιοῦτον ὀφλεῖν καὶ τὴν δίκην ἐκ χειρὸς λαμβάνειν· ὅπερ ἔδει καὶ τοὺς τοιούτους ἱστοριογράφους, ἵνα μὴ κατετόλμωντοῦ καλῶς ἔχοντος. ἦν δὲ καὶ φιλήδονος καὶ φυγόπονος.

Biological Warfare in Ancient Greece

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.

Mondays Are Hard: Here’s How to Say “Dildo” in Ancient Greek

From the Suda

Olisbos: Genitals made from leather which the Milesian women used to use as tribades(!) and shameful people do. Widowed women also use them. Aristophanes writes “I did not see an eight-fingered dildo*/ which might be our leathered aid.”** This second part is drawn from the proverb “fig-wood aid” applied to weak people.

῎Ολισβος: αἰδοῖον δερμάτινον, ᾧ ἐχρῶντο αἱ Μιλήσιαι γυναῖκες, ὡς τριβάδες καὶ αἰσχρουργοί· ἐχρῶντο δὲ αὐτοῖς καὶ αἱ χῆραι γυναῖκες. ᾿Αριστοφάνης· οὐκ εἶδον οὐδ’ ὄλισβον ὀκταδάκτυλον, ὃς ἂν ἡμῖν σκυτίνη ‘πικουρία. παρὰ τὴν παροιμίαν, συκίνη ἐπικουρία. ἐπὶ τῶν ἀσθενῶν.

Another proverb from the Suda, s.v. misêtê:

“And Kratinus said somewhere: “hated women use dildos.”

καὶ ὁ Κρατῖνός που τοῦτο ἔφη: μισῆται δὲ γυναῖκες ὀλίσβωσι χρήσονται

 

 

Herodas, Mime 6.19 (h/t to David White for this one)

“Dear Koritto, who sewed up this crimson dildo for you?”

φίλη Κοριττοῖ, τίς κοτ᾿ ἦν ὄ σοι ράψας τὸν κόκκινον βαυβῶνα;

 

Hesychius may give us a clue to this one:

Bauban: To sleep

Baubô: A nurse of Demeter; it also can mean belly

βαυβᾶν· καθεύδειν

Βαυβώ· τιθήνη Δήμητρος. ps σημαίνει δὲ καὶ κοιλίαν

 

(!) tribades: see the Suda again s.v. Hetairistai:

“Courtesanizers: The women who are called ‘rubbers'” [or ‘grinders’? i.e. Lesbians] Ἑταιρίστριαι: αἱ καλούμεναι τριβάδες. See also Hesychius s.v. dietaristriai: “Women who rub themselves against girls in intercourse the way men do. For example, tribades.” διεταρίστριαι· γυναῖκες αἱ τετραμμέναι πρὸς τὰς ἑταίρας ἐπὶ συνουσίᾳ, ὡς οἱ ἄνδρες. οἷον τριβάδες (Plat. conv. 191 e).

*this is not an eight-shafted instrument but may instead point to the instrument’s length. See the note on the Suda-online.

**Lysistrata 109-110.

Dildogarden

 

The Lexicographer Photius repeats only the following definition:

Olisboi: Leather dicks

῎Ολισβοι: δερμάτινα αἰδοῖα.

 

The Scholion to Aristophanes’ Lysistrata 109-110 basically presents the same information:

Olisbon: A leather penis. And that is for the Milesian women. He is joking that they use dildos. The next part, “leathery aid” plays upon the proverb “fig-tree aid”, used for the weak. He has changed it to “leathery” because dildos are made of leather. They are leather-made penises which widowed women use.”

ὄλισβον: Αἰδοῖον δερμάτινον. καὶ τοῦτο εἰς τὰς Μιλησίας. παίζει δὲ ὡς τοῖς ὀλίσβοις χρωμέναις. σκυτίνη ἐπικουρία: Παρὰ τὴν παροιμίαν, συκίνη ἐπικουρία, ἐπὶ τῶν ἀσθενῶν. ὁ δὲ εἰς τὴν σκυτίνην μετέβαλε. σκύτινοι γὰρ οἱ ὄλισβοι. εἰσὶ δὲ δερμάτινα αἰδοῖα, οἷς χρῶνται αἱ χῆραι γυναῖκες.

 

And, the chaste H. Liddell could do no better than give this a Latin name:

ὄλισβος , ὁ,

A.penis coriaceus, Cratin.316, Ar.Lys.109, Fr.320.13.

 

Scholarship and Superfluous Detail

Ah, pedantry. I may have had some thoughts about it….

Artemon of Pergamon (New Jacoby: BNJ 569 F 3 [=Schol. on Pind., Pyth. 1, inscr. a])

“Golden Lyre”: The poem has been written for Hieron; Pindar allegedly said this according to the historian Artemon because Hieron promised him a golden lyre. But these kinds of things are full of superfluous detail”

Χρυσέα φόρμιγξ] γέγραπται μὲν ὁ ἐπίνικος ῾Ιέρωνι, λέγεται δὲ ὁ Πίνδαρος οὕτως ἐπιβεβλῆσθαι κατὰ ᾽Αρτέμωνα τὸν ἱστορικόν, ὅτι δὴ αὐτῶι ὁ ῾Ιέρων χρυσῆν ὑπέσχετο κιθάραν . τὰ δὲ τοιαῦτα περιεργίας πεπλήρωται.

From LSJ 1902

περιεργαζόμαι, “to take more pains than enough about a thing, to waste one’s labor” 2. “to be a busybody”

περιεργία: “over-exactness” II. “officiousness” III. “curious arts”

περίεργος: “careful overmuch” II. “done with especial care”; “overwrought, too elaborate, superfluous”

περιεργοπένητες: “poor scholars”

Suda, Kappa 504

Kataglôttismata: “tonguing-down”: all sorts of kisses. Fabrications. All kinds of massages with sweet oils. Also, superfluous words. Or the “tonguing-down” is a rather excessive kiss. Or, it is flattery”

Καταγλωττίσματα: περίεργα φιλήματα. καταπλάσματα, παντοῖαι μυραλοιφίαι, ἢ περιλαλήματα. ἢ εἶδος φιλήματος περιεργότερον τὸ καταγλώττισμα: ἢ κολάκευμα.

Breviary of Renaud de Bar, France, 1302-1303: http://www.lazerhorse.org/2015/05/17/medieval-art-weird-manuscript/

A Kharak-ter from Pergamon

Suda, s.v. Kharaks

Kharaks, from Pergamon, a priest and a philosopher. In an old book I found an epigram that goes like this:

“I am Kharaks, a priest from the ancient citadel of Pergamon
where Telephos, the blameless son of blameless Herakles,
once warred with city-sacking Achilles”.

Kharaks is the most recent of those poets after Augustus by far. Or, at least he makes mention of Augustus, who at that point was already Caesar for a long time in his second book. And in is seventh, he talks about Nero and those who ruled after him. He composed a Hellenika and Histories of forty books.”

Χάραξ Περγαμηνός, ἱερεὺς καὶ φιλόσοφος, ὡς εὗρον ἐν ἀρχαίωι βιβλίωι ἐπίγραμμα οὔτως ἔχον·

εἰμὶ Χάραξ ἱερεὺς γεραρῆς ἀπὸ Περγάμου ἄκρης,
ἔνθα ποτὲ πτολέμιξεν ᾽Αχιλλῆι πτολιπόρθωι Τήλεφος,
῾Ηρακλῆος ἀμύμονος υἱὸς ἀμύμων…

ἔστι δὲ τῶν μετὰ Αὔγουστον πολλῶι νεώτερος· μέμνηται γοῦν ἐν τῶι β̄ τῶν βιβλίων Αὐγούστου ὡς πάλαι γενομένου Καίσαρος, καὶ ἐν τῶι ζ̄ Νέρωνος καὶ τῶν μετ᾽ αὐτὸν βασιλευσάντων. ἔγραψεν ῾Ελληνικῶν τε καὶ ** ῾Ιστοριῶν βιβλία μ̄..

Acropolis - Bergama (Pergamon) - Turkey - 04 (5747168893).jpg
From Wikimedia Commons, Acropolis of Pergamon By Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada04, CC BY-SA 2.0,