Tuesdays seem to be tawdry enough these days without Greek and Latin profanity. Here are some dog insults from ancient Greece and and a little bit on how their meaning relies on immanent misogyny.
Homer, Iliad 1.158–168 [Achilles addressing Agamemnon]
“But, you great shamepot, we follow you so that you feel joy,
As we collect honor for Menelaos and you, dog-face,
From the Trojans—you don’t shudder at this, you don’t care.”
ἀλλὰ σοὶ ὦ μέγ’ ἀναιδὲς ἅμ’ ἑσπόμεθ’ ὄφρα σὺ χαίρῃς,
τιμὴν ἀρνύμενοι Μενελάῳ σοί τε κυνῶπα
πρὸς Τρώων· τῶν οὔ τι μετατρέπῃ οὐδ’ ἀλεγίζεις·
Iliad 1.224–228 [Achilles Addressing Agamemnon]
“Wine-sod! Dog-eyes! You have the heart of a deer!
You never suffer to arm yourself to enter battle with the army
Nor to set an ambush with the best of the Achaeans.
That seems like death itself to you!”
οἰνοβαρές, κυνὸς ὄμματ’ ἔχων, κραδίην δ’ ἐλάφοιο,
οὔτέ ποτ’ ἐς πόλεμον ἅμα λαῷ θωρηχθῆναι
οὔτε λόχον δ’ ἰέναι σὺν ἀριστήεσσιν ᾿Αχαιῶν
τέτληκας θυμῷ· τὸ δέ τοι κὴρ εἴδεται εἶναι.
Elsewhere in Homer, the insult is used primarily for women and it builds on basic Greek associations between women and dogs—dogs as animals of shame who are expected to be loyal.
Odyssey 4.154-146 [Helen speaking]
“…Telemachus, whom that man left when he was just born,
In his house, when the Achaeans went down to Troy
On account of dog-faced me, raising up their audacious war.”
Τηλεμάχῳ, τὸν ἔλειπε νέον γεγαῶτ’ ἐνὶ οἴκῳ
κεῖνος ἀνήρ, ὅτ’ ἐμεῖο κυνώπιδος εἵνεκ’ ᾿Αχαιοὶ
ἤλθεθ’ ὑπὸ Τροίην, πόλεμον θρασὺν ὁρμαίνοντες.”
Went away and did not dare—even though I was on my way to Hades
To close my eyes with her hands or cover my mouth.”
… ἡ δὲ κυνῶπις
νοσφίσατ’ οὐδέ μοι ἔτλη, ἰόντι περ εἰς ᾿Αΐδαο,
χερσὶ κατ’ ὀφθαλμοὺς ἑλέειν σύν τε στόμ’ ἐρεῖσαι.
In Greek myth , the ‘dog’ nature of women comes as well from forces outside the home—a dog is a thieving creature.
Hesiod, Works and Days 67–68 [from the creation of Pandora]
“And Hermes, the slayer of Argos, that master guide,
Ordered that she possess a dog’s mind and a thief’s nature.”
ἐν δὲ θέμεν κύνεόν τε νόον καὶ ἐπίκλοπον ἦθος
῾Ερμείην ἤνωγε, διάκτορον ᾿Αργεϊφόντην.
But in the crown jewel of Greek mythology, Semonides’ “Diatribe against women”—which presents a lists of complaints about women categorized by different kinds of animals—emphasizes the inability of men to control female voices through the symbol of a dog. Note, as well, that violence is described as a regular reaction but is considered useless.
Semonides of Amorgos, fragment 7
“One women is from a dog, a sinful beast, a thorough mother—
She listens to everything and wants to know everything,
Lurking around everywhere and wandering
She barks even when she doesn’t see anyone.
She can’t stop this, not even if her husband threatens her
Nor if he is angry enough to bash her teeth
With a stone. You can’t change her by talking nicely either.
Even when she happens to be sitting among guests,
She keeps on an endless, impossible yapping.”
τὴν δ’ ἐκ κυνός, λιτοργόν, αὐτομήτορα,
ἣ πάντ’ ἀκοῦσαι, πάντα δ’ εἰδέναι θέλει,
πάντηι δὲ παπταίνουσα καὶ πλανωμένη
λέληκεν, ἢν καὶ μηδέν’ ἀνθρώπων ὁρᾶι.
παύσειε δ’ ἄν μιν οὔτ’ ἀπειλήσας ἀνήρ,
οὐδ’ εἰ χολωθεὶς ἐξαράξειεν λίθωι
ὀδόντας, οὐδ’ ἂν μειλίχως μυθεόμενος,
οὐδ’ εἰ παρὰ ξείνοισιν ἡμένη τύχηι,
ἀλλ’ ἐμπέδως ἄπρηκτον αὑονὴν ἔχει.
Franco, Cristina. 2014. Shameless: The Canine and the Feminine in Ancient Greece. Translated by Michael Fox. Berkeley and Los Angeles.
4: “In the ancient Greek imagination the figure of the dog seems, in fact, to be interwoven with the disparaging discourse on the nature of woman in afar from casual manner…Moreover, the dog appears as a paradigm for the base nature of women in two cornerstone texts of Greek misogyny” (referring to the creation of Pandora in Hesiod and Agamemnon’s comments on Clytemnestra in the Odyssey).
To call a woman–and a person of color–a dog is to use an ancient dehumanizing symbol which expresses implicitly the expectation that the insulted party should be subservient and under control of the speaker. The frustration evoked is both about controlling the ability to speak and the ability to consume. To make such a comment is baldly misogynistic and clearly also racist in the modern context.
Graver, Margaret. 1995. “Dog-Helen and Homeric Insult.” Classical Antiquity 14: 41–61.
Some Roman stuff too: