Four Years of Presidential Memory: 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

 

Don’t Be Half-Assed This Weekend: Three Donkey Proverbs from Photius

While perusing some comic fragments and testimonia I came upon one which attributed a strange proverb to Cratinus.  I had to investigate the source, the work of the lexicographer Photius.  What I found was exhilarating: a group of donkey proverbs.

Here is a short excerpt (yes, there’s more):

“A Donkey’s death”: A saying for those who tell stories about strange things

“A Tipping Donkey”: When a donkey leans in suddenly, hens are frightened and bust out of their pen. The owner of the birds brings a suit against the owner of the donkey. This is where the proverb comes from.

“Donkey Shearings”: A saying applied by Attic writers to endless and impossible things. These following sayings are similar: “washing a brick”; “plucking a wineskin”; “decorating a pot” and “fumigating an outhouse”. Aristarchus says that this saying developed because Cratinus imagined a man braiding a rope in Hades and a donkey eating it as he did so.”

῎Ονου θάνατος: ἐπὶ τῶν ἀλλόκοτα διηγουμένων

῎Ονου παρακύψεως: ὄνου παρακύψαντος, ὄρνιθες πτοηθεῖσαι ἱστὸν ἀνέρρηξαν· ὁ δὲ δεσπότης τοῦ ἱστοῦ τοῦ ὄνου δεσπότηι ἐνεκάλεσεν· ὅθεν ἡ παροιμία.

῎Ονου πόκαι: ἐπὶ τῶν ἀνηνύτων καὶ τῶν μὴ ὄντων λέγεται ἡ παροιμία ὑπὸ τῶν ᾿Αττικῶν· ὥσπερ αἱ τοιαῦται· πλίνθον πλύνειν· ἀσκὸν τίλλειν· χύτραν ποικίλλειν· εἰς κοπρῶνα θυμιᾶν· ᾿Αρίσταρχος δὲ διὰ τὸ Κρατῖνον ὑποθέσθαι ἐν Αἵδου σχοινίον πλέκοντα· ὄνον δὲ τὸ πλεκόμενον ἀπεσθίοντα·

Image result for Hindu goddess on a donkey

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

 

Zooglossia 3: Grunting with Pigs

I fear I am at once Geta and his grammarian. For installment number three of ancient Greek animal sounds, it is time for some swine.

Historia Augusta: Geta 5.4-5 (thanks again to‏ @Stevendsmith74)

“It was [Geta’s] habit to pose questions to grammarians, for instance, how they might name the way various animals make sounds: sheep bleat, pigs grunt, doves coo, boars grunt, boars growl, lions roar, leopards sneer, elephants sound horns, frogs croak, horses whinny, donkeys bray, bulls low. He would prove each of these with ancient writers.”

Familiare illi fuit has quaestiones grammaticis proponere, ut dicerent singula animalia quomodo vocem emitterent, velut: agni balant, porcelli grunniunt, palumbes minurriunt, porci grunniunt, ursi saeviunt, leones rugiunt, leopardi rictant, elephanti barriunt, ranae coaxant, equi hinniunt, asini rudunt,1 tauri mugiunt, easque de veteribus adprobare.

It seems likely to me that Ancient Greek pigs said  γρῦ γρῦ

Hesychius

goggrusai: to make noise like a pig”

γογγρύσαι· ὡς χοῖρος φωνῆσαι

“The noise of a pig

γρύλλη· ὑῶν φωνή

Cf. Photius gogggruzein and grulizein: “swine sounds”

 Γογγρύζειν καὶ γρυλίζειν· ἡ τῶν ὑῶν φωνή. [cf. Zonaras]

Schol ad Ar. Pl. 22

“Who says “oink”—this is either from the sound of pigs or from trash [grutê, small bits, inconsequential things].

… ὃς γρῦ λέγεται· ἢ  ἀπὸ τῆς τῶν χοίρων φωνῆς ἢ ἀπὸ τῶν γρυτῶν·

An ancient Greek toy pig (c. 4th century BCE?) on the auction block at Christies

Zonaras does not seem to agree completely, but he does have: “grullos, a pig”. Γρύλλος. ὁ χοῖρος

Later, he says, “gru: something brief. a chance. Some say it is the filth beneath a nail or a type of small measure.”

Γρῦ. τὸ βραχὺ, τὸ τυχόν. ἔνιοι δὲ τὸν ἀπὸ τῶν ὀνύχων ῥύπον ἢ εἶδος μικροῦ νομίσματος

Zenobius Sophista, 5.54

“Among Attic speakers gru is used to describe something small and accidental. For they call both the dirt under a fingernail gru and the bric-a-brac of a home grutaria. The man who sells the bric-a-brac is a grutopolos.”

     Εἴρηται δὲ καὶ παρὰ τοῖς ᾿Αττικοῖς τὸ γρῦ ἐπὶ τοῦ μικροῦ καὶ τοῦ τυχόντος. Καὶ γὰρ τὸν ἐν τοῖς ὄνυξι ῥύπον λέγουσι γρῦ, καὶ γρυτάρια τὰ κατὰ τὴν οἰκίαν λεπτὰ σκευάρια, καὶ γρυτοπώλην τὸν τὰ σκευάρια πωλοῦντα.

This and the Suda preserve the proverb “Dion’s Grunt”, for something small and incidental” Τὸ Δίωνος γρῦ, ἐπὶ τοῦ μικροῦ καὶ τυχόντος

Here’s Beekes on this

gru gru

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

Laconian Assmen and A False Etymology for Adolescent

Two Comic Fragments

Photius was a ninth century Patriarch and Scholar of Constantinople who is now a Saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church. But he was also a lexicographer who preserved or hinted a fragments of many lost authors.

Laconian Assmen and Theseus (Photius 192.12)

“Laconian Ass-man”: Cleinias, had anal-sex, in the Laconian style. They call intercourse with boyfriends “to act like a Laconian”. This is how Theseus had sex with Helen, according to Aristarchus.

Κυσολάκων: ὁ Κλεινίας ὁ τωῖ κυσωῖ Λακωνίζων· τὸ δὲ τοῖς παιδικοῖς χρῆσθαι Λακωνίζειν λέγουσιν· ᾿Eλένηι γὰρ Θησεὺς οὕτως ἐχρήσατο, ὡς Ἀρίσταρχος.

Some texts have Μελαίνηι instead of ᾿Eλένηι. Some have ᾿Αριστοτέλης instead of Ἀρίσταρχος

An Amusing But Absolutely Impossible Etymology for Adolescent (Photius α 372)

Adoleskhein: indicates talking philosophically about nature while conversing about everything else. The comic poets used the word leschainein for “having a conversation” (dialegesthai). And leskhai are places where people gather to spend the day in conversation.’

᾿Αδολεσχεῖν· σημαίνει μὲν τὸ φιλοσοφεῖν περί τε φύσεως καὶ τοῦ παντὸς διαλεσχαίνοντα. οἱ μέντοι ἀρχαῖοι κωμικοὶ λεσχαίνειν ἔλεγον τὸ διαλέγεσθαι. καὶ λέσχαι οἱ τόποι, εἰς οὓς συνιόντες λόγοις διημέρευον.

Kraipale: Ancient Greek For Hangover

Some necessary information for all those who over-indulge….

 

Suda: Kraipalê: “hangover”: The pounding from excessive wine-consumption. We also find the participle “reveling”, which indicates someone behaving inappropriately because they are drunk. The etymology is that people who are drunk have their heads (karê) pound (pallein). Or it is because they make mistakes (sphallesthai) in the correct time (kairon).

Κραιπάλη: ὁ ἐκ πολλῆς οἰνώσεως παλμός. καὶ Κραιπαλῶν, ἀντὶ τοῦ ἐκ μέθης ἀτακτοῦντα, μεθύοντα. ἀπὸ τοῦ κάρα πάλλειν τοὺς μεθύοντας. ἢ ἀπὸ τοῦ σφάλλεσθαι τῶν καιρίων.

Drunk vase

Aristotle, Problems 873b 17-23

“A hangover is a roiling even as the swelling is dying down. It hurts more than being drunk because the first makes men witless but a hangover brings them pain when they have all their faculties. As those who are overcome by fever often joke instead of experiencing pain, when they are back in their right minds they regain their suffering and feel pain. The same type of thing happens with hangovers and drunkenness.”

ἔστι γὰρ ἡ κραιπάλη ζέσις τις καὶ φλεγμασία λήγουσα. λυπεῖ δὲ μᾶλλον τῆς μέθης, ὅτι ἐκείνη μὲν ἐξίστησιν, ἡ δὲ κραιπάλη ἐν αὑτοῖς οὖσι τὸν πόνον παρέχει· καθάπερ οὖν καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν πυρετῶν οἱ λαμβανόμενοι παίζουσι μᾶλλον ἢ ἀλγοῦσι, παρ’ αὑτοῖς δὲ γενόμενοι οἱ αὐτοί, κουφισθέντες τοῦ πάθους, ἀλγοῦσιν. ταὐτὰ γὰρ καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς κραιπάλης καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς μέθης συμβαίνει.

 

Suda: “Headache, hangover: also, drunkenness.”

Καρηβαρία: ἡ μέθη.

 

Hesychius: “to weigh down the head”. When one is drunk from wine and gets a pain in the head.

καρηβαρεῖ· βαρύνεται κεφαλήν. ἐξ οἴνου μεθύει κάρην δὲ κεφαλήν

 

Photius: “Heavy in the head” Weighing down your head from drinking wine.

Καρηβαρῶν: τὴν κεφαλὴν βαρούμενος ἀπὸ μέθης οἴνου.

 

Suda: “Yesterday-talking: bad-talking”

Χθεσιφωνῶν: κακολογῶν.

 

Suda: Apokraipalismos: “Sleeping it off”: Hangover and drunkenness relief.

Ἀποκραιπαλισμός: τῆς κραιπάλης ἀπαλλαγὴ καὶ μέθης.

 

Aristotle, Problems 873a 37

“What’s the reason that cabbage cures a hangover? Is it because its’ fluid is sweet and has purgative effects—which is why doctors apply it to cleanse bowels too—even as it is cool itself?…For those who are hungover, cabbage juice channels drinking’s humors which are bitter and undigested into the bowels while the  fruit left behind in the stomach cools the body…”

Διὰ τί ἡ κράμβη παύει τὴν κραιπάλην; ἢ ὅτι τὸν  μὲν χυλὸν γλυκὺν καὶ ῥυπτικὸν ἔχει (διὸ καὶ κλύζουσιν αὐτῷ τὴν κοιλίαν οἱ ἰατροί), αὐτὴ δ’ ἐστὶ ψυχρά… συμβαίνει δὴ τῶν κραιπαλώντων τὸν μὲν χυλὸν αὐτῆς εἰς τὴν κοιλίαν κατασπᾶν τὰ ἐν αὐτοῖς ὑγρά, οἰνηρὰ καὶ ἄπεπτα ὄντα, αὐτὴν δὲ ὑπολειπομένην ἐν τῇ ἄνω κοιλίᾳ ψύχειν τὸ σῶμα.

Drunk vase 2

Don’t Be Half-Assed This Weekend: Three Donkey Proverbs from Photius

While perusing some comic fragments and testimonia I came upon one which attributed a strange proverb to Cratinus.  I had to investigate at the source, the work of the lexicographer Photius.  What I found was exhilarating: a group of donkey proverbs.

Here is a short excerpt (yes, there’s more):

“A Donkey’s death”: A saying for those who tell stories about strange things

“A Tipping Donkey”: When a donkey leans in suddenly, hens are frightened and bust out of their pen. The owner of the birds brings a suit against the owner of the donkey. This is where the proverb comes from.

“Donkey Shearings”: A saying applied by Attic writers to endless and impossible things. These following sayings are similar: “washing a brick”; “plucking a wineskin”; “decorating a pot” and “fumigating an outhouse”. Aristarchus says that this saying developed because Cratinus imagined a man braiding a rope in Hades and a donkey eating it as he did so.”

῎Ονου θάνατος: ἐπὶ τῶν ἀλλόκοτα διηγουμένων

῎Ονου παρακύψεως: ὄνου παρακύψαντος, ὄρνιθες πτοηθεῖσαι ἱστὸν ἀνέρρηξαν· ὁ δὲ δεσπότης τοῦ ἱστοῦ τοῦ ὄνου δεσπότηι ἐνεκάλεσεν· ὅθεν ἡ παροιμία.

῎Ονου πόκαι: ἐπὶ τῶν ἀνηνύτων καὶ τῶν μὴ ὄντων λέγεται ἡ παροιμία ὑπὸ τῶν ᾿Αττικῶν· ὥσπερ αἱ τοιαῦται· πλίνθον πλύνειν· ἀσκὸν τίλλειν· χύτραν ποικίλλειν· εἰς κοπρῶνα θυμιᾶν· ᾿Αρίσταρχος δὲ διὰ τὸ Κρατῖνον ὑποθέσθαι ἐν Αἵδου σχοινίον πλέκοντα· ὄνον δὲ τὸ πλεκόμενον ἀπεσθίοντα·

Laconian Assmen and A False Etymology for Adolescent: Two Comic Fragments

Photius was a ninth century Patriarch and Scholar of Constantinople who is now a Saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church. But he was also a lexicographer who preserved or hinted a fragments of many lost authors.

Laconian Assmen and Theseus (Photius 192.12)

“Laconian Ass-man”: Cleinias, had anal-sex, in the Laconian style. They call intercourse with boyfriends “to act like a Laconian”. This is how Theseus had sex with Helen, according to Aristarchus.

Κυσολάκων: ὁ Κλεινίας ὁ τωῖ κυσωῖ Λακωνίζων· τὸ δὲ τοῖς παιδικοῖς χρῆσθαι Λακωνίζειν λέγουσιν· ᾿Eλένηι γὰρ Θησεὺς οὕτως ἐχρήσατο, ὡς Ἀρίσταρχος.

Some texts have Μελαίνηι instead of ᾿Eλένηι. Some have ᾿Αριστοτέλης instead of Ἀρίσταρχος

An Amusing But Absolutely Impossible Etymology for Adolescent (Photius α 372)

Adoleskhein: indicates talking philosophically about nature while conversing about everything else. The comic poets used the word leschainein for “having a conversation” (dialegesthai). And leskhai are places where people gather to spend the day in conversation.’

᾿Αδολεσχεῖν· σημαίνει μὲν τὸ φιλοσοφεῖν περί τε φύσεως καὶ τοῦ παντὸς διαλεσχαίνοντα. οἱ μέντοι ἀρχαῖοι κωμικοὶ λεσχαίνειν ἔλεγον τὸ διαλέγεσθαι. καὶ λέσχαι οἱ τόποι, εἰς οὓς συνιόντες λόγοις διημέρευον.