Aristophanes, Peace 290-292
“Now comes the time of for Datis’ song
The one he sang once at midday as he masturbated
“How I am pleased and I enjoy this and I am finding delight!”
ΤΡ. Νῦν, τοῦτ’ ἐκεῖν’, ἥκει τὸ Δάτιδος μέλος.
ὃ δεφόμενός ποτ’ ᾖδε τῆς μεσημβρίας·
«῾Ως ἥδομαι καὶ χαίρομαι κεὐφραίνομαι.»
The small LSJ defines δέφω as “to soften by working by the hand, to make supple, to tan hides.” The 1902 LSJ uses Latin to explain: “sensu obscoeno, v. Lat. Masturbari.”
The Suda (delta 297) cuts to the chase on this one with “dephein: grabbing someone by the genitals. Also, “rubbing” (Dephomenos) instead of “flogging your genitals.” (Δέφειν: τὸ τοῦ αἰδοίου τινὰ ἅπτεσθαι. καὶ Δεφόμενος, ἀντὶ τοῦ ἀποδέρων τὸ αἰδοῖον). So, the active vs. middle voice is an important distinction (echoing something I have emphasized in teaching Greek: active voice is something you do to someone else, middle is what you do to yourself…).
Here’s a nice passage that shows the difference in active and passive voice:
Artemidorus, Dream Interpretation 1.78: 74-80
“I know of a certain slave who dreamed that he was masturbating his master—and he then became the teacher and nurse of his children. For he was holding his master’s genitals in his hands which was a symbol of his children. And again, I know of another who dreamed he was being jerked off by his master, and, later he was bound to a pillar and then he received many blows…”
οἶδα δέ τινα δοῦλον, ὃς ἔδοξε τὸν δεσπότην αὐτοῦ δέφειν, καὶ ἐγένετο τῶν παίδων αὐτοῦ παιδαγωγὸς καὶ τροφός· ἔσχε γὰρ ἐν ταῖς χερσὶ τὸ τοῦ δεσπότου αἰδοῖον ὂν τῶν ἐκείνου τέκνων σημαντικόν. καὶ πάλιν αὖ οἶδά <τινα> ὃς ἔδοξεν ὑπὸ τοῦ δεσπότου δέφεσθαι, καὶ προσδεθεὶς κίονι πολλὰς ἔλαβε πληγάς….
Most of the extant uses of this verb appear in comedy. And, not surprisingly, this means Aristophanes:
Aristophanes, Knights 23-24
ΟΙ. Β′ Πάνυ καλῶς.
῞Ωσπερ δεφόμενός νυν ἀτρέμα πρῶτον λέγε
τὸ μολωμεν, εἶτα δ’ αὐτο, κᾆτ’ ἐπάγων πυκνόν.
Just as if you were masturbating, say it first now gently
“let us hurry” and then again pushing on, quickly.”
[Here’s a link to the whole play. Soon, one of the interlocutors stops “because the skin is irritated by masturbation.” (῾Οτιὴ τὸ δέρμα δεφομένων ἀπέρχεται, 29)]
The verb is not common, to say the least, so later commentators found it necessary to gloss it and explain Aristophanes’ joke. Through the explanations of the joke, it immediately becomes less funny, and the language used in the commentaries.
Scholia in Knights:
 “ ‘Just like dephomenos’: instead of “flogging your genitals” (apodérôn to aidoion). For, when men touch their genitals they don’t complete as they began, but they move more eagerly towards the secretion of semen. This plays on that, he means start small at first but then go continuously.
‘dephomenos’: “having intercourse’. Flogging genitals.
‘dephomenos’: They mean handling the penis. For, when men take hold of their penises they don’t move towards ejaculation the way they began, but more eagerly over time, as they are inflamed by the continuity of movement.”
ὥσπερ δεφόμενος: ἀντὶ τοῦ ἀποδέρων τὸ αἰδοῖον. οἱ γὰρ ἁπτόμενοι τῶν αἰδοίων οὐχ ὡς ἤρξαντο, ἀλλὰ σπουδαιότερον κινοῦσι πρὸς τῇ τῆς γονῆς ἐκκρίσει. τοῦτο οὖν λέγει, ὅτι πρῶτον κατὰ μικρόν, εἶτα συνεχῶς λέγε. RVEΓ2M
δεφόμενος] ξυνουσιάζων, ἀποδέρων τὸ αἰδοῖον. M
δεφόμενος] ἤγουν τοῦ μορίου ἁπτόμενος. οἱ γὰρ ἁπτόμενοι τοῦ μορίου
πρὸς ἔκκρισιν τῆς γονῆς οὐχ ὡς ἤρξαντο κινοῦσιν ἀλλὰ σπουδαιότερον, ἐκπυρούμενοι τῇ συνεχείᾳ τῆς κινήσεως. VatLh
Aristophanes, Ecclesiazusae, 705–709
“It is decreed that the ugly and the wretched
Get to fuck first.
Take your pleasure on the porch in the meantime
Handling your fig-leaves in the courtyard”
τοῖς γὰρ σιμοῖς καὶ τοῖς αἰσχροῖς
ἐψήφισται προτέροις βινεῖν,
ὑμᾶς δὲ τέως θρῖα λαβόντας
ἐν τοῖς προθύροισι δέφεσθαι.
The Suda interprets this passage as meaning that someone is masturbating with a fig leaf. Henderson ( The Maculate Muse. New Haven 1975) explains that the “fig-leaves” are the foreskin and the “courtyard” means outside of a vagina.
And just in case one might worry about moral dimensions of masturbation, ancient philosophers have already tackled the question:
“Similarly, this seems shameful to one of the sages but not to another. For us it is wrong to marry your own mother or sister. But the Persians, especially those of them who seem to pursue wisdom, the Magi, marry their mothers just as the Egyptians marry their sisters. The poet also says: “Zeus addressed Hera, his wife and sister…”
Zeno of Citium even says that it is not strange to rub your mother’s genitals with your own, just as no one would claim it is wrong to rub any other part of her body with your hand. Chrysippus approves in his Republic of a father getting children from his daughter, a mother from her son, and a brother from his sister. Plato insisted generally that wives should be held in common. Zeno also does not disapprove of masturbation, which is shameful in our culture. We have also learned that others practice this wicked habit as if it were a good thing.”
οὕτω καὶ τῶν σοφῶν ᾧ μὲν οὐκ αἰσχρόν, ᾧ δὲ αἰσχρὸν ἐδόκει τοῦτο εἶναι. ἄθεσμον τέ ἐστι παρ’ ἡμῖν μητέρα ἢ ἀδελφὴν ἰδίαν γαμεῖν· Πέρσαι δέ, καὶ μάλιστα αὐτῶν οἱ σοφίαν ἀσκεῖν δοκοῦντες, οἱ Μάγοι, γαμοῦσι τὰς μητέρας, καὶ Αἰγύπτιοι τὰς ἀδελφὰς ἄγονται πρὸς γάμον, καὶ ὡς ὁ ποιητής φησιν,
Ζεὺς ῞Ηρην προσέειπε κασιγνήτην ἄλοχόν τε.
ἀλλὰ καὶ ὁ Κιτιεὺς Ζήνων φησὶ μὴ ἄτοπον εἶναι τὸ μόριον τῆς μητρὸς τῷ ἑαυτοῦ μορίῳ τρῖψαι, καθάπερ οὐδὲ ἄλλο τι μέρος τοῦ σώματος αὐτῆς τῇ χειρὶ τρῖψαι φαῦλον ἂν εἴποι τις εἶναι. καὶ ὁ Χρύσιππος δὲ ἐν τῇ πολιτείᾳ δογματίζει τόν τε πατέρα ἐκ τῆς θυγατρὸς παιδοποιεῖσθαι καὶ τὴν μητέρα ἐκ τοῦ παιδὸς καὶ τὸν ἀδελφὸν ἐκ τῆς ἀδελφῆς. Πλάτων δὲ καὶ καθολικώτερον κοινὰς εἶναι τὰς γυναῖκας δεῖν ἀπεφήνατο. τό τε αἰσχρουργεῖν ἐπάρατον ὂν παρ’ ἡμῖν ὁ Ζήνων οὐκ ἀποδοκιμάζει· καὶ ἄλλους δὲ ὡς ἀγαθῷ τινι τούτῳ χρῆσθαι τῷ κακῷ πυνθανόμεθα.
Note that many of lexical metaphors for masturbation are shared by the two languages. Much of the following material is drawn from J.N. Adams. The Latin Sexual Vocabulary. 1982. Note, however, that many of the examples are not truly masturbatory.
As an important prefatory note, the Latin word masturbor (whence modern “masturbate”) has unclear and irregular use in Latin (discussed by Adams 209-211 with some rather strong attacks on J. P. Hallet’s 1976 “Masturbator, Mascarpio.” Glotta, vol. 54: 292–308.) The word occurs most prominently in an agentive form in Martial (translated here with considerable license):
Martial, 14.203 Puella Gaditana
“She sways with such curves and oozes sex so deep
That she’d turn Hippolytus himself into a masturbating creep.”
Tam tremulum crisat, tam blandum prurit, ut ipsum
masturbatorem fecerit Hippolytum.
Other words and terms
Frico, “to rub, chafe”, cf. cont. vulg: “rub one out”
“it is that much more advantageous to rub your groin rather than your genius”
tanto magis expedit inguina quam ingenia fricare
Sollicito, “to shake, stir, rouse, agitate, excite, urge” etc.
Despite Adam’s assertion, the primary examples he cites are about the manipulation of genitals by another party.
Ovid, Amores 3.7.73-4
“Despite this, my girl was not reluctant
To stroke me gently once she moved her hand down…”
Hanc etiam non est mea dedignata puella
molliter admota sollicitare manu;
“Who denies this? This is too much. But let it be enough
Stop urging on their groins with that fucker of a hand.”
quis negat?—hoc nimium est. sed sit satis; inguina saltem
parce fututrici sollicitare manu.
“She stirred up my groin which was cold already because of a thousand deaths.”
Sollicitavit inguina mea mille iam mortibus frigida
Cf. Maximianus 5.58 “she began to handle my dirty parts with her hand / and to excite me too with her fingers.” contrectare manu coepit flagrantia membra / meque etiam digitis sollicitare suis
Tango, “touch”, cf. Divinyls Classic “I Touch Myself”
Ovid, Ars Amatoria 2.719–720
“When you find those places where the lady delights at being touched,
Don’t let shame get in the way of you touching her.”
Cum loca reppereris, quae tangi femina gaudet,
Non obstet, tangas quo minus illa, pudor.
Tracto: “to draw, haul, handle, treat” cf. perhaps “to jerk [off]” or “wank”
“I don’t need a finger: handle me like this, Phyllis”
nil opus est digitis: sic mihi, Phylli, frica
“But this limp dick is not long enough nor does it stand up strong enough,
Even if you play with it, do you think it can grow?”
At non longa bene est, non stat bene mentula crassa
et quam si tractes, crescere posse putes?
Adams 1982, 208:
(de)glubo: “to skin, flay, peel” cf. “skin off”
Ausonius, Epigram 79 “Inscribed Beneath the Picture of a Lusty Lady”
Beyond the genial joining of authorized sex
Sinful lust has discovered unnatural modes of love:
What the Lemnian lack posited to the heir of Herakles,
Or what the plays of Afranius in Roman garb presented
Or the total depravity that marked the Nolan people.
Somehow, in a single body, Crispa practices all three!
She masturbates, fellates, and rides with either hole—
So that she might not die frustrated, leaving anything untried.
LXXIX.—Subscriptum Picturae Mulieris impudicae
Praeter legitimi genialia foedera coetus
repperit obscenas veneres vitiosa libido:
Herculis heredi quam Lemnia suasit egestas,
quam toga facundi scaenis agitavit Afrani
et quam Nolanis capitalis luxus inussit.
Crispa tamen cunctas exercet corpore in uno:
deglubit, fellat, molitur per utramque cavernam,
ne quid inexpertum frustra moritura relinquat.