Guns on Campus? Here’s ‘Dildo’ in Ancient Greek

In a long-running response to guns on campus and after a federal judge denied faculty arguments to keep guns from classrooms, students at UT Austin today are protesting the recently enacted ‘Campus Carry’ law by carrying dildos strapped to their backpacks (because, according to obscenity laws, dildos are forbidden).

In support of these efforts in my former state, 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 dildoes.”

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

(!) 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.


The Lexicographer Photius repeats only the following definition:

Olisboi: Leather dicks

῎Ολισβοι: δερμάτινα αἰδοῖα.

The Scholia 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.

Come, But Leave It: Firearms on Campus

According to Plutarch, Alcibiades once punched a teacher because he didn’t have any books of Homer to lend him. Imagine if the volatile Alcibiades were a student today in Texas or one of the other American states where students at public universities may now legally carry concealed firearms (if licensed)!

(Many smarter people than I have already written about the conversation-chilling effect of the threat of weapons on campus: see David Perry’s commentary, for example. There is an ongoing lawsuit at the UT Austin campus).

I mention this today because the campus carry law was one of the things that unnerved me about staying in Texas. The law went into effect this Monday and already a group is protesting the policies adopted on several campuses allowing faculty members to ban guns in their own private offices.  In anticipating this policy last year, I designed the following for my office door.




[Molôn aphes not Molôn labe: trans: “Come, but leave it”.]

Of course, this is riffing on the ubiquitous  “μολὼν λαβέ” motto that has appeared on everything from t-shirts to personalized  guns (I went through a couple iterations of this with the inimitable Armand D’Angour last fall).

SIG-SAUER-Molon-Labe-courtesy-The-Truth-About-Guns (1)

(seriously. do a google image search for “molon labe”. it is sickening).

Plutarch, Apophthegmata Lakonica 225 c11-12

“When Xerxes wrote again, “send me your weapons”, [Leonidas] wrote back, “Come and take them”

Πάλιν δὲ τοῦ Ξέρξου γράψαντος ‘πέμψον τὰ ὅπλα’, ἀντέγραψε ‘μολὼν λαβέ.’

Before I announced my departure for New England I actually had a few conversations with students about the policy and was shocked by how many said they would likely carry a weapon. When I first moved to Texas I was surprised by how many people blithely assumed they were not safe unless they had a firearm and how many rode around with long-guns in their vehicles or slept with them by their beds.

Just to be clear–I grew up with a closet full of guns in rural Maine. Gun safety consisted of not playing with guns and keeping ammunition elsewhere.  I actually had a friend in seventh grade whose brother accidentally shot him in the face (not with our guns; the friend lived, thankfully). I am not an ignorant, inexperienced anti-gun nut. No, I am a reflective person who thinks campuses are sanctuaries and more guns do not make people safer. Period.

I had a brief fantasy about writing about the cultural appropriation of this phrase from the apochryphal Plutarch to the Texas revolution, constructions of Spartan and American masculinity, and political fantasy. (Wikipedia gives a decent history.) But I was (1) too depressed by it and (2) didn’t want to get shot.

So, for my friends staying in Texas and those in similar states, I have made the poster above modelling the phrase μολὼν ἀφές on the original (and probably made-up) Laconic saying. Stay safe.

How Texas Declines


After living in Texas for nearly a decade I am preparing to move across country to Massachusetts.  I have been playing with the idea of writing a post about the move entitled: Nihil (nimium) contra [Texas], but, of course, I lost that thread once I realized I needed to put Texas in Latin. Fortunately, this has been contemplated before and answered by the Latin Wikipedia:

Nom. Texia

Gen.  Texiae

Dat. Texiae

Acc. Texiam

Abl. Texiā

Texas, by the way, doesn’t have a Latin motto. After living here for nine years, I just learned that its motto is “Friendship”. (Really?) Would Amicitia be too hard? My new state has a Latin motto which I think might be a better fit for Texas: Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem (trans. As “By the sword we seek peace but only under liberty”; but to me, this doesn’t mean what they want it to mean).

Here’s a list of state mottos.


I am of three minds here. We could just follow the Latin pattern and make Texas an a-stem 1st declension. That seems too easy to me. We could also make it an –as masculine 2nd declension (because, you know, Texas is so masculine). My favorite is to get a bit fancy with a 3rd declension i-stem. Read the i-stem aloud, it just feels better to me.

1st Declension

Nom. Τέξια

Gen.  Τέξιας

Dat. Τέξιᾳ

Acc. Τέξιαν

Voc. Τεξία

2nd Declension

Cf.Λεωνίδας (Λεωνίδεω or Λεωνίδου; νεανίας, νεανίου)

Nom. Τέξας

Gen.  Τέχου

Dat.  Τέξῳ

Acc. Τέξαν

Voc. Τέξα

3rd Declension

Cf. λέξις

Nom. Τέξις

Gen.  Τέξεως

Dat. Τέξει

Acc. Τέξιν

Voc. Τέξι

Votes? Thoughts? Did I mess up some accents?

Another option is a third-declension dental-stem: