“Who Stitched For You This Bright Red Ὂλισβος?”


In the process of trying to find the appropriate word for penis in ancient Greek (for purely scholarly reasons, of course) as I knew what it was in Latin (mentula or uerpa) I embarked on a harrowing quest through the Greek lexicon known as the Liddell and Scott. I discovered rather, that the Greeks really did not have a word for it. However, they did have a word that was related. And the way that Liddell and Scott compiled it was rather secretive unless you knew both Latin and Greek.

ὄλισβος , ,

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

Well I am sure you can figure out the cognate of the Latin word penis, but you must be a pretty savvy Latinist to know what coriaceus. Let us consult Lewis and Short:

cŏrĭăcĕus , a, um, adj. corium,

I. of leather: “naves” made of leatherAmm. 24, 3, 11.

So, the Greek word ὄλισβος is a leather penis!
Aside from the archeological evidence, there is literary evidence for the use of ὄλισβος. I will leave you with a short humorous scene from Herodas Mime 6.17-19, 58-79. Herodas wrote during the 3rd century BCE in Alexandria. The following scene involves two women Metro and Coritto discussing the procurement of dildos from a cobbler.

I beg you, don’t lie, dear Coritto: Who was the Man who stitched for you this bright red dildo? (2)
I don’t know if [Cerdon] is from Chios or Erythrae;(3) bald, small – you’d call him a right ‘Mr. Tradesman’. You’ll think you’re seeing the handiwork of Athena herself not Cerdon’s.
I – for he arrived bringing two, Metro – at the sight of them – well my eyes bulged; men can’t make their rods as rigid as this – we are alone and can be frank – and not only that, these are as soft as sleep; and the little leather straps are as soft as wool,not like leather straps at all. (4) a kinder cobbler to a woman you’ll not find – even by putting-out.
Why then did you not take the other one as well?
What didn’t I do, Metro? What sort of means of persuasion did I not apply him? Kissing him, stroking his bald head, pouring out a sweet drink for him, calling him by a pet name, giving him all by my body to enjoy. (5)
If he asked even that you ought to have given him it. (6)

Herodas Mime 6.17-19, 58-79:

Taken from Sexuality in Greek and Roman Society and Literature: a Sourcebook

Marguerite Johnson, Terry Ryan © 2005 published by Routledge Press ISBN 0-415-17330-2 (Hardback) ISBN 0-415-17331-0 (Paperback)


2. They were made of red leather like the phallus worn in comedy’ (Cunningham 164)

3. She knows his name but is uncertain of his place of origin: Chios is a large island off the coast of Lydia, opposite the peninsula on which Erythrae is the major center. Cerdon reappears in Mime 7 where his trade is confirmed as a shoemaker.

4. This dildo appears either to be a strap-on device for use in tribadic sex or to have straps designed to keep it in place within her body.

5. The reluctance to offer a sexual incentive is probably due to the class barriers; sexual preference may also be a factor.

6. While sharing her friend’s preferences, Metro clearly believes the acquisition of the second one would have been worth the sacrifice.



One comment on ““Who Stitched For You This Bright Red Ὂλισβος?”

  1. Way above my head but interesting nonetheless. Probably the wrong group but have you read Lysistrata?
    Portia xx

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