Oneironautics

Ὄρθρου, ὅταν δυσόκνως ἐξεγείρῃ, πρόχειρον ἔστω ὅτι ἐπὶ ἀνθρώπου ἔργον ἐγείρομαι: τί οὖν δυσκολαίνω, εἰ πορεύομαι ἐπὶ τὸ ποιεῖν ὧν ἕνεκεν γέγονα καὶ ὧν χάριν προῆγμαι εἰς τὸν κόσμον; ἐπὶ τοῦτο κατεσκεύασμαι, ἵνα κατακείμενος ἐν στρωματίοις ἐμαυτὸν θάλπω;

                                                          -Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.1

 

“Early in the morning, when you find it so hard to rouse yourself from your sleep, have these thoughts ready at hand: ‘I am rising to do the work of a human being. Why, then, am I so irritable if I am going out to do what I was born to do and what I was brought into this world for? Or was I created for this, to lie in bed and warm myself under the blankets?’”

This section of Meditations inspired me to write the following passage. I have not really used this site for creative writing, but since it is related to ancient history I think that it has a place here. :3


 

I wake up each morning with torpor, feeling pleasant warmth radiating around my body. The sun cuts through the slits of the windows and illuminates the dwelling. The place where one rests is sacred and should be dark and quiet like a sealed sarcophagus. The light causes me to stir inside my cocoon, angrily.

This cocoon is the temple of rejuvenation, it is a brilliant canvas for the imagination, and is sacred to many ancient deities.

And thus to be dragged out against your will and taken across the most holy pomerium, the lines that demarcate the boundary of this glorious place within and the world without, is the most vile deed known to mankind.

This cocoon is made entirely of blankets, shielding its singular oneironaut1 from the light and chilly air, and must be bravely set aside. The journey of the previous night is over and although its warmth beckons for surely what would be another amusing jaunt, one must get up and resist such strong opiate.

Every morning, now and hereafter I must metamorphose by bursting violently forth from my warm fibrous cocoon and face the day boldly. For  today I am still alive, this is what one is brought into this world for.  There still remains much knowledge to be gained, wonders to be seen and a life to live outside this cocoon of bedclothes. Mors aurem vellens: “vivite,” ait, “venio.”2

 

1 A person who travels in dreams.
2 “Death is plucking at your ear: ‘Go on and live,’ he says ‘I’m coming.'” – Copa, Appendix Virgiliana

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A Simple Word Can Open Many Doors

Plate from An Account of the Remains of the Worship of Priapus by R. P. Knight. 1786

Plate from An Account of the Remains of the Worship of Priapus by R. P. Knight. 1786

Today I was searching for references to the Latin word terriculum, for the sake of curiosity. The word  primarily means “means to create terror” but can also be taken to mean “scarecrow” and “bugbear.” Since the term bugbear was used as well, I think the term scarecrow in this instance means “an object of baseless fear.”  Romans did seem to have some sort of scarecrow in the sense that we understand the word. The speculation that keeps cropping up while research the word is that they copied the Greek herms statues which depict the god Priapus and used them to scare birds. Priapus was related to Venus, however, he was extremely ugly and always depicted ithyphallic. Now this brings us to the above picture. In my search for archeological images of a garden Priapus, I came across a book which is verbosely entitled  An Account of the Remains of the Worship of Priapus. Lately Existing at Isernia, in the Kingdom of Naples: in Two Letters; One From Sir William Hamilton to Sir Joseph Banks and the Other From a Person Residing at Isernia; to Which is Added, a Discourse on the Worship of Priapus, and its Connexion With the Mystic Theology of the Ancients, published in 1786 and authored by Richard Payne Knight. The image above has an entertaining bit of  squeamishness concerning things of a sexual nature where he writes:

A fpecimen of thefe was brought from the Ifland of ELEPHANTA, in the Cumberland man of war, and now belongs to the Mufeum of Mr. TOWNLEY. It contains general figures, in very high relief: the principal of which are a Man and Woman, in an attitude which I fhall not venture to defcribe, but only obferve, that the action, which I have fuppofed to be a fymbol of refrefhment and invigoration, is mutually applied by both to their refpective Organs of Generation, the emblems of the active and paffive powers of procreation, which mutually cherifh and invigorate each other. (81)

One has to wonder why he published such an image which obviously made him feel uncomfortable either culturally or personally. As you may have noticed, the use of the f or as it’s called, the medial s is used in place of the “s.” I always found this to be an interesting trend. The function of the medial s was that it was used in the middle of the word and the regular s we recognize today was placed at the end. Although this wasn’t as cut and dry as it would appear as some words seem to break this rule. This isn’t the only case of this mode of typography. We also see this in ancient Greek with the letter sigma Σ σ, the upper and lower case letters respectively, where the lower case σ is used in the middle of words and the letter ς is used to end words ending in s. The obvious similarities between the English letter s and Greek letter ς is quite evident.

To finish on a good note here is an image of our belovéd Priapus for your amusement, because you should know, the images of the phallus, which were ubiquitous in the Mediterranean, were depicted macrophallic or ithyphallic and were apotropaic by nature. The bottom line was that there were used to incite laughter!

Fresco showing Priapus weighing himself, House of the Vettii, Pompeii

Fresco showing Priapus weighing himself, House of the Vettii, Pompeii

A Lesson in Latin Linguistics Through Mycology

I started reading The Latin Sexual Vocabulary by J.N. Adams today, taking my time going through all the Latin sources he uses, quite fascinating. Anyway, I wanted to talk about the word uerpa which I shall remain aloof and not divulge the details of its meaning. Adams’ treatment of the words are so scholarly and it really tickles me pink (and plus, you’ll figure it out sooner or later anyway). So this tale starts out in the year 1775, a wonderful year in which the scrappy American Revolution was due to start and on European continent, a man named Otto Friedrich Müller, a naturalist, named an ascomycete fungi related to the morels. Now, I am no mycologist, (from the Greek μύκης, mukēs, meaning “fungus”) so please bear with me on the details. For those who are curious a dictionary will show that the definition of an ascomycete is simply “a large group of fungi characterized by the presence of sexually produced spores formed within an ascus. Also called sac fungus.” Now of course you must wonder what an ascus is, (I sure did!). Linguistically speaking, it is from the Greek word ασκος, askos, meaning “bag”. The definition of ascus is “a membranous, often club-shaped structure in which typically eight ascospores are formed through sexual reproduction of ascomycetes. How fun! Now that we are acquainted with the terminology, onward to the matter at hand. So, our man, Müller named a certain ascomycete fungi Phallus conicus. So this is where things get entertaining. Although retaining its name many other individuals attempted in vain to place it into different genera. In 1815, Olaf Peter Swartz decided  that naming this fungus (pictured below) Phallus conicus was far too obvious in meaning to the average lay person so he changed it to Verpa conicus.

Verpa_conica

Verpa conica

This alteration wouldn’t really be noteworthy, except the reason why he changed it. In all likeliness (mere conjecture on my part) it was to avoid potential ridicule. The joke really is funnier in Latin, so they say, and this is no exception. So I will let you in on the joke, the term verpa according to J.N. Adams is thus:

Verpa can also be classified as a vox propria for the penis; it serves as a complement of mentulaVerpais recorded in literature only in Catullus (28.12), Martial (11.46.2), the Corpus Priapeorum (34.5) and perhaps Pomponius (see below), but its currency in vulgar speech is established by its frequency in graffiti (see CIL IV.1655, 1884, 2360, 2415, 4876, 8617).1

So, in short, the words verpa and mentula in Latin, for all intents and purposes are the most obscene words for the male genitalia as far as scholars can tell based on literary and archeological evidence. A proper Roman like Cicero has simply refused to write mentula in response to a letter and instead he wrote “id  uerbum,” that word. It is hard to approximate just how improper it was to use these words in civilized conversation, but one can imagine its equivalent today would be approximately the four letter word for pudenda muliebria. I suppose, to take it a step further, one must know exactly why this word was such a big deal. The term verpa is a very specific word for the phallus. It has an explicit meaning of an erect phallus with the foreskin pulled back and the glans exposed. This was considered exceptionally rude especially  for the upper class who was well versed in Greek culture.  Using this post as a segue, look for my next post which will be a treatment of the phallus by Graeco-Romans. Here. 1. J.N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 1982), 12.

“Who Stitched For You This Bright Red Ὂλισβος?”

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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!
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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.

METRO
I beg you, don’t lie, dear Coritto: Who was the Man who stitched for you this bright red dildo? (2)
CORITTO
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.
METRO
Why then did you not take the other one as well?
CORITTO
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)
METRO
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)

Notes:

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.

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