“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.