Help Save Classics at the University of Vermont!

The fine folks at UVM’s Classics department asked me to get the word out:

Dear Fellow Classicists,

We would be very grateful if you sign our petition to reverse the 50% cut to Classics that the University of Vermont has suffered in the last three years. UVM is now undergoing a regime change—influenced in part by campus-wide protests to humanities cutbacks—and we hope to prevail upon the incoming president (Suresh Garimella, currently Provost of Purdue) to restore us to the 2015 staffing level that was already deemed minimal by our external program review that same year.

For more specifics, please see the SCS blog:

The petition is here:

Yours gratefully,

The Department of Classics, Universitas Viridis Montis
The University of Vermont



Barry Baldwin ~ Definitive Moments

[Editor’s note: this is a never-before-seen effort by Dr Baldwin; we are grateful that he thought this was an appropriate venue! As always, yours truly takes responsibility for any typos or other editorial negligences which may accrue.]

Thought it might be amusingly instructive to compare and contrast definitions of Latin sexual terms in Lewis & Short (1879) and the Oxford Latin Dictionary (1968-82, ‘ lightly revised’, 2112).

Two dictionaries from very different periods, L&S from the Victorian period and OLD from the ‘swinging’ and ‘sexually liberated’ 1960s. One might have expected a greater frankness in the latter. Not always the case.

For spatial reasons, what follows is merely a selection. J. N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary  (1982) lists hundreds of Latinisms (pps. 257-65), with exhaustive discussions of them all in his text, for good measure (pps. 266-68), he adds a substantial inventory of Greek terms.

There’s also a lexical cornucopia in F. C. Forberg’s Manual of Classical Erotology, most accessible in the 1966 Grove Press reprint of the 1884 English translation ‘ privately printed for Viscount Julian Smithson M.A., and Friends’ – the dirty devils…

Also relevant, of course, is A. E. Housman’s once-notorious article Praefanda (in Latin), accepted by the Classical Quarterly, only to be withdrawn at proof stage by some panic-stricken trustees, rescued by the less shockable German editors of Hermes, still in Latin, but latterly (Arion 9, 2001, 180-200) Englished or rather Americanized into pungent demotic by James Jayo. Considering how Housman treated so many of their countrymen, it might be thought an exceedingly generous gesture by this German journal.

We start with Suetonius, On Grammarians 23, describing the shamefully indecent way Remmius Palaemon treated women – nowadays, he’d be a prime candidate for #MeToo. Men, too. When he attempted to kiss an unwilling man in a crowd, the latter ‘wittily’ cried out, ‘ Vis tu, Magister, quotiens festinantem aliquem vides, abligurire? (Master, do you wish to mouth everyone whom you see in a hurry? – Rolfe’s old Loeb: wonder what he thought the reader would make of this?).

L&S define abligurio as ‘ to lick away, waste or spend in luxurious indulgence’, adding their favourite formula in mal. part.  to indicate an (in their eyes) obscenity. OLD renders ‘ to eat up’, citing the Suetonius passage without any sexual indication.

Incidentally, Suetonius quotes a popular insult from an Atellan farce ridiculing Tiberius for his treatment of the lady Mallonia who had denounced him as she committed suicide: hircum vetulum capreis naturam ligurire  (the old goat was licking the does – Rolfe)
Let’s hurry on to festinate. Neither dictionary seems to admit this Suetonian passage. Adams and Housman devoted much space to this, the former (p. 144) adding that properare bore a similar sense, also noting a Pompeian graffito (CIL IV. 4758) comporting the apparent sexual neologism festinabiliter.

A colourful online essay, ‘ The Philology of the Orgasm’ by Max Kenneth points out that (e.g.) Spanish correr  and Russian kahnchat are used in this same erotic sense.

L&S tactfully omit Suetonius, Aug.  69. 2, an erotic litany sent in a letter to the emperor by Mark Antony: an refert, ubi et in qua arrigas? (Does it matter where or with whom you take your pleasure? – Rolfe again concealing the point – the verb means to have an erection, as OLD observes.

By the way, Dashiell Hammet’s The Thin Man (1934) was banned in Canada for Nora’s question to Nick, ‘Did you have an erection?’

Ceveo is defined by L&S simply as ‘ to move the haunches’. OLD is more expansive: ‘ of a pathic – to move the haunches in a lewd or effeminate manner’. We might have expected these in dictionary reverse, with the implied moral criticism.

Back to expected L&S form with the related verb crissare: ‘ to move the haunches, in mal. part., of a female as ceveo of a man’. OLD takes a different tack: ‘ of women, to move the haunches as in coitus’. Echoes in both, perhaps, of Lucretius’ erotic litany (bk. 4).

Getting to the bottom of things, L&S dub culus as ‘ posteriors’ (Note the plural, suggesting their minds were more on ‘buttocks’)’. Plain ‘ fundament, anus’ in OLD. Obliterated are the various semantic levels of these fundamental nouns. Culus (same goes for podex) requires a cruder appellation, ‘arse’ (‘ass’ in American). Anus  was useful if a pun was needed on the other anus (old woman). Clunes  by itself was respectable enough, albeit often used with such erotically-charged verbs as agitare.

Samuel Johnson, who pointedly omitted most vulgarisms from his Dictionary, did allow ‘ arse’, defining as ‘ the buttocks, or hind parts of an animal’.

Famously, when a pair of prim young damsels complimented him on leaving out objectionable words, Sam replied, ‘ What, my dears, have you been looking out for them already?’

Summing up, this is all a case of arse gratis artis.

L&S  register ‘Scrotum’ as one meaning of culleus; OLD  does not.

Cunnus and Cunnilingus are straightforwardly acknowledged by L&S as ‘female pudendum’ and ‘cunnum lingere’. OLD  defines the latter as ‘ a type of sexual pervert’ – somebody’s prejudices are showing.

L&S note the sexual connotation of deglubire in an Ausonius Epigram (71.5); not so in OLD. The former note the well-known Catullus poem for basic glubire, adding their usual in mal. part. formula. OLD  cites the Catullus but not the sense. For once, Forberg failed to spot.

Now, a splendid semantic conflict. L&S  define draucus as ‘ a sodomite’. OLD  say it means ‘ athlete’ (Adams does not mention the term). I suppose one may visualize an athletic sodomite, but…

Effutuo emerges from L&S  as ‘ to waste in debauchery’. OLD expands into ‘ to wear out with, or squander on, sexual intercourse’. As to basic futuo, L&S  take refuge in ‘ to have connection with a female’ – shades of the Biblical ‘Know’. OLD  counter with ‘ to have sexual relations (with a woman)’. Their brackets have become old-fashioned: nowadays, girls and women regularly talk of fucking a man. And, OLD’s avoidance of the f-word comes several years after (1965) Kenneth Tynan uttered it on BBC television.

L&S make a meal out of fascinus: trans. l.q. membrum virile  because an image of it was hung around the necks of children as a preventative against witchcraft’. OLD has much the same. Neither adduce (though it is in OLD’s repertoire of references) Petronius 138 where it has to mean ‘dildo’.

Both dictionaries give fellare and fellator short thrift, dismissing ‘ sucker’ as in mal. part.  and transf.  ‘ as a sexual perversion’. ˆL&S tactfully omit fellatrix, cited by OLD  exclusively from Pompeian graffiti.

L&S  wax Biblical for ineo as ‘ Know, in mal. part.’ OLD  registers the meaning without prejudice. It is so used in Antony’s above-mentioned letter to Augustus.

Irrumare and irrigator were bound to give our lexicographers trouble. After a neutral ‘ to extend the breast to, to give suck’, L&S  flee to ‘in mal. part., to treat in a foul or shameful manner’, with ‘ to that in a beastly or shameful manner’ following up. OLD  skirts even more around the Catullan issue, translating only one of the cognates, irrumator, as ‘ one who submits to fellatio’.

L&S  treat masturbator  in a very Victorian way, ‘ one who defiles himself’. No beating about the bush with OLD.
Likewise, L&S fight shy of mentula, left in ‘l.q. membrum virile’. Plain ‘ the male sexual organ’ in OLD.

Paedico and cognates are viewed as ‘ the practise of unnatural vice’ in L&S, whilst unvarnished ‘sodomite’ was enough for OLD.

Poppysma (not in Adams) is for L&S  ‘ a smacking or clucking with the tongue’. For Martial’s colourful poppysmata cunni, they cautiously add ‘ of a similar sound’. OLD  is similarly evasive.

Spintria (not in Adams) earns a fine combinative definition from L&S: ‘ the contractile muscle of the anus, also a male prostitute’ – very precise anatomical information. OLD is content with ‘ a type of male prostitute’.

L&S gloss vasatus sternly, ‘ i.e. mentula magna instructus’. It is not precisely specified in OLD because the term (often with bene added) is restricted to the Historia Augusta, beyond its lexical range, a strange and harmful editorial decision. See Adams (pps. 41-42) for details, OLD  does include Vaso  as ‘ one having a large sexual organ’, citing (with a question mark) the grammarian Pomponius.

For perfect finale, Sellarius, the jewel in L&S’ scatology-avoiding crown. OLD see the word (not in Adams) as denoting a type of male prostitute, connecting it with sellarium (privy), and adding a secondary unrelated ‘ member of a chariot-racing establishment (of uncertain function)’.

L&S arrived at this glorious circumlocution: ‘ one that practises lewdness upon a settle’. How many people nowadays know what a settle is? Had to verify it myself. English dictionary definition is elaborate: ‘ An old-fashioned piece of furniture with a long wooden seat and a high back and arms, often also with a box for storing things under the seat’.

I leave it to readers to settle the mystery of what kind of lewdness would be specifically practised in/on such a contraption…

Barry Baldwin ~ Get Stuffed

[Editor’s note: years ago we regularly featured transcriptions of Barry Baldwin’s Classical Corner items from Fortean Times and we are in the process of resuming that practice, More to come, hopefully on a once-a-week schedule (the next two will probably be the ones referenced within this one).  The current offering is reprinted with permission of the author himself, who years ago had to deal with yours truly as a student. Errors in transcription accrue to the latter.]

Or, The Mummy Returns – addenda to my previous embalmy army piece [FT162:19), itself supplementing FT159:45.

Embalming is associated with Egypt, thanks (mummies apart) to Herodotus’s lurid account (Histories, bk2 chs 85–7), especially the morticians’ proclivity for necrophiliac sex with female cadavers, a detail worthy of Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One.

Thanks to his Egyptian staff, Joseph had father Jacob embalmed, likewise himself and eleven brothers (Genesis 50.2-3, 25-6; Acts 7.16) – Jewdicious biculturalism.

Herodotus (1.196; 3.24) attributes the practice to Babylonians and Ethiopians – esprit de corpse obviously widespread in the ancient East.

Various passages in Homer (e.g. Iliad, bk7 vv84–6; bk16 vv.456–7; bk18 vv350–3; bk19 vv37-9; Odyssey, bk224 vv67-8) may imply embalming, though not always easy to distinguish between this and pre-cremation unguenting; cf. R Garland, “Geras Thanonton: an Investigation into the claims of the Homeric Dead,” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 28 (1981), p73 n35. Such corporeal preparation is widely attested, not least in Gospel accounts of Christ’s obsequies.

Bodies were similarly treated to preserve ther for long journeys to final resting places. Spartan kings Agesilaus and Agesipolis were coated respectively in wax and honey (Nepos, Agesilaus, ch8 para7; Plutarch, Agesilaus, ch40 para3; Xenophon, Hellenika, bk5 ch3 para 19). The various sources for Alexander the Great don’t all mention the honey, but Quintus Curtius’s biography (bk10 ch 10 paras9-13) says he was perfumed in the Egyptian manner”, and sent for burial to Alexandria, where Augustus (Suetonius’s Life, ch18 paral) saw the mummy before it vanished to make the Shakespearean (Hamlet, act5 sc1 vv224-5) reflection “Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander till he find it stopping a bunghole?”

Greek and Roman writers frequently ridicule embalming, Lucretius (On the Nature of Things, bk3 vv888-93) from the philosopher’s view, Varro (Satires, fr81) from the comedian’s. Cicero (Tusculan Disputations, bk1 ch45 para108) calls it “an error of nations”. Dio Cassius (Roman History, bk50 ch 24 para26) has Octavian mock this “Egyptian idiocy” in a pre-Actium speech, ironically balanced by his later account (bk51 ch11 para15) of Cleopatra embalming Antony, the first Roman so prepared for eternity.

Lucian (Funerals, para21) provides the gothic tale (supposedly autoptic) of an Egyptian who placed a mummy at his dinner table, a scene re-created in Peter Fonda’s motorbike picture The Wild Angels.

Pliny expatiates on the preservative power of honey (Natural History, bk22 ch50 para108). The poet Statius (Silvæ, bk5 no1 vv225-31) describes the embalming of his wife Priscilla by Domitian’s courtier Abascantus. Nero typically provides the most spectacular example. Having kicked his pregnant wife Poppæa to death, he atoned by (Tacitus, Annals, bk16 ch6) “having her not cremated Roman-fashion but stuffed with spices and embalmed like a foreign potentate”; cf. Derek Couts, ‘The Nature and Function of Embalming in Rome”, Classical Antiquity 15 (1996), pp189–202.

Not much Byzantine evidence, although Corippus’s poem In Praise of Justin II (bk3 vv20-5) vouchsafes the embalming of Justinian (AD 565), while the famous “sweet odours” emanating from the uncorrupted corpse of Saint Demetrius of Thessalonica hint at chemical preservation.

Archaeological evidence bolsters the literary record. A young woman’s mummified body was discovered (1445) in an Appian Way sarcophagus, R Lanciani (Pagan and Christian Rome, Cambridge, 1892, p296) said it attracted “swarms of bees”. 1964 saw the discovery in (suitably) the so-called “Tomb of Nero’ of a seven-year-old girl datable to C. AD 150, while in 1962 (many electronic sites for these), the mummy of a middle-aged woman was found in a Thessalonican cemetery from c. AD 300. Most recently, again female from Thessalonica, a preserved body dating to c. 1700 BC: C Papageorgopolou & others, ‘Indications of embalming in Roman Greece by physical, chemical and histiological analysis,’Journal of Archaeological Science 36 (2010), pp35-42.

What goes around… The Mycenaean corpse Schliemann romantically thought was Agamemnon was preserved by a local pharmacist drenching it with gum arabic before shipment to Athens (Kathy Gere, Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism, Chicago, 2009, p25). Schliemann’s famous telegram to the King – “I have gazed upon the face of Agamemnon” – was actually a later re-write (David Traill, Schliemann of Troy: Treasure and Deceit, NY, 1995, p163).

Salty cognate Calypso finale provided by this 1953 Oxford theatrical satire:

Oh, you’ve all read in the New Testament How the wife of Lot became a condiment. It was her curiosity started the rot,

She only peeped a little but she had lost her Lot.

Classical Corner 133: Fortean Times 271 (February 2011), p. 19.

Barry Baldwin ~ Puns in Liddell and Scott

[Editor’s note: years ago we regularly featured transcriptions of Barry Baldwin’s Classical Corner items from Fortean Times, and we are happy to announce we will be resuming this (with the author’s permission). Just to get the ball rolling, here’s a recent piece from Barry Baldwin, reprinted with permission of the author himself, who years ago had to deal with yours truly as a student. Errors in transcription accrue to the latter]

WILLIAM Shepard Walsh opined: ‘A joke might appear to be to be the last thing one would seek in a dictionary’1

However, he did excavate one example of humour from an unexpected quarter: The Greek Lexicon of Liddell & Scott.2

In cause is their entry for Sykophantes (our ‘Sycophant’). This term comported various meanings. The last one listed derives it from people who informed against those who exported figs stolen from the sacred trees of Athens. On this, Liddell (father of Lewis Carroll’s Alice) and Scott observed, ‘ But this explanation is probably a mere figment.’
Shepard Walsh thundered: ‘ Even puns’ and very bad puns, have found their way into the most ponderous lexicons. But, to the credit of Liddell and Scott, this ghastly attempt at a joke appeared only in four editions, when, yielding to public opinion, the word “ figment” was changed to “invention.’

In the current 1968 edition, the conclusion was further altered to read ‘ modern explanations are mere guesses.’

One has to wonder how much actual ‘ public opinion’ was heard on the matter? Greek lexica are not usually the subject of mass concern.

This offending paronomasia did not appear in the first edition of 1844. Could it be more than coincidence that the first recorded use of the phrase ‘ figments of the imagination’ appears to be in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre  (1847)? Or, given his relationships between Alice Liddell and her parents, might we see Lewis Carroll, a notorious punster, as a possible inspiration?

As edition succeeded edition, this famous figment excited various individuals to publicize their thoughts on the matter via a flurry of communications in Notes and Queries.3

One contributor, Dr. V. Paten-Payne, dubbed the pun ‘ unintentional’, referring to the fifth edition (1864). Alfred Ainger (a specialist in Latin Verse Composition) noted that ‘ it undoubtedly occurs’ in this same one. Three other correspondents cited its occurrence in editions 4-6. W. G. Boswell-Stone ‘ vaguely recalls’ an obituary of Scott in the Daily News  which remarked that there are two jokes in the Lexicon, not specifying the other, adding that the figment did not occur in the latest edition. This prompted one E. A. R. Ball to ask where the second one was. One response was to cite Dr. Greenhill, Dean of Christ Church, to the effect that he was unaware of any second one.

It was, in fact, very likely to be their definition of Alochos: ‘ Bedmate, the a  being copulative.’

Apropos of Scott, T. Selby Henrey wrote:
‘ Oxford men have been heard to say that, when Liddell and Scott’s Greek Lexicon was first published, it contained not a few touches of hidden humour, which were deleted in later editions – one explanation of this being that Scott smuggled them in and Liddell was too matter-of-fact to detect them.’4

From this, might one surmise that Liddell never read his daughter’s apotheosis, Alice in Wonderland?

Liddell died in 1898, ten years after Scott. This prompted no less than Thomas Hardy to knock off a droll poem, ‘ Liddell and Scott, On the Completion of their Lexicon.’ Nowhere in it does he allude to it as containing any jokes or puns.

Henrey, who cited the figment, adduced other examples of lexical levity. One was from D. B. Munro’s Homeric Grammar, wherein the middle voice of louomai is elucidated thus: ‘ I wash myself. this is comparatively rare.’ Hervey glosses: ‘ It is current in Oxford that an undergrad first detected the humorous side of this sentence.’

Despite the deleters, it is congenial to conclude by observing how the fig-ment has hung on. In Christine Longford’s novel, Making Conversation (1931), a friend of the heroine Martha, reading Classics at Oxford during The Great War, when told about Liddell and Scott’s ‘ only joke’, responds, ‘ What a perfect Oxford joke!’ The next sentence reads: ‘ The serious student looked hurt.’

Other survivals, drawn at random, range from The Ohio Educational Monthly5 to H. R. Hall’s  A Season’s Work at Ur-‘Ubaid, Abu Sharain-Erdu-and Elsewhere.6
So, we may leave Liddell and Scott in full fig.


1 Handy -Book of Literary Curiosities (London, 1892), 236
2 The full story of Liddell, Scott, and their Lexicon is best recounted by Christopher Stray, Classical Dictionaries: Past, Present and Future  (London, 2010), 94-118.
3  7th Series, vii-viii, June-July, 1889.
4. Good Stories from Oxford and Cambridge: The Saving Grace of Humour (London, 1919), 86-7.
5 Vol. 21, 1873, 49.
6 London, 2014, 139, comparing stories about local shadowy bandits to the lexicon’s figments.