Saturday, April 22, 2006



Three unfortunate ancient gentlemen (Theodorus, Diodorus, and Mentorides) owe their fifteen minutes of fame to their bad breath. The following epigrams come from the Greek Anthology (tr. W.R. Paton).

11.241 (Nicarchus):
Your mouth and your breech, Theodorus, smell the same, so that it would be a famous task for men of science to distinguish them. You ought really to write on a label which is your mouth and which your breech, but now when you speak I think you break wind.

Τὸ στόμα χὠ πρωκτὸς, Θεόδωρε, σοῦ ὄζει,
  ὥστε διαγνῶναι τοῖς φυσικοῖς καλὸν ἦν.
ἦ γράψαι σε ἔδει ποῖον στόμα, ποῖον ὁ πρωκτός,
  νῦν δὲ λαλοῦντος σου βδεῖν σ᾽ ἐνόμιζον ἐγώ.
11.242 (Nicarchus):
I can't tell whether Diodorus is yawning or has broken wind, for he has one breath above and below.

Οὐ δύναμαι γνῶναι, πότερον χαίνει Διόδωρος,
  ἢ βδῆσ᾽· ἓν γὰρ ἔχει πνεῦμα κάτω καὶ ἄνω.
11.415 (Antipater or Nicarchus):
Who, Mentorides, so obviously transferred your breech to the place where your mouth formerly was? For you break wind and do not breathe, and you speak from the lower storey. I wonder how your lower parts became your upper!

Τίς σοῦ, Μεντορίδη, προφανῶς οὕτως μετέθηκεν
  τὴν πυγήν, οὗπερ τὸ στόμ᾽ ἔκειτο πρὸ τοῦ;
βδεῖς γάρ, κούκ ἀναπνεῖς, φθέγγῃ δ᾽ ἐκ τῶν καταγείων.
  θαῦμά μ᾽ ἔχει τὰ κάτω πῶς σου ἄνω γέγονεν.

Mark Ynys-Mon offers a new version of 11.241:
Matthew's mouth smells like an arse,
To scientist's great confusion.
Without a label none can parse
The source of his effusions.
When he speaks of love, or art -
All his listeners think he farts.

Max Nelson adds:
Just another anecdote about halitosis in antiquity: Decamnichus claimed that Euripides had bad breath (Ar., Pol. 1311b33-34). For more Greek references to bad breath see Barry Baldwin, The Philogelos or Laughter-Lover (Amsterdam: 1983), p. 106.
Here is the Aristotle passage (tr. William Ellis):
Decamnichus also was the chief cause of the conspiracy against Archelaus, for he urged others on: the occasion of his resentment was his having delivered him to Euripides the poet to be scourged; for Euripides was greatly offended with him for having said something of the foulness of his breath.

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