Friday, June 22, 2007


Holy Ordures

Anent divine flatulence, Professor David Whitehead writes:
Add -- unless you are discounting comedy? -- Dionysos' counterpoint to the frogs' chorus in Frogs 209-67, at 237ff.
This is a reference to Aristophanes' play Frogs, in which the god Dionysus goes to Hades to retrieve his favorite tragic playwright, the recently deceased Euripides. On his way to Hades, Dionysus crosses a lake inhabited by frogs. The frogs and Dionysus engage in a singing contest.

In his commentary on Aristophanes' Frogs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), Kenneth Dover notes (p. 223):
Wills 313-15, in the light of 221-3, suggests that he vanquishes the frogs by farting (special sound-effects offstage) more loudly than they can sing.
Wills is Garry Wills, "Why are the Frogs in the Frogs?" Hermes 97 (1969) 306-317.

The entire chorus is too long to quote, but here is a snippet (236-239, tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
But I've got blisters,
and my arsehole's been seeping,
and pretty soon it'll poke out and say --
Brekekekex koax koax!

ἐγὼ δὲ φλυκταίνας γ' ἔχω,
χὠ πρωκτὸς ἰδίει πάλαι,
κᾆτ' αὐτίκ' ἐκκύψας ἐρεῖ--
βρεκεκεκὲξ κοὰξ κοάξ.
When I read passages like this, I'm reminded of the words of Bruno Snell in his The Discovery of the Mind (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1960), p. 41 (tr. T.G. Rosenmeyer):
We find it difficult to understand how the gods of one's faith could be subjected to Aristophanic jests. But laughter is part of the meaning, the fruitfulness, the positive side of life, and it is therefore, in the eyes of the Greeks, more godlike than the sour solemnity which we associate with piety.
See also Hugh Lloyd-Jones, The Justice of Zeus, 2nd edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), p. 133:
The occasional fun poked at the gods in comedy is no evidence against the religious conservatism of the common man; it is when religion is sure of itself that such amusement is permitted.

From Joshua T. Katz, "Homeric Hymn to Hermes 296: τλήμονα γαστρὸς ἔριθον," Classical Quarterly n.s. 49.1 (1999) 315-319 (at p. 316, n. 3), I glean another possible reference to supernatural flatulence, at Aristophanes, Wasps 1176-1177 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
I've got lots of stories. First of all, how Lamia farted when captured.

πολλοὺς πάνυ. / πρῶτον μὲν ὡς ἡ Λάμι' ἁλοῦσ' ἐπέρδετο.
See William Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, s.v. Lamia:
A female phantom, by which children were frightened. According to tradition, she was originally a Libyan queen, of great beauty, and a daughter of Belus. She was beloved by Zeus, and Hera in her jealousy robbed her of her children. Lamia, from revenge and despair, robbed others of their children, and murdered them; and the savage cruelty in which she now indulged rendered her ugly, and her face became fearfully distorted. Zeus gave her the power of taking her eyes out of her head, and putting them in again. (Diod. xx. 41; Suidas, s.v. ; Plut. de Curios. 2; Schol. ad Aristoph. Pac. 757; Strab. i. p. 19.) Some ancients called her the mother of Scylla. (Eustath. ad Hom. p. 1714; Arist. de Mor. vii. 5.) In later times Lamiae were conceived as handsome ghostly women, who by voluptuous artifices attracted young men, in order to enjoy their fresh, youthful, and pure flesh and blood. They were thus in ancient times what the vampires are in modern legends. (Philostr. Vit. Apollon. iv. 25; Horat. de Art. Poet. 340; Isidor. Orig. viii. 11; Apulei. Met. i. p. 57; comp. Spanheim, ad Callim. Hymn. in Dian. 67; Empusa and Mormolyce.)

I borrowed the punning title of this blog post from chapter 19 (Myths, Legends, and Holy Ordures) of Ralph A. Lewin, Merde: Excursions in Scientific, Cultural, and Sociohistorical Coprology (New York: Random House, 1999).

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