Sunday, July 01, 2007


Scatological Puns Involving Zeus

Aristophanes, Peace 41-42:
οὐκ ἔσθ᾽ ὅπως / τοῦτ᾽ ἔστι τὸ τέρας οὐ Διὸς καταιβάτου.

*καταιβάτου R (σκ- ac?): σκαταιβάτου Meineke
Text and critical apparatus are from S. Douglas Olson, Aristophanes: Peace (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998). In his Loeb edition of Aristophanes, Jeffrey Henderson translates, "I can't but think this prodigy's from Zeus of the Thunder Crap."

According to Liddell & Scott, καταιβάτης (kataibatēs) is "a name of Zeus as descending in thunder and lightning." Besides the passage from Aristophanes, they cite inscriptions with this epithet, which is therefore a genuine cult title.

But Henderson's translation also recalls Meineke's conjecture σκαταιβάτου for καταιβάτου. I don't find σκαταιβάτης (skataibatēs) in Liddell & Scott, at least not in the online editions at Perseus and Archimedes.

J. Van Leeuwen, in his edition of Aristophanes' Peace (Leyden: A.W. Sijthoff, 1906), prints σκαταιβάτου instead of καταιβάτου. In his commentary Van Leeuwen says not to worry too much about the exact meaning of σκαταιβάτης, although he gives qui per stercus vadit ("who walks through dung") as a possibility.

S. Douglas Olson ad loc. (pp. 75-76) writes:
Whether one reads καταιβάτου or σκαταιβάτου (< σκῶρ, σκατός, 'dung') is in one sense irrelevant, since the joke depends on the latter being heard in either case (cf. Threatte i.529 for the gemination of σ before κ). It none the less seems more likely that σ was added to R by the copyist (perhaps from a superlinear note) and then erased than that it fell out everywhere else. For the pun, cf. adesp. com. fr. 83 ὦ Βδεῦ δέσποτα.
The comic fragment cited by Olson appears in context in Richard Janko, Aristotle on Comedy: Towards a Reconstruction of Poetics II (London: G. Duckworth & Co. Ltd., 1984; rpt. with new preface 2002), V, 5 (pp. 32-33):
<πέμπτον κατὰ παρῳδίαν ὡς τὸ> 'ὦ Βδεῦ δέσποτα' ἀντὶ τοῦ 'ὦ Ζεῦ'.

<Fifth, from parody, such as> 'O Clod Almighty' instead of 'O God'.
In his attempt to preserve the homoeoteleuton, Janko's translation obscures the meaning somewhat. Βδεῦ does not mean "clod." Liddell & Scott say:
βδεῦ, (βδέω) comic parody on Ζεῦ, ὦ Βδεῦ δέσποτα Com.Adesp.28.
Βδεῦ (Bdeu, rhyming with Zeu, the vocative of Zeus) is thus derived from the verb βδέω = fart, and "O Lord Fart" would be a more literal translation.

Here are the discussions of this passage in Janko's commentary.

Pp. 180-181:
a's example, Βδεῦ for Ζεῦ, is letter-substitution rather than the insertion of a syllable; cf. the παρὰ γράμμα σκῶμμα at Rhet. III 11.1412a28ff., discussed along with παραπεποιημένα, which may mean paronyms. Plutarch cites a pun from Aristophanes on Λαμίας/Ταμίας as a paronym (Mor. 853b) and a's example may belong here, since the symmetry of changes to the beginnings and ends of words by addition and subtraction, and the middles in exallage, handsome as it is, omits substitutions of this type, and A. does not explicitly exclude them from exallage (cf. Rutherford 444f., Lane Cooper 236f.). But I prefer to retain the symmetry, and hesitantly assign the example to the lost heading 'parody' restored from Tzetzes, since A. and Theophrastus in their examples apply paronymy to changes affecting whole syllables.
P. 183:
ὦ Βδεῦ δέσποτα is paralleled in Aristoph. Lys. 940, where Bentley proposed Βδεῦ from a against Ζεῦ in the codices. This rightly won little favour, and P. Hibeh 6.25 (Com. Adesp. Nov. 258.25 Austin) has ὦ Ζεῦ δέσποτα also; the phrase is clearly a cliché (cf. also Aristoph. Birds 835 ὦ νεοττὲ δέσποτα; Ach. 247; Wasps 389). Thus a has another unknown comic fragment. The joke should derive from Old or Middle Comedy, as it presupposes the pronunciation of ζ as [zd], which tended to be replaced by [z] in Attic from the mid fourth century, cf. Threatte Gramm. Attic Inscr. I 547, Allen Vox Graeca2 54ff. A. was interested in the pronunciation of zeta (Metaph. I 9.993a5). The mild obscenity is not beyond his sense of humour, cf. Rhet. III 3.1406b15.
I am indebted to E.J. Moncada for drawing my attention to the pun in Aristophanes.

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