Sunday, June 29, 2008



Jim K. sent me the following excerpt from Nick Tosches' biography of Arnold Rothstein titled King of the Jews: The Greatest Mob Story Never Told (HarperCollins, 2005), p. 49:
Theology redacts, revises, implants conditional clauses and circumstantial exegesis. Where once was the Word, there are now words. Where once was the Law, there are now legal definitions, interpretations, and amendments. Where once was the Book, there are now treatises.

The Greek word "pneuma", the divine spirit, the breath of life, also meant flatulence. Thus theology.
It is true that pneuma can mean flatulence, at least in the plural pneumata. See Liddell-Scott-Jones (LSJ), s.v. πνεῦμα, II.3:
flatulence, in pl., Eub.107.9, Arist.Pr. 948b25, Dsc.2.112, D.L.6.94.
Purely as a scholarly exercise, not to provoke vulgar laughter, here are the passages cited by LSJ for this meaning.

Eubulus, fragment 107.1-9 (a riddle, tr. Charles Burton Gulick):
[A.] It has no tongue, yet it talks, its name is the same for male and female, steward of its own winds, hairy, or sometimes hairless; saying things unintelligible to them that understand, drawing out one melody after another; one thing it is, yet many, and if one wound it, it is unwounded. Tell me, what is it? Why are you puzzled? [B.] It's Callistratus! [A.] No, it's the rump. [B.] You keep talking drivel. [A.] No, really; this it is, one and the same, that tongueless speaks; it has one name though, belonging to many; wounded it is unwounded; it is hairy and hairless. What would you? Guardian of many gales....

[A.] Ἔστι λαλῶν ἄγλωσσος, ὁμώνυμος ἄρρενι θῆλυς,
οἰκείων ἀνέμων ταμίας, δασύς, ἄλλοτε λεῖος,
ἀξύνετα ξυνετοῖσι λέγων, νόμον ἐκ νόμου ἕλκων·
ἓν δ' ἐστὶν καὶ πολλὰ καὶ ἂν τρώσῃ τις ἄτρωτος.
τί ἐστι τοῦτο; τί ἀπορεῖς; [Β.] Καλλίστρατος.
[Α.] πρωκτὸς μὲν οὖν οὗτος. [Β.] σὺ δὲ ληρεῖς ἔχων.
[Α.] οὗτος γὰρ αὑτός ἐστιν ἄγλωττος λάλος,
ἓν ὄνομα πολλοῖς, τρωτὸς ἄτρωτος, δασὺς
λεῖος· τί βούλει; πνευμάτων πολλῶν φύλαξ.
What Gulick translates as "guardian of many gales" could, in light of the LSJ definition, be translated "guardian of many farts."

[Aristotle], Problems 27.9.948 a 20-26 (tr. W.S. Hett):
Why is it, seeing that fear is a form of pain and grief, that those in pain cry out, but the frightened are silent? Is it because those in pain hold the breath (so when it escapes in a mass it escapes with a cry), but in the case of the frightened the body is chilled and the heat travels downwards, and creates breath? It creates most wind in the region to which it is carried. So the frightened break wind.

Διὰ τί τοῦ φόβου λύπης τινὸς ὄντος καὶ τῆς ἀλγηδόνος, οἱ μὲν ἀλγοῦντες ἀναβοῶσιν οἱ δὲ φοβούμενοι σιωπῶσιν; ἢ οἱ μὲν ἀλγοῦντες κατέχουσι τὸ πνεῦμα (διὸ ἀθρόον ἐξιὸν μετὰ βοῆς ἐξέρχεται), τῶν δὲ φοβουμένων κατέψυκται τὸ σῶμα καὶ τὸ θερμὸν κάτω ἐνήνεκται, ὃ ποιεῖ πνεύματα; ᾗ οὖν ἐνήνεκται μάλιστα, ἐνταῦθα καὶ ποιεῖ αὐτά. διὸ καὶ ἀποψοφοῦσιν οἱ φοβούμενοι.
Hett translates ποιεῖ πνεύματα as "creates breath," but John Scarborough, Medical and Biological Terminologies: Classical Origins (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992), p. 174, thinks that πνεύματα here means "farts," which is more in line with the LSJ definition. So the second sentence should probably be translated
Is it because those in pain hold the breath (so when it escapes in a mass it escapes with a cry), but in the case of the frightened the body is chilled and the heat travels downwards, and creates farts?
Dioscorides 2.112 (tr. Lily Y. Beck):
The radish, too, causes flatulence, it is tasty, it is not good for the stomach, and it causes belching.

ῥαφανὶς καὶ αὐτὴ πνευμάτων γεννητική, εὔστομος, οὐκ εὐστόμαχος, ἐρευτική.
"Causes flatulence" could also be translated a bit more literally as "is productive of farts."

Diogenes Laertius 6.94 (tr. R.D. Hicks):
Metrocles of Maroneia was the brother of Hipparchia. He had been formerly a pupil of Theophrastus the Peripatetic, and had been so far corrupted by weakness that, when he made a breach of good manners in the course of rehearsing a speech, it drove him to despair, and he shut himself up at home, intending to starve himself to death. On learning this Crates came to visit him as he had been asked to do, and after advisedly making a meal of lupins, he tried to persuade him by argument as well that he had committed no crime, for a prodigy would have happened if he had not taken the natural means of relieving himself. At last by reproducing the action he succeeded in lifting him from his dejection, using for his consolation the likeness of the occurrences. From that time forward Metrocles was his pupil, and became proficient in philosophy.

Μητροκλῆς, ἀδελφὸς Ἱππαρχίας, ὃς πρότερον ἀκούων Θεοφράστου τοῦ περιπατητικοῦ τοσοῦτον διέφθαρτο ὥστε ποτὲ μελετῶν καὶ μεταξύ πως ἀποπαρδὼν ὑπ' ἀθυμίας οἴκοι κατάκλειστος ἦν, ἀποκαρτερεῖν βουλόμενος. μαθὼν δὴ ὁ Κράτης εἰσῆλθε πρὸς αὐτὸν παρακληθεὶς καὶ θέρμους ἐπίτηδες βεβρωκὼς ἔπειθε μὲν αὐτὸν καὶ διὰ τῶν λόγων μηδὲν φαῦλον πεποιηκέναι· τέρας γὰρ ἂν γεγονέναι εἰ μὴ καὶ τὰ πνεύματα κατὰ φύσιν ἀπεκρίνετο· τέλος δὲ καὶ ἀποπαρδὼν ἀνέρρωσεν αὐτόν, ἀφ' ὁμοιότητος τῶν ἔργων παραμυθησάμενος. τοὐντεῦθεν ἤκουεν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐγένετο ἀνὴρ ἱκανὸς ἐν φιλοσοφίᾳ.
Euphemisms in Hicks' translation obscure the point of this story. "When he made a breach of good manners" and "by reproducing the action" are both the same word in the original Greek, ἀποπαρδών, aorist participle of ἀποπέρδομαι, "fart." Similarly "if he had not taken the natural means of relieving himself" is actually εἰ μὴ καὶ τὰ πνεύματα κατὰ φύσιν ἀπεκρίνετο, "if he had not released the farts naturally."

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