Thursday, January 31, 2019
The Buttock of Zeus
His pupil Mary Warnock remembered that "Fraenkel's English was good but not impeccable. There is a Homeric phrase usually (and quaintly) translated 'the mattock of Zeus.' Fraenkel for some weeks translated this 'the buttock of Zeus' (whom he pronounced Zois, in German style). Of course I said nothing to disabuse him. Then one day he stopped in mid-sentence and asked 'Is "buttock" right?' And I, agonised with embarrassment, had to say 'Well, no'" (Warnock 1991).The reference is to Mary Warnock, "My Old Teacher," The Independent (June 2, 1991) 53 (non vidi).
The word is Homeric, but not the phrase. See Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v. μάκελλα [μᾰ], ης, ἡ:
mattock, pick, used for digging and breaking up, Il.21.259, Luc.Hes.7: metaph., "Τροίαν κατασκάψαντα Διὸς μακέλλῃ" A.Ag.526; "μ. Ζηνὸς ἐξαναστραφῇ" S.Fr.727, cf. Ar.Av.1240.Fraenkel in his edition of Aeschylus' Agamemnon (vol. I, p. 123) translated the phrase as "the mattock of Zeus."