Friday, August 20, 2004


Girlie Men

One ancient Greek approximation for the Schwarzeneggerian insult 'girlie man' is 'androgynos,' whence our English adjective 'androgynous.' In Greek it is a compound, formed from 'aner' (genitive 'andros,' meaning 'man') plus 'gyne' (meaning 'woman').

Herodotus (4.67.2) uses the word to describe a class of Scythian soothsayers:
The effeminate (androgynoi) Enarees say that Aphrodite granted prophecy to them.
In the famous speech attributed to Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium we read (189e, tr. Benjamin Jowett):
In the first place, let me treat of the nature of man and what has happened to it; for the original human nature was not like the present, but different. The sexes were not two as they are now, but originally three in number; there was man, woman, and the union of the two, having a name corresponding to this double nature, which had once a real existence, but is now lost, and the word 'Androgynous' is only preserved as a term of reproach.
An alternative title for Eupolis' comedy Astrateutoi (Draft Dodgers) was Androgynoi (Girlie Men). The word is also found in the works of the Greek comic playwright Menander. In his Aspis (The Shield, lines 241-244), two slaves have the following altercation:
What's your nationality?
Nothing good. A girlie man (androgynos). We Thracians alone are real men, a masculine bunch.
Likewise in Menander's Samia (The Woman from Samos, line 66), one slave insults another with the vocative 'androgyne.'

English is richer than Greek in synonyms for 'girlie man' ('nancy boy,' 'pantywaist,' 'wuss,' etc.). But one Greek synonym is 'hermaphroditos' (cf. English 'hermaphrodite') from the mythological son of Hermes and Aphrodite, whose name was Hermaphroditus. In Metamorphoses 4.285-388, Ovid tells how he became half man, half woman when the amorous nymph Salmacis refused to release him from her embrace. The passage is too long to quote in full, but the following excerpt well illustrates Ovid's playful love of paradox (lines 378-379):
They are not two, yet their appearance is twofold, so that neither female nor male could it be called, and they seem neither of the two yet both. (nec duo sunt et forma duplex, nec femina dici / nec puer ut possit, neutrumque et utrumque videntur.)

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