Sunday, March 28, 2021


A Method of Prophecy

Homeric Hymn to Hermes 293-298 (tr. Martin L. West, with his note):
So Phoibos Apollo spoke, and picked the child up to carry him. But just then the powerful Argus-slayer made up his mind and, as he was home aloft in Apollo’s arms, he emitted an omen, a menial servant of the belly, an unruly messenger;29 and after it he promptly sneezed. On hearing that, Apollo dropped glorious Hermes on the ground.

29 A fart.

ὣς ἄρ' ἔφη, καὶ παῖδα λαβὼν φέρε Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων.
σὺν δ' ἄρα φρασσάμενος τότε δὴ κρατὺς Ἀργειφόντης
οἰωνὸν προέηκεν ἀειρόμενος μετὰ χερσίν,
τλήμονα γαστρὸς ἔριθον, ἀτάσθαλον ἀγγελιώτην.
ἐσσυμένως δὲ μετ' αὐτὸν ἐπέπταρε· τοῖο δ' Ἀπόλλων
ἔκλυεν, ἐκ χειρῶν δὲ χαμαὶ βάλε κύδιμον Ἑρμῆν.
Oliver Thomas, ed., The Homeric Hymn to Hermes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), p. 313, n. 370 (with οἰωνιστ κὸν corrected to οἰωνιστικὸν):
For prophetic farts see e.g. Ar. Eq. 639, Daniel (1985: 129–30) on SEG 34.1051 (sixth century CE). They are a comic fantasy; Aristotle says ὁ πταρμὸς … σημεῖον οἰωνιστικὸν καὶ ἱερὸν μόνον τῶν πνευμάτων (HA 1.11 492b7–8).
Aristophanes, Knights 638-639 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
As I was pondering this prayer, some bugger validated it by farting on my lucky side.

                           ταῦτα φροντίζοντί μοι
ἐκ δεξιᾶς ἐπέπαρδε καταπύγων ἀνήρ.
Aristotle, History of Animals 1.11 (492b7–8) refers just to sneezing, not farting (tr. A.L. Peck):
Sneezing too, which is the exit of a collected volume of breath, takes place through the nose. Sneezing is the only sort of breath which has divinatory significance and is supernatural.
See also Joshua T. Katz, "Homeric Hymn to Hermes 296: τλήμονα γαστρὸς ἔριθον," Classical Quarterly 49.1 (1999) 315-319.

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