Fish play a sizable role in the remains of ancient Greek comedy. Although scholars have proposed various cultural, economic, and generic explanations for comedy’s interest in sea creatures, they have not adequately considered the importance of seafood’s relationship to obscenity and sexuality. Greek comic poets correlate a range of sea creatures with sex and sexuality in imaginative and humorous ways, making obscene jokes about courtesans and aphrodisiacs, as well as creating double entendres for male and female genitalia. This study provides a lexical resource for Greek comedy’s numerous seafood fragments, uncovering many neglected ancient sexual jokes and offering fresh insight on comedy’s interest in sea creatures.
Davidson19973-20; cf. Davidson 1993 53-66. Wilkins (2000b 293-304) also studies fish as a “Luxurious Food in Comedy” though he distinguishes the fish which “attracted the gourmets of ancient Athens and commanded high prices” from the “anchovies sardines and small fish” which everyone could afford (2000b 300). Wilkins’s and Davidson’s works are much more complex and compelling than a brief overview can communicate. Even when their studies do not directly inform my analysis they have been very influential.
Olson & Sens2000245. Also K-A ad loc. note the sensus obscoenus of σπατάγγης in this fragment.
Cf. West1974134. Nickel (2003 290) notes the possible “obszönen Sinn” and Gerber (1973 105-9) explains that the fragment most likely has a sexual meaning to receive many penises “in one’s body”. Da Cunha Correa (2002 87-88) suggests that Archilochus may be using eels in a homoerotic context. Many thanks to Joshua Katz who pointed me to this article with regrets for having missed it in his own piece.
Loraux199125within a larger discussion on Heracles’ contradictions. Cf. Athenaeus (13.556e-f). Another obvious comic possibility for Heracles’ representation at the feast is his association with feasting and gluttony.
Lawrence1991312. There is also a more esoteric connection that could potentially have linked the general term ἰχθῦς with male genitalia. Eisler (1921 261) suggests that Pythagoreans recognized a special connection between the phallus and fish. Using the practice of number symbolism known as isopsephy Pythagoreans added up the numeric value of letters in a given word to learn mathematics as well as to look for relationships between words. One significant relationship they found was between φαλλός (21+1+11+11+15+18=77) and ἰχθῦς (9+22+8+20+18=77) both of which add up to seventy-seven. Although Pythagorean philosophy was popular enough to be satirized frequently in Greek comedy it is difficult to know whether this connection would have been familiar to a broader audience. The fact that the Greeks used their alphabet as their number system though suggests that it is not entirely implausible.
Henderson1991129-130. There is a large body of work on the relationship between the phallus and the pous and polypous. Watkins (1978 231-235) offers a useful discussion on these associations as they relate to Hesiod’s Works and Days 524 suggesting that the ἀνόστεος (‘boneless one’ often interpreted as an octopus) is a kenning for the penis.