‘Genitalia of the Sea’: Seafood and Sexuality in Greek Comedy

in Mnemosyne
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.

Help

 

Have Institutional Access?

Login with your institution. Any other coaching guidance?

Connect

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.

Sections
References
  • AdamsJ.N. The Latin Sexual Vocabulary 1982 Baltimore

  • AndrewsA.C. Greek and Latin Mouse-Fishes and Pig-Fishes TAPhA 1948 79 232 253

  • ArnottW.G. Alexis: The Fragments 1996 Cambridge

  • BraundD.C.WilkinsJ. Athenaeus and His World Reading Greek Culture in the Roman Empire 2000 Exeter

  • da Cunha CorrêaP. Muddy Eels’ (Archilochus 189W) Synthesis 2002 9 81 90

  • DalbyA. MarsMars Food and Sexuality in Classical Greece 1993 165 190

  • DalbyA. Siren Feasts 1996 London

  • DalbyA. Food in the Ancient World from A to Z 2003 London

  • DavidsonJ. Fish, Sex and Revolution in Athens CQ 1993 43 53 66

  • DavidsonJ. WilkinsHarveyWilkinsDobson Opsophagia: Revolutionary Eating at Athens 1995 204 213

  • DavidsonJ. Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens 1997 London

  • DeganiE. WilkinsHarveyWilkinsDobson Problems in Greek Gastronomic Poetry: On Matro’s Attikon deipnon 1995 413 428

  • DeganiE. Filosseno di Leucade e Platone Comico ( fr. 189 K.-A) Eikasmos 1998 9 81 99

  • DeningerH.S. A History of Substances Known as Aphrodisiacs Annals of Medical History 1930 2 383 393

  • DobrovG. The City as Comedy: Society and Representation in Athenian Drama 1998 Chapel Hill

  • van der EijkP. Diocles of Carystus: A Collection of the Fragments with Translation and Commentary 2001 Leiden

  • EislerR. Der Fisch als Sexualsymbol Imago 1914 3 165 195

  • EislerR. Orpheus the Fisher 1921 London

  • FauthW. Kulinarisches und Utopisches in der griechischen Komödie WS 1973 7 39 62

  • FisherN. HarveyD.WilkinsJ. Symposiasts, Fish-Eaters and Flatterers: Social Mobility and Moral Concerns The Rivals of Aristophanes 2000 London 355 396

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • GallantT. A Fisherman’s Tale 1985 Ghent

  • GarnseyP. Food and Society in Classical Antiquity 1999 Cambridge

  • GerberD.E. Eels in Archilochus QUCC 1973 16 105 109

  • GerberD.E. Greek Iambic Poetry 1999 Cambridge, MA

  • GilulaD. WilkinsHarveyWilkinsDobson Comic Food and Food for Comedy 1995 386 399

  • GulickC.B. Athenaeus: The Deipnosophists 1927-1941 Cambridge, MA 7 vols

  • HenryM.M. RichlinA. The Edible Woman: Athenaeus’s Concept of the Pornographic Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome 1992 Oxford 250 268

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • HendersonJ. The Maculate Muse 1991 Oxford

  • HordernJ.H. Sophron’s Mimes. Text Translation and Commentary 2004 Oxford

  • KatzJ.T. Jones-BleyK. To Turn a Blind Eel, 2005 Proceedings of the Sixteenth Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference November 5-6 2004 Los Angeles Washington, D.C. 259 296

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • LawrenceR.J. The Fish: A Lost Symbol of Sexual Liberation? Journal of Religion and Health 1991 30 311 319

  • MarsG.MarsV. Food Culture and History 1993 London

  • McClureL. Courtesans at Table: Gender and Greek Literary Culture in Athenaeus 2003 London

  • MurphyC.T. Review of The Fragments of Attic Comedy, after Meineke, Bergk, and Kock, by John Maxwell Edmonds TAPhA 1959 80 95 98

  • NesselrathH.-G. Dobrov The Polis of Athens in Middle Comedy 1998 271 288

  • OlsonS.D. Broken Laughter: Select Fragments of Greek Comedy 2007 Oxford

  • OlsonS.D. Athenaeus: The Learned Banqueters 2006-2011 Cambridge, MA 7 vols

  • OlsonS.D.SensA. Matro of Pitane and the Tradition of Epic Parody in the Fourth Century BCE 1999 Oxford

  • OlsonS.D.SensA. Archestratos of Gela 2000 Oxford

  • PellegrinoM. Utopie e Immagini Gastronomiche nei Frammenti dell’Archaia 2000 Bologna

  • PirrottaS. Plato Comicus: Die fragmentarischen Komödien. Ein Kommentar 2009 Berlin

  • PurcellN. WilkinsHarveyWilkinsDobson Eating Fish: the Paradoxes of Seafood 1995 132 149

  • Rodríguez-Noriega GuillénL. Epicarmo de Siracusa. Testimonios y Fragmentos. Edición Crítica Bilingüe 1996 Oviedo

  • RosenR.M. DobrovG. Plato Comicus and the Evolution of Greek Comedy Beyond Aristophanes 1995 Atlanta 119 137

  • RothwellK.S. Nature Culture and the Origins of Greek Comedy: a Study of Animal Choruses 2007 Cambridge

  • RustenJ. The Birth of Comedy: Texts Documents and Art from Athenian Comic Competitions 560-280 B.C.E. 2011 Baltimore

  • SeafordR. Silenus erectus: Euripides LCM 1987 12 142 143 Cyclops 227

  • SchneidewinF.G. Delectus Poesis Graecorum Elegiacae Iambicae Melicae 1838 Göttingen

  • ShawC.A. ΣΚΟΡΠΙΟΣ OR ΣΚΩΡ ΠΕΟΣ? A sexual joke in Archestratus’ Hedypatheia CQ 2009 59 634 639

  • SparkesB. WilkinsHarveyWilkinsDobson A Pretty Kettle of Fish 1995 150 161

  • TaillardatJ. Les images d’Aristophane: études de langue et de style 1965 Paris

  • ThompsonD.W. A Glossary of Greek Fishes 1947 Oxford

  • WatkinsC. ἀνόστεος ὃν πόδα τένδει Étrennes de septantaine. Travaux de linguistique et de grammaire comparée offerts à Michel Lejeune 1978 Paris 231 235

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • WestM.L. Studies in Greek Elegy and Iambus 1974 Berlin

  • Wilamowitz-MoellendorffU. von Lesefrüchte Hermes 1924 59 249 273

  • WilkinsJ.M. MarsMars Social Status and Fish in Greece and Rome 1993a 191 203

  • WilkinsJ.M. The Significance of Food Eating in Greek Comedy LCM 1993b 18 66 74

  • WilkinsJ.M. WilkinsJ.M. Eating in Athenian Comedy Food in European Literature 1996 Exeter 46 56

  • WilkinsJ.M. Dobrov Comic Cuisine: Food and Eating in the Comic Polis 1997 250 268

  • WilkinsJ.M. BraundWilkins Athenaeus and the Fishes of Archippus 2000a 523 535

  • WilkinsJ.M. The Boastful Chef 2000b Oxford

  • WilkinsJ.M. HarveyD.WilkinsJ.M. Edible Choruses The Rivals of Aristophanes: Studies in Athenian Old Comedy 2000c London 341 354

  • WilkinsJ.M. KeayS.MoserS. Eating Fish in Greek Culture Greek Art in View: Essays in Honour of Brian Sparkes 2004 Oxford 148 158

  • WilkinsJ.M.HarveyD.DobsonM. Food in Antiquity 1995 Exeter

  • YoungerJ.G. Sex in the Ancient World from A to Z 2005 London/New York

  • 2

    Murphy 195997.

  • 4

    Davidson 19973-20; 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.

  • 5

    Cf. Chrysippus fr. 667svf 3.167.

  • 7

    Henderson 1991xv.

  • 9

    Henderson 1991xiv.

  • 12

    Henderson 1991142.

  • 13

    Olson & Sens 2000245. Also K-A ad loc. note the sensus obscoenus of σπατάγγης in this fragment.

  • 16

    Cf. West 1974134. 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.

  • 18

    Loraux 199125within 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.

  • 21

    Henderson 1991119.

  • 24

    Hordern 2004159.

  • 25

    Cf. Wilkins 1993b68.

  • 27

    Dalby 200314. Cf. Heraclides of Tarentum (fr. 65 Guardasole ap. Athen. 2.64a).

  • 29

    Lawrence 1991312. 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.

  • 30

    Henderson 1991129-130. 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.

  • 32

    Cf. Rosen 1995135n. 20.

  • 34

    Henderson 1991178.

  • 37

    Henderson 199171n. 9.

  • 45

    Davidson 199720.

  • 49

    Henderson 1991132.

  • 50

    Cf. Henderson 1991134-135.

Index Card
Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 128 127 4
Full Text Views 244 244 2
PDF Downloads 14 14 4
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0