Some time ago I wondered, what Aristotle might have meant by claiming in the Rhetoric 2.24, at 1401a22, that to be without a dog is most dishonorable. My solution arrived in a passage from Richard W. Hooper’s inspired discussion of Catullus’ beloved passer, reproduced below with a photograph of the referenced tintinnabulum and bibliographic references incorporated into the text and the footnotes:
In Greek κύων could of course take on the extended meaning ‘phallus’, just as κύνα ἀνασπᾶν meant ‘to have an erection’. Theodor Hopfner links the obscene meaning of both sparrow and dog, saying that they arise ‘wegen der bekannten Geilheit dieser Tiere’ (‘because of the well known wantonness of these animals’).41 Besides the entry in Hesychius, the clearest evidence of dog’s secondary meaning is Marcus Argentarius’ unflattering portrait of the whore Menophile, AP 5.105, where the last line makes an obvious reference to fellatio:
Menophile’s cosmetics are different, according to her fellow wantons,
different, since she tastes of every incontinence.
But approach her, Chaldaeans. For her ‘cosmos’
keeps hidden both the ‘dog’ and the ‘twins’.
Vincens Buchheit has furthermore seized upon this double meaning of κύων as an explanation for the inclusion of the otherwise uncharacteristically bucolic poem 62 among the Priapea:
Securi dormite, canes: custodiet hortum
cum sibi dilecta Sirius Erigone.42
Sleep soundly dogs: the Dog Star and the Maid,
his well belov’d, keep watch here unafraid.
[Richard W. Hooper, translator, The Priapus Poems, Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 1999, p. 86]
As a further instance of dog symbolizing phallus we have an amazing tintinnabulum found in Pompeii. It depicts a gladiator hacking away at his own huge phallus, the head of which snarls back at him in the shape of a dog.43
41. Hopfner, Das Sexualleben der Griechen und Römer (Prague, 1938), vol. 1. p. 104. See also pp. 21 and 162.
42. Buchheit, Studien zum Corpus Priapeorum (München, 1962), pp. 124-7. Buchheit also cites A.P. 12.225 and the riddle poem 14.43. Bernhard Kytzler, Carmina Priapea: Gedichte an dem Gartengott (Zürich, 1978), p. 219 concurs with Buchheit’s interpretation.
43. RP, Inv. no. 27853. For an illustration, see Michael Grant, Eros in Pompeii (New York, 1975), p. 143.
—Richard W. Hooper, “In Defence of Catullus’ Dirty Sparrow”, Greece & Rome, Second Series, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Oct., 1985), pp. 162-178; reprinted in Catullus, edited by Julia Haig Gaisser, Oxford University Press, pp. 318-340, at pp. 339-340
Having little Latin and less Greek, I turned at this point towards latinized renderings of this epigram:
Alius Menophilæ hic apud scorta dicitur mundus,
alius, quippe illa omnem degustat impudisitiam.
At vos, Chaldæi, ad hancce accedite: sane enim hujus
cœlum intus habet et canem et geminos.
—Frederick Dübner, editor, Epigrammatum Anthologia Palatina, Vol. I, Paris, Firmin-Didot, 1871, p. 77
Alter Menophiles est mundus, cum subat: alter
Cum fruitur plenis pasta libidinibus.
Chaldæei prope tunc accedite: quippe supernis
Parlibus illa canem tunc habet et geminos.
Alius Menophilae qui dicitur inter reliqua scorta mundus (vel decentia), alius ubi omnem adhibet impudicitiam. At vos Chaldaei accedite ad hanc; caelum (vel palatum) enim eius et Canem et Geminos intus habet.
—William Roger Paton, The Greek Anthology, London, William Heinemann, 1916, Vol. I, p. 177
|Une bouche céleste
La bouche de Ménophile est un ciel second :
Elle goûte en effet à toutes les orgies.
Venez donc Chaldéens, son ciel est le logis
Du chien et des gémeaux, ces constellations…
—traduction Philippe Renault
palate [L. palatum] Palatum, uraniscus, the roof of the mouth, the bony and muscular partition between the oral and the nasal cavities; popularly the uvula.
—Thomas Lathrop Stedman, A Practical Medical Dictionary, Seventh edition, New York, William Wood & Co., 1922, p. 724
The English currency of uraniscus is so slight as not to be attested by the OED. By contrast, Russian equivalents for sky and palate are nearly homophonic cognates небо and нёбо, whence the gag suggesting the difference between Tibet and fellatio, the latter act designated in Russian by a French loan-word минет (q.v. the gender-reversed activity of faire minette):
«Тибет упирается в небо, а минет—в нёбо.»
Which is to say that Tibet tickles the roof of the world, whereas fellatio tickles the roof of the mouth. Regrettably, modern Russian pronunciation differs between these nouns to the point of ruling out the possibility of wordplay.
Further, the wordplay of κόσμος, rendered in Paton’s Latin translation as mundus (vel decentia), persists in English only in the rudimentary opposition of cosmos to chaos and etymological derivation of cosmetic from κοσμητικός.
These circumstances suggest that the best we can do in approximating Argentaruis’ jest in a modern vernacular is an apposition commemorating the firmament of heavens in Menophile’s head:
Menophile bids welcome, firm, palatial,
Seducing astro-lodgers from afar,
Purveying cosmic comforts, inner-spatial,
To errant gemini and bold dog-star.