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Headword: Astragalos
Adler number: alpha,4250
Translated headword: knucklebone, astragal
Vetting Status: high
Properly, the customary meaning;[1] also the vertebra of the neck,[2] and (the piece?) for playing the board-game pessoi;[3] and a plant is so called.[4]
Finger-joint (wrist?):[5] that which Belshazzar, the son of Nebuchadnezzar, sitting at dinner, saw over against the wall, as the finger-joint of a man's hand, writing in the Hebrew tongue things that no one could recognize. Sending for Daniel he called on him to interpret to him these things. Daniel said to him, "The finger-joint that you saw is the hand of the living God; and He wrote that he has measured and filled the measure of your rule." Belshazzar, hearing this, was devastated, and, after a short while, he was killed by Darius the Mede.
Also [sc. attested is the associated verb] a)stragali/zw ["I play knucklebones"].
Greek Original:
Astragalos: kuriôs to sunêthes legomenon: kai ho spondulos tou trachêlou, kai ho pettikos: kai botanê de houtôs kaleitai. Astragalos: kai hon etheasato Baltasar ho huios Nabouchodonosor en tôi deipnôi anakeimenos katenanti tou toichou, hôs astragalon cheiros anthrôpou, graphonta têi Hebraïdi glôttêi, ha mêdeis êdunato gnônai. metasteilamenos de ton Daniêl parekalei hermêneusai autôi tauta. ho de eipen autôi: ton astragalon, hon eides, cheir esti theou zôntos: kai egrapsen, hoti emetrêse kai eplêrôse tên basileian sou. akousas oun ho Baltasar ethlibê, kai met' oligon hupo Dareiou tou Mêdou anêirethê. kai Astragalizô.
[1] The normal usage is for the four-sided knucklebone (Latin: talus) used in children's games and in dicing (OCD(4) 447-8). It was originally the ball of the ankle joint from the foot of a deer, sheep, horse, or similar animal, but was later manufactured of ivory or metal (Latin: alea). The four "faces" had values of 6 (the hollow, sinuous side called *kw|=os; Latin: tortuosum), 4 (the concave large side; Latin: planum)), 3 (the convex large side; Latin: pronum) and 1 (the ear-shaped, flat side, called *xi=os; Latin: supinum, or, as a throw, canis). Unlike the 6-sided die (see kappa 2602), it does not have a 2 or a 5, for it cannot land on its ends unless in a sandy substance. Knucklebones were known to Homer (Odyssey 23.88) and earlier civilizations; they were also known as a)/stria (alpha 4255), and might be split in two (lambda 603, lambda 604), for unknown reasons.
Gamblers threw four astragaloi at once, shaken from a fluted "tower" (delta 748) open at both ends, to prevent cheating, onto a table or into a receptacle. There are thus 35 possible throws, some with colourful names, Stesichorus (4, 4, 1, 1), Euripides (6 x 4 + 4 x 4), basilicus (Suetonius, *Peri\ Paidi/wn 1.18-27, with Taillardat's notes, pp.155-60; Lamer 1946-60). The best known, Venus for four different values (6, 4, 3, 1), may be Roman, later adopted by the Greeks. Implicit in the 'Euripides' throw is that the gambler throwing four 6s followed with a second throw. There is much dispute whether Koos and Chios were the names of single throws of 6 and 1 respectively, or represented throws of four identical dice (see kappa 2290). Suetonius (Augustus 71) reports a letter of Augustus to Tiberius in which he describes a game where the players ante-ed for each die thrown of 1 or 6 and the pot was won by the first player to throw Venus.
[2] This is the usual meaning in Homer (LSJ s.v. I; web address 1; cf. LfgrE fasc. 8.1449-50).
[3] cf. LSJ (web address 1). Whether astragaloi were ever used, as 6-sided dice were, for playing any of the board-games known as pessoi (pi 1384) is unclear. It is more likely that all games with dice were eventually confused by non-gamblers.
[4] Milk vetch (LSJ s.v. VII; web address 2).
[5] This analysis of the Book of Daniel, chapter 5, in the Bible depends on the Septuagint. version of Theodotion, who uses a)stra/galos as a "joint of a finger" (not "wrist" as LSJ s.v. III has it) rather than da/ktulos to represent the Hebrew concept of the finger or hand of God (cf. Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 2.20-21). Theodoret and John Chrysostom use the same word. No other ancient commentary is explicit that Daniel's ability to read the words came from the fact that they were in Hebrew/Aramaic. For example, תקל teqel is the Aramaic equivalent of the measure given in Hebrew as שקל šeqel, and Daniel interprets its appearance on the wall (Daniel 5:24, an Aramaic passage) as meaning that God has put a measure, i.e. end, to the rule of Belshazzar.
Suetonius, *peri\ blasfhmi/wn, *peri\ paidi/wn, ed. J. Taillardat (1967) 27-44, 64-73 (text reconstructed from Eustathius, Etymologicum Magnum, etc.), 80, 88-90, 104-13, 149-61 (notes)
Calcagnini, Celio, "De Talorum ac Tesserarum et Calculorum Ludis ex more veterum" in Opera aliquot (Basel 1544) 286-90 (in Latin)
Lamer, H. "Lusoria tabula" in Pauly-Wissowa, R-E 13 (1938) 1934-2029 (in German)
LfgrE = Lexikon des frühgriechischen Epos.
Rohlfs, G. Antikes Knoechelspiel im einstigen Grossgriechenland (1963)
Toner, J.P., Leisure and Ancient Rome (Cambridge 1995) 89ff.
Associated internet addresses:
Web address 1,
Web address 2
Keywords: biography; botany; daily life; definition; medicine; religion; zoology
Translated by: Robert Dyer on 12 January 2002@18:23:31.
Vetted by:
David Whitehead (cosmetics) on 26 August 2002@07:45:27.
Raphael Finkel (Added Hebrew/Aramaic and clarified note 5.) on 31 October 2002@11:11:52.
Catharine Roth (deleted link, other cosmetics) on 10 January 2012@01:24:24.
David Whitehead (cosmetics) on 26 April 2012@03:46:25.
Catharine Roth (cosmetics) on 7 March 2013@01:14:27.
David Whitehead (updated a ref) on 31 July 2014@04:23:22.
Raphael Finkel (Converted Romanization of Hebrew to ISO 259.) on 7 August 2014@14:54:05.
Catharine Roth (cosmetics) on 15 December 2014@16:16:43.
Catharine Roth (tweaked links) on 15 December 2014@17:02:50.
Catharine Roth (coding) on 30 January 2015@00:11:04.
Catharine Roth (coding) on 20 March 2015@23:38:36.
David Whitehead (coding) on 2 September 2015@03:52:38.


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