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Headword: *)emasxali/sqh
Adler number: epsilon,928
Translated headword: was armpitted
Vetting Status: high
The ancients had a practice whereby, when they committed a premeditated murder[1], they expiated the act[2] by cutting off the extremities[3] of the corpse, stringing the parts together, and hanging [the string] round its neck, passing it under the armpits; whence they called them [the severed parts] maskhalismata ["armpittings"]. And Sophokles in Troilos[4] has spoken of the act of armpitting[5] as "full of armpittings". Also in Elektra.[6]
Greek Original:
*)emasxali/sqh: e)/qos h)=n toi=s a)rxai/ois, o(po/te foneu/seian e)c e)piboulh=s tina, to\ e)/rgon a)fosioume/nois a)krwthria/zein to\n nekro\n kai\ tw=n mori/wn o(rmaqo\n poih/santas krhmna/nai kata\ tou= traxh/lou, kata\ tw=n masxalw=n diei/rontas. a)f' ou(= dh\ kai\ masxali/smata pros- hgo/reusan au)ta/. kai\ *sofoklh=s e)n *trwi/lw| plh/rh masxalisma/twn ei)/rhke to\n masxalismo/n. kai\ e)n *)hle/ktra|.
See also mu 274, mu 275.
Several different notes on the practice of masxalismo/s, as referred to by classical and Hellenistic poets, were handed down in the lexicographical tradition; the present note appears first in Pausanias the Atticist (epsilon34 Erbse) and also in Photius (Lexicon epsilon681) and several other lexica. The headword is quoted either from Aeschylus, Choephoroi 439 or from Sophokles, Elektra 445 (both referring to the treatment of Agamemnon's corpse by Klytaimestra); the note itself does not appear in the surviving scholia to either passage, though it could well once have stood in the Choephoroi scholia (which in this part of the play are mostly very terse). Other poetic passages referring to masxalismo/s are Sophokles frr. 528, 623 (of Troilos, by Achilles) and Apollonios Rhodios, Argonautica 4.477 (of Apsyrtos son of Aietes, by Jason). The practice was evidently well enough known to fifth-century Athenians to need no explanation, but whether they knew it in real life or only in myth we cannot tell.
[1] Other sources say "treacherous murder" (Etymologicum Magnum 118.23-25) or "murder of kindred" (e.g. schol. Sophokles, Elektra 445) -- though this last does not work for Troilos or Apsyrtos.
[2] Not a very satisfactory explanation. The scholia on Sophokles, Elektra 445, doubtless by intelligent guesswork, offer something much more plausible: "as if to take away their [the victims'] power, for fear of afterwards suffering something fearful at their hands".
[3] "From every part of the body" (schol. Sophokles, Elektra 445), i.e. nose, ears, genitals, fingers and toes.
[4] Sophokles fr. 623. Harpokration (eta8 Keaney) says the practice was also mentioned in Sophokles' Polyxene (fr. 528); this has been thought (e.g. by W.M. Calder III, GRBS 7 [1966] 50) to be a mere error, but Troilos' sister Polyxene, who in archaic art is normally with Troilos when he is ambushed by Achilles and brings the news to Troy, may very well have mentioned her brother's murder and mutilation in the course of a play at whose end she is herself sacrificed at the demand of Achilles' ghost.
[5] Greek to\n masxalismo/n; but this must surely be corrupt. It has been variously emended, the neatest solution being perhaps to\n memasxalisme/non "the armpitted man" (Welcker); but since the transmitted reading might result from a mere slip of a copyist's eye or mind from the word he was to write next to a word he had just written, the true reading might be something completely dissimilar, e.g. to\n o(rmaqo/n "the 'necklace'".
[6] Sophokles, Elektra 445.
Rohde, E. Psyche (trans. W.B. Hillis). London, 1925. 582-6.
Jebb, R.C. Sophocles ...: The Electra. Cambridge, 1894. 211-212.
Keywords: art history; definition; ethics; medicine; mythology; poetry; religion; tragedy
Translated by: Alan Sommerstein on 28 May 2003@13:38:23.
Vetted by:
David Whitehead (added x-refs and keyword; cosmetics) on 29 May 2003@03:35:23.
Alan Sommerstein on 29 May 2003@03:55:04.
Alan Sommerstein on 29 May 2003@03:58:09.
David Whitehead (restorative cosmetics) on 29 May 2003@04:24:15.
David Whitehead (another keyword; tweaks and cosmetics) on 13 February 2007@06:30:49.
David Whitehead (more keywords; cosmetics) on 15 August 2012@05:47:00.
Catharine Roth (coding) on 10 January 2015@23:08:54.


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