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Headword: *skuta/lh
Adler number: sigma,718
Translated headword: skytale, scytale
Vetting Status: high
A Laconian letter. The skytale was a long, shaven piece of wood. There were two skytalai among the Lakedaimonians: one the ephors of the Lakedaimonians used to retain, the other they would hand over to the general being sent out by them. And whenever they wished to send him some message, they brought a white thong, wrapped it around the skytale, and wrote on the thong. And unwinding the thong, they handed it to the man who was carrying it away. They did this so that the carriers should not learn what was revealed in it. The general, on receiving the thong, wound it around his own skytale and thus could discover what had been written. So it is used of the letter and of the actual piece of wood from which [it comes to mean] the letter as well. And Dioskorides in his On Customs [says] that those making a loan in Sparta would divide a skytale, two witnesses being present, and write the contract on each portion. They would give one to one of the witnesses and keep the other for themselves. [People] used to use it in a different way, as Aristotle in his Constitution of the Ithacans 42.[1]
Greek Original:
*skuta/lh: e)pistolh\ *lakwnikh/. h)=n de\ h( skuta/lh cu/lon e)cesme/non e)pi/mhkes. du/o de\ para\ *lakedaimoni/ois u(ph=rxon skuta/lai: kai\ th\n me\n mi/an katei=xon oi( e)/foroi tw=n *lakedaimoni/wn, th\n de\ e(te/ran tw=| e)kpempome/nw| par' au)tw=n strathgw=| parei=xon. kai\ o(po/te e)bou/lonto/ ti e)pistei=lai au)tw=|, fe/rontes i(ma/nta leuko\n periei/loun th\n skuta/lhn kai\ e)pi\ tou= i(ma/ntos e)/grafon. kai\ a)neli/ttontes parei=xon to\n i(ma/nta tw=| a)pofe/ronti. tou=to de\ e)poi/oun, i(/na mh\ manqa/nwsin oi( a)pofe/rontes to\ dhlou/menon e)n au)tw=|. o( de\ strathgo\s dexo/menos to\n i(ma/nta th=| e(autou= skuta/lh| perie/litte kai\ e)gi/nwsken ou(/tws ta\ gegramme/na. le/getai ou)=n kai\ h( e)pistolh/, kai\ au)to\ to\ cu/lon, a)f' ou(= kai\ h( e)pistolh/. *dioskori/dhs d' e)n toi=s *peri\ nomi/mwn tou\s danei/zontas e)n *spa/rth| diairei=n skuta/lhn, du/o paro/ntwn martu/rwn, kai\ gra/fein to\ sumbo/laion e)n e(kate/rw| tmh/mati: kai\ to\ me\n e(ni\ tw=n martu/rwn dido/nai, to\ de\ di' e(autou= e)/xein. e)xrw=nto d' au)tw=| kai\ a)lloi/ws, w(s *)aristote/lhs e)n th=| *)iqakhsi/wn politei/a| mb#.
For the headword see already sigma 716 and sigma 717; and cf. sigma 720, sigma 721. A slightly fuller description of the Spartan skytale is at Plutarch, Lysander 19; see also Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 17.9, and the scholia to Thucydides 1.131.1 and Aristophanes, Birds 1283.
[1] Aristotle fr. 509 Rose. (This '42', mb, appears to be a corrupt abbreviation for marturei=, 'testifies', preserved in ms G.) For 'Dioskorides' see FGrH 594 and OCD4 s.v. Dioscurides(1).
S. Hornblower in OCD4 s.v. skytale
Keywords: botany; constitution; daily life; dialects, grammar, and etymology; economics; geography; historiography; history; law; military affairs; trade and manufacture
Translated by: D. Graham J. Shipley on 9 July 2003@07:14:55.
Vetted by:
David Whitehead (augmented notes; added keyword and bibliography; cosmetics) on 9 July 2003@07:36:35.
Catharine Roth (cosmetics) on 9 July 2003@10:48:24.
David Whitehead (cosmetics) on 10 July 2003@08:09:36.
David Whitehead (more x-refs; more keywords; cosmetics) on 2 April 2008@08:18:34.
David Whitehead (tweaking) on 30 December 2013@04:37:08.
David Whitehead (updated a ref) on 9 August 2014@11:35:01.
David Whitehead on 9 August 2014@11:35:32.


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