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Headword: *li/spoi
Adler number: lambda,604
Translated headword: smooths; half-dice
Vetting Status: high
[Meaning] knucklebones[1] sawed through in the middle and bored out.[2] Also [sc. attested is the phrase] 'smooth tongue',[3] as one that has been rubbed. The Athenians, too, are called as an epithet smooths,[4] because they are, being boatmen and sitting constantly at rowing, small-buttocked.[5] Because[6], when Theseus went down to the House of Hades to look for Peirithous and was placed by Persephone to sit on a rock with Peirithous, the part of his buttocks attached to it[7] was left on it when Heracles came down for Cerberus and, after asking the goddess for him, snatched him off the rock.[8] Therefore in his honor the rest of the Athenians are also so called.[9]
Greek Original:
*li/spoi: oi( me/soi diapeprisme/noi a)stra/galoi kai\ e)ktetrhme/noi. kai\ li/sph glw=ssa, w(s e)pitetrimme/nh. le/gontai de\ kai\ oi( *)aqhnai=oi e)piqetikw=s li/spai, dia\ to\ nautikou\s o)/ntas, e(/neka th=s e)pi\ tw=| kwphlatei=n sunexou=s e)fe/dras a)poglou/tous ei)=nai. e)n w(=| dia\ to\ *qhse/a meta\ *peiri/qou kataba/nta ei)s a(/|dou kai\ pro/s tina pe/tran u(po\ *persefo/nhs e)pikaqisqe/nta su\n tw=| *peiri/qw|, *(hrakle/ous e)pi\ to\n *ke/rberon katelqo/ntos, para\ th=s qeou= te au)to\n e)caithsame/nou kai\ th=s pe/tras a)pospw=ntos, e)gkataleifqh=nai to\ proshnwme/non au)th=| tw=n gloutw=n me/ros. dio/per ei)s timh\n e)kei/nou kai\ tou\s loipou\s *)aqhnai/ous ou(/tws e)ponoma/zesqai.
Same entry (from Pausanias the Atticist, *)attikw=n o)noma/twn sunagwgh/ lambda20, adding the words tau/th| prosfuh=nai ('to grow on it') after the second mention of Pirithous) in Photius lambda348 Theodoridis, where however the editor prints the headword as li/spai; cf. LSJ s.v. See also the scholia to Plato, Symposium 193A (cf. note [2] below). The word (here in the nominative plural) is clearly an Atticism and part of a style frowned on by non-Athenians. The nickname for Athenians, implying that they have rowed their arses off in the service of the Athenian navy and are reduced to being like a half-knucklebone, would appear to be sailors' slang for themselves. The quaint aetiological myth of how Theseus also lost his arse would appear to be a folk tale rather than a religious myth.
See also the preceding entry, lambda 603, based on the scholia to Aristophanes, Frogs 826.
[1] See alpha 4250 (astragalos).
[2] The knucklebone was sawed in two down the middle, to make two thin, equal slices, quite useless for dice-throwing as they have only two planes on which to land. The verb tetrai/nw 'I bore (a hole)', from which we have here the perfect passive participle, is not normally used with this prefix, which must imply that a hole was punched through each divided knucklebone, perhaps to be hung on necklaces. It is worth citing the passage in Plato's Symposium (193A-B) where the character Aristophanes tells the story of Love that reunites men and women, according to their sexual disposition, to their original states of double-man, double-woman or man-woman: "There is fear that, if we are not as we should be towards the gods, we shall be split in two a second time and will go around like those profile bas-reliefs on the stelae (web address 1), split in two down our noses, becoming like split knucklebones (li/spai)."
[3] This interesting phrase is used (probably, although the inappropriate variant li/sfh 'harsh' is often read) in the original passage in Aristophanes' Frogs on which most discussions of the headword are based (826-30: web address 2). The chorus of the play are balancing the merits of Aeschylus' style against those of Euripides, and the phrase is applied by them to Euripides in a witty pastiche of his style, simultaneously a critique of its incongruity. The metaphor introduced at line 821 (understood by the scholia on line 826 as pro\s to\ i(ppoba/mona 'connected to horse-riding') is of an unbroken young horse unused to the mouthing-bit or the shouted commands of the trainer breaking him, as his tongue tries to remain unrestrained. There is a striking assonance in the Greek for his "smooth (glossed in the scholia to 826c as eu)/strofos 'easily turned', lepth/ [sic]) tongue rolling up over (the mouthing-bit)" (li/sph glw=ss' a)nelissome/nh). Riders and trainers of horses will recognize the process and problems of mouthing a horse with a mouthing-bit and bridle, even the envy implied here for his wild freedom (and for the success of the poet who is the point of the metaphor).
[4] The epithet is in the feminine nominative plural, or else the plural of an unknown first declension masculine noun, li/sphs.
[5] I doubt if this is an accurate physiological observation. I have simplified in translation the long sentence, a remarkable example of the diverse ways in which the Greek language expresses reasons: (a) dia\ to\ 'through' + an infinitive at the end of the sentence (The same construction is found in the following sentence.), (b) the participial phrase "being boatmen", (c) e(/neka 'on account of' + the genitive of a noun phrase, made up of a noun acting for the verb and an adjective for the adverb ("on account of incessant sitting at…"), itself governing e)pi\ + the article and infinitive.
[6] Here a new sentence in our text begins "In which" (e)n w|(=), presumably from the source in which the lexicographers found the passage. As the text stands, it cannot be translated, and the sentence must be taken as a causal phrase (translated as a clause) beginning "because", dependent on the previous sentence. (Alternatively [DW], as in the 1543 edition of the Suda, emend to e)/nioi, i.e. "Some [sc. say that the term arose] because...".)
[7] The perfect passive participle used here is from the (common only in Byzantine Greek) verb pros-e(no/w 'I unite, attach by making one with' ('throw towards', at Hesychius pi3733), contrasted with a)pospa/w, as here, by Michael III, Oratio aditialis, line 562.
[8] (Probably a texual error for "snatched the rock away".) The myths of descents to the House of Hades by Heracles to bring back the hound Cerberus and by Theseus in search of his beloved Peirithous (xi 144) are well documented. I do not find in any source known to me this encounter between the two and the odd loss of part of Theseus' buttocks. As the sentences read here, it is difficult to decipher under what syntax the buttocks belong to Theseus, as required by the point of the story, rather than to Cerberus. The story must be that Heracles lifted Cerberus up together with the rock and Theseus could not get off it in time because Persephone had planted him and his beloved there (in an afterlife metamorphosis, according to the attractive version in Pausanias Att.). This sense appears to require th\n pe/tran after the verb for snatching, rather than the genitive in the text.
[9] See lambda 603 and note [6] there.
Associated internet addresses:
Web address 1,
Web address 2
Keywords: aetiology; comedy; daily life; definition; dialects, grammar, and etymology; gender and sexuality; medicine; military affairs; mythology; proverbs; religion; trade and manufacture; zoology
Translated by: Robert Dyer on 6 February 2002@09:32:13.
Vetted by:
David Whitehead (added keyword; cosmetics) on 11 September 2002@10:29:58.
David Whitehead (augmented n.6; more keywords; tweaks and cosmetics) on 14 June 2009@09:39:21.
David Whitehead (tweaks and cosmetics) on 21 April 2013@06:15:57.
Catharine Roth (cosmeticules) on 6 June 2020@22:52:03.
Catharine Roth (deleted a link) on 6 June 2020@22:55:56.


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