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Headword: *tri\s e(\c h)\ trei=s ku/boi
Adler number: tau,1006
Translated headword: triple six or three aces (dice)
Vetting Status: high
On the one hand triple six [sc. means] victory; on the other three aces (?dice) [are] empty. And the following [proverb occurs] in Euripides: "Achilles has thrown two aces and a four."[1] As the dice tossed were three, he means that he threw two empty ones and that one was the quarter.[2] So the die (?ace) was double, according to whether when tossed it was empty or full; and 'empty' here in a special sense. That the man who threw triple six used to win, Aeschylus, too, shows in Agamemnon: "I will consider that the affairs of my masters have fallen well, throwing a triple six over my guard duty."[3]
Greek Original:
*tri\s e(\c h)\ trei=s ku/boi: oi( me\n tri\s e(\c ni/khn, oi( de\ trei=s ku/boi kenoi/. kai\ to\ par' *eu)ripi/dh| toiou=ton: be/blhk' *)axi/lleus du/o ku/bw kai\ te/ttara. triw=n ge o)/ntwn tw=n a)narriptoume/nwn bo/lwn, du/o me\n kenou\s au)to/n fhsi ba/llein, e(/na de\ to\n te/tarton. ditto\s ou)=n o( ku/bos, ei)/te a)narriptou/menos ei)/te keno\s ei)/te plh/rhs ei)/h: kai\ i)di/ws o( keno/s. o(/ti de\ o( tri\s e(\c balw\n katw/rqou, kai\ *ai)sxu/los e)n *)agame/mnoni pari/sthsi: ta\ despotw=n ga\r eu)= peso/nta qh/somai, tri\s e(\c balou=sa th=s e)mh=s fruktwri/as.
For the use of the same word for 'die' and the one-spot or ace on the die see the full discussion at kappa 2602. For the same proverb as headword see eta 635. This definition poses a number of problems for those interested in ancient dicing (see OCD(4), and Lamer below). It is clear from the Watchman's use of "triple six" in Aeschylus' Agamemnon that it was in fifth-century Athens a winning throw (see tau 934, tau 1005). Plato uses the proverb at Laws 12.968C, where the Athenian says, "if we wish to gamble with the whole state (politei/a) at risk (for such a concept in war or private life cf. alpha 2310, epsilon 695, kappa 2601, kappa 2602, etc.), throwing, as they say, triple six or three aces, let's do it." The scholiast on the passage cites the proverb in Pherecrates' Ant-Men (fr. 124 Kock, now 129 Kassel-Austin), and writes, "it is said of those who take risks. For triple six shows outright victory, but three aces loss (cited by Suda at eta 635). For in old times they used three dice for games, not two as now. There is homonymy, for they named a die in a special way according to when it was 'full' and when it was not." Suetonius, On the games among the Greeks, as cited by Eustathius, had already discussed the proverb as "of those gambling nothing in moderation (mhde\n dia\ me/sou... from the greatest and lowest number" (Taillardat p.65 and notes, pp.150-151). It has been plausibly suggested that they were talking about a dice game (similar to modern zanzi games) known in antiquity (perhaps as pleistoboli/nda; cf. pi 1738), in which players ante-ed a predetermined some of money either for each spot on the dice they cast (cf. Amipsias fr.20) or merely for each ace (or, in the case of a game Augustus described in a letter to Tiberius, Suet. Augustus.71, for each ace and six), and the winner was the first to throw triple six. This does not explain the role of triple aces as a specially disastrous losing throw or the interpretation of the proverb as an extreme gamble. Did triple aces mean the player lost all his money, or suffered some other extreme penalty? Equally unexplained is the sense of a die as either "full" or ke/nos, "empty, void" (cf. Pollux, Onomasticon 9.95). Does this imply "emptying the purse"? Dicing seems to have differed from astragaloi 'knucklebones', where particular configurations of the four knucklebones received different values, such as the winning throws Venus (6-4-3-1) and Euripides (6-6-6-6 + 4-4-4-4) (see Lamer 1945-60). It is worth mentioning that triple six was also a possible, and excellent, throw in ancient board games of the backgammon sort (pi 1384).
[1] Telephus(?) fr.888 Nauck. Editors point out that the neuter of the numeral four implies the use of a neuter word for the spots on the die.
[2] The use of to\n te/tarton here is unexplained.
[3] Aeschylus, Agamemnon 30-33. The grammar here is in error and the participial phrase, which has no agreement, should be corrected to a genitive absolute "while my guard duty throws a triple six."
Suetonius, *peri\ blasfhmi/wn, *peri\ paidi/wn, ed. J. Taillardat (Paris 1967) 27-44, 64-73 (text reconstructed from Eustathius, Etymologicum Magnum,, etc.), 80, 88-90, 104-13, 149-61 (notes)
Lamer, H. Lusoria tabula, in Pauly-Wissowa, RE 13 (1938) 1900-2029 (in German)
Keywords: comedy; daily life; definition; proverbs; tragedy
Translated by: Robert Dyer on 24 October 2001@17:39:14.
Vetted by:
David Whitehead (added keyword; cosmetics) on 11 September 2002@05:07:30.
David Whitehead (cosmetics) on 2 May 2011@04:20:59.
David Whitehead (updated a ref) on 2 August 2014@11:24:46.
David Whitehead (updated a ref) on 1 January 2015@08:33:16.
Catharine Roth (cosmetics) on 4 January 2015@11:23:56.
David Whitehead (tweaked tr) on 19 September 2021@04:10:46.


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