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A Note on Some Unusual Greek Words for Eyes

  • E. K. Borthwick (a1)


In Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society N.S. 14 (1968), 68, D. C. C. Young drew attention to a curious variant in the text of Longus 2.2.1, where, in a description of how, at the vintage, women ‘eyed’ Daphnis, A has concluding that ‘brothers’ must be a colloquial expression for ‘eyes’, he was however unable to cite any other example of this usage, but compared ‘picked men’, in Paulus Silentiarius (A.P. 5. 270), a locution found in a small range of other authors (Sophron, Callimachus, and Nicander, and in a number of lexicographers), as well as ‘comrades on the flank, bystanders’ ‘twins’ = testicles, and French jumelles - binoculars.



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1 Apart, that is, from such a periphrasis, in the high-flown style, as Vergil's ‘hue gemi-nas nunc flecte acies’ (Aen. 6.788).

2 Heliodorus (Aetb. 2.16) on the other hand finds it convenient to equate a dream about loss of right eye with death of father

3 Cf. Suid. s.v. , schol. Ar. Nub. 144.

4 The analogy is amplified in Hierocles, ap. Stob. iv p. 663,

5 I am reminded also of the use of testicles. Allusive and riddling language (and, in English at least, rhyming slang such as mince-pies = eyes) is much used of parts of the body. Although the riddle collection of the Antbology (surprisingly) does not contain an example of this sort, in 14.25 the twelve children of Niobe are obscurely alluded to as .

6 Now available in Christianorum, Corpus, Ser. Lat. cxxxiii, ed. Marco, de (1968).

7 The Fool in Shakespeare's Lear (1.5.20) uses this traditional riddling theme: ‘Thou canst tell why one's nose stand i’ the middle one's face?… Why, to keep one's eyes of either side's nose.’

8 For a brave and learned attempt to disentangle the rest of the riddle in relation to the eyes, see K. Ohlert, Rätsel und Rätsel-spiele der alten Griecben,2 pp. 206 ff., who cites also another version of the riddle from Lithuania, ‘Zwei Schwestern, die über ein Berglein nicht zusammen kommen’.

9 For the ellipse, cf. the passages of Herodas quoted at the end of this article. In Hermathena 52 (1938), 68 ff. H. W. Parke argued that this oracle was ‘interpolated’ in the oracular tradition referring to the Messenian wars, but did not discuss the subject matter in great detail.

10 For the side-long glance of retribution threatening the sinner, see especially Ap. Rh. 4.475–6, Call. fr. 374. On see Malten, L., Die Sprache des menschlichen Ant- litzes im friihen Griechentum (Berlin, 1961), p. 50.

11 Also O. N. augasteinn, Dan. Öie-steen.


13 I do not see how the reference could be to the of acquit tal in the law-courts.

14 Uniquely (apparently) Theognostus Can. (Cramer, An. Ox. p. 22.6) identifies it with the pupil - .

15 So commonly used of the eye ball, is also a ‘socket of a joint’ LSJ.

16 Cf. Alciphr. Ep. fr. 5.4 for praise of To show the whites of the eyes was thought a sign of exceptional lasciviousness - see in Alex. fr. 222.9, Athen. 529a, Poll. 2.60, and cf. Ar. For suspicion of ‘wall-eyed’ (‘Having one or both eyes of an excessively light colour, so that the iris is hardly distinguished from the white’) see W. Deonna, he Symbolisme de l' oeil, pp. 202 ff. See also Pearson on Soph. fr. 1037.

17 I notice a coincidental parallel in the OED citation from Rowland's edition (1658) of Mouffet's Insectorum Theatrum 968, ‘In the uttermost part of the wings, as if it were four Adamants glistering in a beazil of hyacinth.’

18 Gow ad. loc. states that ‘snakes have no whites in their eyes.’

19 The best collection of passages is to be found in Headlam's note on Hdas. 6. 23.

20 Linguistique historique et linguistique génerate 2 (Paris, 1926), pp. 281–91.

21 In the second and third of these quotations, oculis is supplied as a gloss in some manuscripts. I observe in passing that the English use of ‘a squintas a noun presumably derives from a similar suppres sion of ‘eyes’.

22 Cf. II. 1. 105 Od. 2. 152 where Leaf's insistence that this must mean ‘bode in the mind's eye’ seems to me to ignore the Greek concept (see Plut. Quaest. Conv. 5. 7) of evil emanations from the eye itself. (The addition of etc., in other such passages makes all the difference). Note also of the snake in II. 22. 95, schol. Theoc. 10.17.

23 Professor I. M. Campbell has reminded me that the word may have much the same origins and implications as the old English curse ‘Damn your eyes!’ I am puzzled that, in quoting the phrase, Meletius, de nat. bom. (Cramer, , An. Ox. iii, p. 69. 2), says Homer means the same definition ascribed elsewhere to According to this same obscure I have not found recorded in any dictionary in this meaning: the astonishing coincidence with ‘picked men’ is disturbing, but perhaps Meletius is right in his etymology and one thinks also of (etc.) in connection with eyes.

24 See Waern, I.. THE OΣTEA: The Kenning in pre-Christian Greek Poetry (Diss. Uppsala, 1951),Bornmann, F. in Studi Germanici N.S. 8 (1970), 99 ff.

25 I am grateful to my colleague Dr. R. C. McCail for his comments on an earlier draft of this article.

A Note on Some Unusual Greek Words for Eyes

  • E. K. Borthwick (a1)


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