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How to Gamble in Greek: The Meaning of Kubeia

  • Stephen E. Kidd (a1)

Abstract

Kubeia and its congeners are often translated as ‘playing dice’ or ‘dicing’ because kuboi are ‘dice’. But sometimes kubeia has nothing to do with ‘dice’ (kuboi) at all, and so ought often to be translated simply as ‘gambling’. Pollux explains the nature of the word clearly in book 7, and his position is supported by earlier authors such as Theopompus, Diphilus, Isocrates, Xenophon and Aeschines. Not only is it possible to ‘gamble’ (kubeuein) with knucklebones (astragaloi) as well as cubic dice (kuboi), it is also possible to ‘gamble’ (kubeuein) by folding leather straps, by spinning coins and by guessing about small objects hidden in the hand; it is even possible to ‘gamble’ (kubeuein) during a cock-fight. The mistaken belief that the word means ‘dicing’ has affected not only centuries of translations and interpretations, but also the editing of texts since at least the early 19th century, as is shown regarding a crux in Aeschines’ Against Timarchus.

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* . Thanks are due to the audiences of Humboldt University in Berlin and St Petersburg University for their invitations to discuss this topic and their valuable feedback, to the anonymous reviewers at JHS for their improvements and to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for its support of my research during this period.

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How to Gamble in Greek: The Meaning of Kubeia

  • Stephen E. Kidd (a1)

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