Sparring With Blushes

When I was able to sign off the final proofs … I literally wept with joy’ … Professor James Diggle, holding the Cambridge Greek Lexicon. Photograph: Sir Cam.

“My English is chaste, and all licentious passages are left in the obscurity of a learned language.” (Edward Gibbon)

In the Middle Ages, several women poets of Arab Spain (al-Andalus) were known for their erotic and satiric verses composed with explicit diction in classical Arabic meters. Western scholars who took notice at all of these texts often quoted the explicit passages in Latin. Gibbon’s chasteness lived on in the twentieth century, I discovered as I, a striving scholar, strove to translate the verses.

Change is blowing in the winds of classicism. Led by Cambridge professor James Diggle, a team of intrepid lexicographers has updated HG Liddell and Robert Scott’s 1889 “Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon.”

The new dictionary’s editors “spare no blushes”, Diggle said, when it comes to the words that “brought a blush to Victorian cheeks”. The verb χέζω (chezo), translated by Liddell and Scott as “ease oneself, do one’s need”, is defined in the new dictionary as “to defecate” and translated as “to shit”; βίνέω (bineo) is no longer “inire, coire, of illicit intercourse”, but “fuck”; λαικάζω (laikazo), in the 19th-century dictionary translated as “to wench”, is now defined as “perform fellatio” and translated as “suck cocks”.

Antiquated and offensive language also gets a makeover. While Liddell and Scott defined βλαύτη (blaute) as “a kind of slipper worn by fops”, in the Cambridge Greek Lexicon it is described as “a kind of simple footwear, slipper”; κροκωτός (krokotos) is no longer defined as “a saffron-coloured robe worn by gay women”, but as a “saffron gown (worn by women)”.

(Alison Flood, “First English dictionary of ancient Greek since Victorian era ‘spares no blushes,’”, 5-27-21)

The Cambridge team’s massive achievement helps the uproarious ancients break free of stodgy and queenish taint.

(c) 2021 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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