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Eunuchs from Lampsakos: Hipponax and the poetics of obscenity

Alexander Dale

Concordia University

This paper takes as its starting point Hipponax frr. 26 and 26a West, two fragments sequentially joined by most editors (e.g. Schneidewin, Adrados, Medeiros, Masson, presupposed in West 1993; notably cautious is Degani) which appear to be an invective describing gluttony and profligacy. Through a close reading of fr. 26, it is argued that the fragment is instead a passage of thinly veiled sexual innuendo describing the fortunes of an avid cunnilinctor, a role signified through comparison with a pathic Lampsakene eunuch. This reading is achieved through a detailed examination of the sexual vocabulary of iambus and Old Comedy, in particular the use of culinary and agricultural terminology to refer to body parts and sexual acts. Following on from this, I examine the question of the placement of fr. 26a which, it is argued, cannot have been a direct continuation of fr. 26 (with or without a lacuna). Instead, it is suggested that fr. 26a might have preceded fr. 26 in Hipponax’ poem. This argument is facilitated by a close comparison of the two Hipponax fragments with Martial Ep. 3.77 (and with reference to Ep. 3.81) on the eunuch Baeticus which, I suggest, might have been directly modeled on the putative Hipponax poem as here reconstructed (note in particular the parallelism of sexual innuendo in θύνναν ~ melandrya; μυϲϲωτόν ~ putri . . . allece, and the parallelism of the non-loaded ἀτταγέαϲ ~ turdus; λαγούϲ ~ lepus; τηγανίταϲ ~ liba. The structural parallelism is also notable, with the tripartite variatio of Hipponax’ οὐκ, οὐ, οὐδ’ being echoed by Martial’s repetitively emphatic nec beginning four consecutive lines).

            Having established the sexual subtext and ordering of fragments, I then relate this reading of frr. 26 and 26a to the broader context of the poetics of gluttony and sex in archaic literature, as well as examine the typological similarities between iambus and Old Comedy, which is of particular relevance to the fraught question of the relationship between the two genres (cf. e.g. Rosen; Bowie). Through a close reading of the fragments and consideration of their place within the variegated corpus of Hipponax, we can achieve a greater appreciation for the poetics of Hipponactean iambus, and thus further rehabilitate the poetic persona of Hipponax, a poet of increasingly evident subtlety, dexterity, and richness.

Session/Panel Title

Obscenity and the Body

Session/Paper Number

58.2

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