4 NOVEMBER 2000, Page 18

Ancient & modern

SUSAN Crosland described the other week how that ace Lothario Mr Porfirio Rubirosa made a subtle approach to her dressed in monogrammed under- pants 'through which stood a donkey- style member'. This striking image would have warmed the hearts of Greeks and Romans. The Athenian comedian Aristophanes (5th-century nc), whose vocabulary anyway was vast, went to town on this topic.

Aristophanes refers to the male mem- ber as a tip, neck, finger, thing, flesh, skin, biggy, sinew, equipment, muscle, dried fig, fig petal, mallow stalk, acorn, chickpea, barleycorn, alabaster pot, spear, peg, pole, ram, oar, goad, beam, punt-pole, bolt, handle, sword, spit- roast, axe, club, staff, top, token, seal, drill, thong, wing, tail, sparrow, various sorts of cake, foot, rope, lump and soup- ladle. Aristophanes does not stint on women's parts either: box, piggy, suck- ing-pig, fig, pomegranate, myrtle-berry, rose, garden, delphinium, meadow, thicket, grove, plain, celery, mint, fuzz, door, gate, sheath, ring, circle, hole, cave, pit, gulf, hollow, bolthole, vent- hole, seashell, sea-urchin, conch, hearth, brazier, hot coals, bowl, dish, boiled sausage, varieties of meat and fish, hors d'oeuvres, milk-cake, barley-cake, pan- cake, delta, nightingale, thrush, mouse- hole, bird's nest, swallow, crack, gravy-boat.

It will be observed that a number of these terms are matching pairs (e.g. `bolt' and `bolthole'), and that for both male and female parts Aristophanes draws largely on rustic images from agricultural instruments, plants, ani- mals, birds and food, with military images from land and sea battles added for the male member.

Latin literature does not expand greatly on these, though `betesticled lance' is a fine phrase and Romans saw the possibilities of the male member and the bow. 'Stretching the bow-string' was a common image; Ovid suggests that Penelope was testing her suitors' sexual prowess when she asked them to string the bow, adding that it was made of 'horn'. Ploughshares and sickles, playing the lyre, handling the tiller, sinking the anchor, snakes and cabbage stalks all add to the merriment (but not, interestingly, cucumbers).

Porn? Not in Aristophanes' case. Porn is secretive. His plays were staged in the open air before an audience of some 20,000 Athenians roaring their heads off. It was good, honest obsceni- ty. Come on, Porfirio, my son, let's see yer soup ladle, then, and give us all a laff.

Peter Jones