7 November 2014

"porne ps*l*ph*ge!!"; only for Classicists.

The Golden-Mouthed  had his tetchy moments, like PG 59.28 "You there, Sir! [i.e. the verbs are singular] You stand listening to S John and through him learning the things of the Spirit, and after that you go off to listen to prostitute women talking dirty and behaving dirtier and to perverts (malakon) who get beaten and beat each other". It seems probable that Chrysostom is here referring to mimes of considerable vulgarity. A couple of sides of just one such mime have recently been published (The Oxyrhynchus Papyri vol. LXXIX, 2014), and they are full of very low-class slapstick and obscenity

I think the papyrological industry must be literally (ut ita dicam) motoring through those old tea boxes in the cellars of Ashmole, because this mime fragment is numbered P Oxy 5189 ... it seems like only yesterday when the numbering was in the 2000s. An entertaining seminar on the new discovery the other day, set in motion by Peter Parsons, whose quick-fire witticisms flow as easily as ever they did in his greener youth (he started off by observing "Frankly, Greek Mime is no laughing matter ..."). There appears to be a stock character in this mime, the akairos who falls over anything that can be fallen over; and there are pornai and malakoi more or less wall-to-wall. Much of the humour seems to be at the level of abusing and thumping people for cooking badly. In fact, so much thumping goes on that we have a newish word kossos/kossizomai for it; it seems to mean swiping someone with an open hand, which Professor Parsons illustrated with a number of cartoon pictures. (Hooray for Desperate Dan! But he could also have drawn upon William George Bunter.) The term, apparently, has to be distinguished from kolaphos, for which Edith Hall suggested the translation 'knuckle sandwich'. kossos is so common in the Papyrus that it even (like the nomina sacra in Biblical mss) has its own abbreviation: kappa with a little omicron tucked between its two uprights. It is not completely new; it's in Suidas and in some Byzantine hagiographical (!!) authors such as Leontios (yes, the Papyrus is sixth century).

Discussion meandered through questions like the amount of rehearsing you have to do to get slapstick right, and the politically incorrect violence of Punch and Judy. Stephanie West suggested that mimes might have been hired for symposia; which would throw a new light on how Plato spent his evenings. A sort of mid-Byzantine equivalent of Strickly. I kept prudently quiet about my own theory that the fragment was a discarded early draft of Archbishop Forte's plan for the recent Synod.

Somebody suggested a new aphorism, A slap a day keeps the slave in play.

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