Saturday, November 30, 2019


- Τι είναι η Ελλάδα; the old man enquired, his bushy eyebrows raised in indignation, flecks of spittle flying from his dentures. Μια κωλόχωρα είναι.
I am not aware of any other people who refer to their homeland as an arse-country except for the Greeks, save of course, former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, who characteristically referred to our sunburnt country as the “arse-end of the world.”
For some reason, we Greeks are obsessed by arses, and this obsession provides a singular lens through which we see the world, anally.
- Και το κράτοςτα υπουργείασκέτο κωλοχανείο, the old man slammed down a gnarled hand, missing a forefinger, on the table for emphasis.
I am perennially entranced by the prospect of an inn that specifically accommodates individual body parts and it says much about our perspective that we can envisage an inn for arses, but for not for limbs or other sundry appendages.
-Και πώς τα βλέπεις τα πράγματα στο κωλοχώρι σου; I asked, seizing the opportunity to extend the motif to its utmost extent.
-Τι λες βρε κωλόπαιδο; the old man spat. Γιατί, πού γεννήθηκες εσύ Σε κανένα παλάτι;
So there are arse-countries, but not arse-villages, (if they are our own), although there are apparently arse-children, and according to the old man, I am one such arse-child. This is in keeping with the old Epirot curse, directed towards particularly excremental children: «Ου να σ᾽είχε κάν᾽η μάνα σ᾽ σκατά καλύτερα». Consequently, we form a singular tribe of our own, classified according to  geography vis a vis our emergence from the same commonly located fundamental orifice. Our great national hero Theodoros Kolokotronis is also a member of the tribe, though contrary to common belief, rather than being stone-arsed, he is actually arse-stoned, a state of being that must have something to do with the manner in which vaping traditionally took place in the wilds of Messenia.

Yet our attachment to arses is so ingrained within us as a people, that in ancient times, we even worshipped a goddess for the symmetry of her posterior. Aphrodite Callipygos, literally, Aphrodite the nice-arsed, depicts a partially draped woman, raising her light peplos  to uncover her hips and buttocks, and looking back and down over her shoulder, perhaps to evaluate them. Even back then, the objectification of body parts was sufficiently advanced so as to give rise to the Olympian an insecurity that has endured ever since: “How does my arse look in this peplos?”
It is a question that can, if handled sensitively, lead to a happy ending. In his “Deipnosophistes”, Atheneas unfolds a narrative involving two Syracusan Greek girls arguing over which of them had the shapelier arses. Not being able to come to an agreement, they accosted a young passer-by to have him judge them. They showed their relevant parts to him and he decided in favour of the older sister. Unsurprisingly, he became smitten with her and fell ill with love-sickness. Learning what had happened, the man's younger brother went out to see the girls for himself, and in a re-match, fell in love with the younger sister. Thereafter the brothers refused to consider any other brides, so their father arranged for the sisters to come marry them. The citizens of Syracuse gave the sisters the soubriquet "Callipygoi" ("nice-arsed) and they in turn, celebrating their luck, for they had married into a wealthy family, dedicated a temple to Aphrodite, calling her Kallipygos, thus creating a deity, in their own image. I am reliably informed by an unqualified etymologist, that the word was adopted into the ancient Armenian tongue as Kardashian.
Other ancient Greeks were not so extravagant in their understanding of things pygian. There existed an old proverb coined to emphasize the importance of frugality: «τρεῖς εἰσιν ἱκανοὶ πρωκτὸν ἀπομάξαι λίθοι,» which roughly translates to “three stones are enough to wipe one’s arse.” The Romans in turn, made use of a sponge on a stick, something abhorrent to the frugal Greeks, for whom sponges were intended solely for the export market, presumably to Rome, after use and suitable repurposed. 

Not only female arses were appreciated in ancient Greece. One of the great demi-god Heracles’ many epithets was «μελάμπυγος», or black-arsed, this attribute being held to signify strength and manliness, a motif employed by the great master of comedy Aristophanes in Lysistrata, to denote Heraclean fierceness:  «τραχὺς ἐντεῡθεν μελάμπυγός τε τοῑς ἐχθροῑς ἅπασιν,» (he is a tough black-arse ie. a veritable Heracles, towards his enemies). For the writer Archilochus, encountering such a black-arsed man, was fraught with danger: «μή τευ μελαμπύγου τύχης» (ie beware the black-arsed man, for he is more powerful than you). Conversely, one had nothing to fear from a λευκόπυγος, a white-arsed man, for the term was used to describe a coward, this of course being before tanning salons and skin cancer had been invented.

Polymnus, a shepherd living near the reputedly bottomless Alcyonian Lake, one of the entrances to the Underworld, was a real pain in the arse. When the god Dionysus sought entry into Hades, in order to rescue his mother Semele, Polymnus offered to row the god to the entrance, in exchange for being afforded the right to enjoy his posterior. When Dionysus returned to earth by a different route, he found that Polymnus had meanwhile died. Being an Olympian, Dionysus kept his promise by carving a piece of fig wood into the shape of a phallus and used it to ritually fulfil his promise to the dead shepherd, while seated on his tomb. This, it is said, was given as an explanation of the presence of a fig-wood phallus among the secret objects revealed in the course of the Dionysian Mysteries, which pagans must not castigate me for divulging, as our source for this legend, are the early Christian authors, Hyginus and Clement of Alexandria.
Athenaeus, in his “Deipnosophistai,” also provides valuable information as to the dimensions of the rears of the Achaean heroes who fought in the Trojan War, stating: «οἵτινες πόλιν μίαν λαβόντες εὐρυπρωκτότεροι πολύ τῆς πόλεος ἀπεχώρησαν ἧς εἷλον τότε,» ie. “After taking a single city they returned home, with arses much wider than the city they captured.”
As for Arses, the twelfth Achaemenid king of Persia from 338 BC to 336 BC, the less said the better. More than anyone, he was deserving of what Greek enlightenment scholar Adamantios Korais referred to, during those heady, pre-Internet times, in his «Άτακτα» as a «κωλοράβδιον,» that is, an arse-spanking rod.

On the website:, it being assumed that Greek women possess what is referred to as the “Hellenic booty,” which the site goes on to define as a “bigger than average behind,” an Oxford study is quoted that suggests that women with generously proportioned posteriors, are more intelligent than their more streamlined counterparts. According to the study, this is because: People who have more weight in their thighs and backsides often have a higher level of intelligence because they produce more Omega- 3 fats which contribute to brain development.” Does this then offer a completely new and revolutionary interpretation of the well-worn lament of every Greek mother wheresoever situated upon the planet: «με τον κώλο σου έκανες αυτή τη δουλειά;» A clue lies in the ethnicity of the author of the study, lead researcher, Konstantinos Manolopoulos, whose  observations may indicate that it is in fact the arses of Greek women, that the seeds of Hellenic greatness lies “Evidence shows that the fat content in a mother’s breast milk comes from her lower half of the body, which includes her thighs, buttocks, etc. This means that the high amount of Omega 3’s becomes a part of the baby’s balanced breakfast…. “The high amount of Omega -3 storage may be an evolutionary way of ensuring successful children, and men have a biological imperative to produce intelligent offspring.”
In contrast, in times Byzantine Greek appreciation of arses was not limited to one’s own race. In his 'Histories' («Χιλιάδες»), Ioannes Tzetzes includes a letter he wrote to a monk Heliopolos, who left Constantinople for the land of the Paeonians (an archaizing term for Bulgaria), as Tzetzes maintained, in order to check out the beautiful buttocks of the Paeonian women and appreciate them from close proximity.

He then wrote him the following poem:
“On Paeonian daughters who adorn their buttocks:
Hesiod said to his brother Perses:
- Don't let an arse-decorated (
πυγόστολος) woman deceive your mind.
There are two ways in which she may be called pygostolos.
Either because she adorns her arms and forearms (πυγών),
and so is called pygostolos for putting on bracelets,
or because she adorns her buttocks (πυγή), by her hind-quarters,
with broad girdles done up with tassels and fringes."
Incontrovertible proof, if ever such was required, that arses pre-existed Kim Kardashian.


First published in NKEE on 30 November 2019