The discussion of killing the children of one’s enemies (see my previous blog post) led me to wonder if ancient Greek society was very much a society of blood feuds, so that the children of your enemies would indeed be a threat to you.
This prompted our seminar leader to say, Oh, yes, there you are, having vanquished, or so you think, but off in the wings people are plotting, saying, We’ll get you, you f----ing b----. And this led me to wonder about cursing in ancient Greece. Did the ancient Greeks have words like that? Maybe in spoken language, but they never wrote them down? Just like a reading of mainstream Victorian would expose you to nothing stronger than d---d (with the hyphens in place), so the reading of ancient Greek texts may expose you to no curse words at all (we weren’t actually sure about this, and we had no experts on ancient Greek society and literature among us).
But the larger issue was, Are there words some societies use in speech that they never write down? Are there words that are known but that are never repeated in polite society? And if polite society is the only source of writings from an era, how can we ever know their impolite utterances?
This led us to muse about modern day society and the Internet. Everything goes now, we thought at first. No one a thousand years from now will have to wonder if we had some private words not seen in public forums. Everything gets said in public forums, in novels, movies, and as I said, the Internet. Every conceivable swear word must be there somewhere.
But then I thought, But don’t we still have some forbidden words? Racial epithets and the like? People still know them, but how often do they appear in print? Well, again with the Internet, there are no doubt sites spewing out hatred, so they may be around. Still, it was interesting to speculate about words that might be widely used and yet not make it into the historical record.
And I came up with a great title for an academic study: Curse Words of the Ancient Greeks.