Diogenes, by Jules-Bastien-Lepage (1905)


sow’s vulva in vinegar was among the most praised Roman delicatessen (on a par with lark tongues in aspic!…). No wonder that a hypocrite philosopher stuffed himself with one of them, while teaching virtue to others. This is an epigram by Lucian of Samosata that I found in one of Hugo Grotius’s numerous critical editions of the classics (Leiden, 1601).

The extremely young (he was a teenager!) Dutchman Grotius published his edition of Lucian complete with an interlinear (word by word) and a literary translation of his own into Latin. In this epigram, a Cynic philosopher, a shameless peddler of wisdom (at the time of Lucian, Cynics were revered Gurus, teachers of virtues and abstinence) is invited to a party, where, after virtuously pushing aside the dish of cabbage he had been offered, he loses himself in front of a pickled sow’s vulva (soaked in vinegar and silphium, “cum aceto et laseris succo”, as young Grotius pedantically informs us). The old man’s lame excuse came to us across the ages, sounding as arrogant and actual today as it was then: “A vulva cannot harm my virtue !…”

Young Grotius should be thanked posthumously for having passed to us this jewel of hypocrisy, although we cannot refrain from wondering what he himself knew about vulvae (soaked or raw). Here it is, followed by the original Greek, and Grotius’s own interlinear and “literary” translations.

The Cynic

The bearded sage came to the party (is it

            the goatee, or the stick, that make him wise?).

First he refrained from cabbage, arguing:

            “My virtue is not the servant of my belly”.

But then he saw the white, delicious vulva

            and suddenly forgot all wisdom;

ignoring everybody, he started chewing on it, mumbling:

            “A vulva cannot harm my virtue !…”


Τοῡ πωγωνοφόρου Κυνικοῡ, τοῡ βακτροποσαίτου

ἔδομεν ἐν δείπνῳ τὴν μεγάλη σοφίαν.

Θέρμων μὲν γὰρ πρϖτον ἀπεσχετο καὶ ῥαφανίδων,

μὴ δεῐν δουλεύειν γαστρί λέγων ἀρετήν.

Εὖτε δ’ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ἴδεν χιονώδεα βόλβαν

στρυφνὴν, ἣ πινυτὸν ἤδη ἔκλεπτε νόον,

ᾒτησεν παρὰ προσδοκίαν, καὶ ἔτρωγεν ἀληθῶς,

κοὐδὲν ἔφη βόλβαν τὴν ἀρετὴν ἀδικεῑν.


Grotius’s interlinear translation :


Barbigeri Cynici, mendici-baculo-minantis,

            vidimus in coena magnam sapientiam

Lupinis quidem enim primum abstinuit et raphanis,

            non oportere inservire ventri dicens virtutem.

Quum autem oculis vidit niveam vulvam

            acrem, quae prudentem jam abstulit mentem,

petivit praeter exspectationem, et manducavit revera,

            et nihil dixit vulvam virtuti nocere.

Grotius’s “literary” translation:


Mendici quae sit Cynici sapientia (barba

            Quid facit aut baculus?) coena videre dedit.

Caulibus abstinuit primum, temnique lupino:

            Nam, virtus ventri non famulatur, ait:

At postquam vulvam vidit niveamque bonamque,

            Clam vires animi noluit esse sui.

Nam nec opinato petiit, vereque comedit,

            Virtuti vulvam posse nocere negans.


A vulva cannot harm my virtue !…” Of course, it remains open to discussion whether the shameless old man was technically right or not in his assumption.

PS. Incidentally: we see that in the II-nd century AD the spirantisation of B in Greek and its evolution towards V was already underway, leading to the byzantine and modern pronunciation, as shown by the fact that the Latin vulva is rendered by Lucian by βόλβα, and not by ουόλουα, as we would expect.


Cf. :  — Roasted-hearted melody : The Sufi poets’ obssession with kebab…