Grossness

Among other works, Theophrastus wrote the Characters, short sketches of various character types. Among these is the “bdeluros”. I have an edition of the characters edited by R.G.Ussher. He says that it is difficult to find a parallel for the meaning of this word. It implies bestial behaviour. In this sketch, he says, it is obtrusive and offensive. His sense of humour is appreciated by few by himself. Now I thought of the word “gross” to define such a character. Now to my British ears, gross in this sense sounds very American and fairly recent. I was surprised therefore to see that Jebb’s edition of 1870 translates it as gross. Sometimes language goes round in circles.

οὐ χαλεπὸν δέ ἐστι τὴν βδελυρίαν διορίσασθαι: ἔστι γὰρ παιδιὰ ἐπιφανὴς καὶ ἐπονείδιστος, ὁ δὲ βδελυρὸς τοιοῦτός τις, οἷος ἀπαντήσας γυναιξὶν ἐλευθέραις ἀνασυράμενος δεῖξαι τὸ αἰδοῖον. καὶ ἐν θεάτρῳ κροτεῖν, ὅταν οἱ ἄλλοι παύωνται, καὶ συρίττειν, οὓς ἡδέως θεωροῦσιν οἱ λοιποί: καὶ ὅταν σιωπήσῃ τὸ θέατρον, ἀνακύψας ἐρυγεῖν, ἵνα τοὺς καθημένους ποιήσῃ μεταστραφῆναι. καὶ πληθούσης τῆς ἀγορᾶς προσελθὼν πρὸς τὰ κάρυα ἢ τὰ μύρτα ἢ τὰ ἀκρόδρυα ἑστηκὼς τραγηματίζεσθαι, ἅμα τῷ πωλοῦντι προσλαλῶν: καὶ καλέσαι δὲ τῶν παρόντων ὀνομαστί τινα, ᾧ μὴ συνήθης ἐστί. καὶ σπεύδοντας δέ που ὁρῶν περιμεῖναι κελεῦσαι. καὶ ἡττωμένῳ δὲ μεγάλην δίκην ἀπιόντι ἀπὸ τοῦ δικαστηρίου προσελθεῖν καὶ συνησθῆναι. καὶ ὀψωνεῖν ἑαυτῷ καὶ αὐλητρίδας μισθοῦσθαι καὶ δεικνύειν δὲ τοῖς ἀπαντῶσι τὰ ὠψωνημένα καὶ παρακαλεῖν ἐπὶ ταῦτα. καὶ διηγεῖσθαι προσστὰς πρὸς κουρεῖον ἢ μυροπώλιον, ὅτι μεθύσκεσθαι μέλλει.

It is not difficult to define grossness. It is a an obtrusive and offensive sense of humour. The gross man is the sort of person who when he meets respectable women lifts up his clothes and shows his private parts and in the theatre claps when everyone else has stopped and whistles at actors whom the rest of the audience are happily watching. And when the theatre is silent, he throws his head back and belches to make those sitting down turn round. And at the time when the market is full, he goes up to where the nuts or perfumes or fruits are being sold and stands there nibbling while at the same time talking to the seller. He will call someone of those around him by name even though he doesn’t know them. When he sees someone in a hurry, he asks him to wait. He congratulates the man who is leaving the courts after losing an important case. He buys food for himself and hires flute girls and shows the people he meets what he has just bought and invites to share it. When he goes to the barber’s or perfume seller he explains that he means to get drunk.

Theophrastus Characters 11

Some notes
By talking to the sellers in the market place and just nibbling and not buying, he is preventing them from selling to anyone else.

It does not seem offensive to buy food for yourself although it was not quite respectable. That was the province of your servants. But perhaps the point was the flute girls.

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