The Greeks Could Have Had a Word for It

Many years ago, when I was a youngster, I saw a picture of a famous statue, which is in the National Museum in Naples (slide 1) I wondered why this this Venus was called Callipyge and on looking it up, found that the term comes from two Greek words, kallos meaning beauty and pyge meaning buttocks.

You may suspect me of pygomania or even the perverted lust of pygolagnia, but I should like to pursue the Greek "pyge" -- and by pursue I don't mean "run after", for I am nearing that unfortunate age in which the intellect predominates. Anyway, that field of physical activity is over-crowded and overworked thoroughly by competent individuals.

The Greeks had at least five words for buttocks or rump - pyge, popos, glutos, pisinos, and arsos. Popos is a child's word, akin to "hiney". Glutos may have been originally Latin and only lately adopted by the Greeks. For reasons obvious in the interests of refinement, we shall not consider pisinos or arsos -- let us "asscend", up to better words, though not to a higher subject.

This Venus, like the beautiful people in movies and magazines advertisements, is at one extreme of a range of biologic variations. While anthropologists have classified many of the variables of the human form, most of them seem to have neglected this "asspect" of the anatomy -- at least professionally. It seemed to me that here was a virgin field and that a science of pygology might be developed. The first phase, of course, was purely descriptive and in setting up a taxonomy, suitable words were coined from the apposite Greek roots. Some of these new words seem farfetched, but subsequent research has indicated that sometimes Nature, too, is farfetched. Taxonomy is a dull subject and I shan't do more than to illustrate some of the types with examples. Incidentally, I shall mispronounce some of these words, sometimes because I don't know any better. In general I have anglicized them and shall sound out the combining forms so that you may instantly recognize the components of words that are new to you.

It is particularly appropriate that our first model should be Nick "Assali" (slide 2). Nick did not follow directions in posing for the picture, but it will recall his form. There he sits, fat and happy, vociferously at peace with the world, and enjoying his metabolism. While his buttocks appear flattened, we can not call him platypygous, for this is a pressure effect. Perhaps they are a bit broad -- the adjective then would be eurypygous.

I shal not presume to discuss or illustrate eupygia, for this characterization involves a subjective appraisal. Probably every "lay"-man has his own ideal. Two years ago our visiting Professor from Moscow suggested that Chuck Hendricks was up to no good "end", but this again is a matter of opinion. The subjectivity of such judgements is well exemplified by the Hottentot deformity which, in their eyes, is beauty (slide 3). This is steatopygia, from the Greek word for suet.

One of our notable past-presidents has successively occupied three bigger and bigger chairs of Obstetrics and Gynecology or, as it is now known, Gynecology and Obstetrics. The next slide (slide 4) represents Allan Barnes' image of himself. Perhaps Bob Nesbitt has a similar "end" in view.

The taxonomist often faces the same problem as the poet, in finding the exact word. What you see on the screen is not steatopygia, for the form is different and suet is a hard fat. Here we have a soft, diffuse obesity. Malacopygia describes the softness, but no more. Megalopygia indicates size, but not composition. Lipopygia seems to fall a little short of the mark and pachopygia might be confusing because of the similarity of the combining form with "pachy", which has come to denote thickness. The stem "adipo" means soft fat, but it is Latin. Adipopygia is elegantly descriptive but hard to pronounce and anyway the purist would object to the term as a hybrid, despite its vigor. But the Greeks do have a suitable word, and we come up with liparopygia. This soft stuff quivers like a bowl of "asspic". In this regard it might be described as pygopalmous.

You will remember the old woman in Voltaire's Candide, who had but one buttock lopped off (slide 5).(7)(slide 8)(slide 9).(slide 10)(slide 11)(slide 12)(slide 13)(slide 14) We shall not have time to visit all of the "seats" of learning, but I do want to show you the chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Western Reserve (slide 15) On he wall of the ancient temple at Delphi there was inscribed the injunction "Know thyself". In looking at endocrinologists, it has seemed to me that many must have been impelled by this discomforting thought when they chose their field. In outward apearance, Jim Bradbury has seemed to be an exception, but the "bare" fact (slide 16)(slide 17) "Yale" has long been a famous name, both in locks and in education. The twain has met through the activities of Lee Buxton, whose chair is shown here (slide 18)(slide 19) There has been a great deal of talk about Willis Brown's famous -- or perhaps notorious -- series of 27 untreated eclamptics. These women, who came to the hospital seeking medical care, were put to bed and left to have uncounted fits while the staff sat idly by. We can only guess as to why, but two possibilities come to mind. Either Willis has had a pygopexy to his chair, or he is laden with lead -- that is, he has molybdopygia.

This (slide 20) Mark Twain's work 1601 has recently been published openly for the first time. For those of you who have not seen it, it is a proported fire-side conversation in the chambers of the first Elizabeth Regina. The central theme concerns pygophrasis and was stimulated by a tremendous blast that Sir Walter Raleigh propelled from his nether throat. He and others of his ilk who thunder in this particular vox humani are obviously brontopygous. The penalty for overconfidence would be copropygia. There are those to whom this latter term might be applied in a figurative sense.

In closing, I can only quote Johannes Brahms -- "If there is anyone here whom I neglected to insult, I apologize." I have "assigned" various sorts of rumps to you and have characterized a number of you in terms of the Greek "pyge". For this last slide, (21)