“Government by Clowns”?

In a recent post at Chicago Boyz, David Foster asks “what the proper Greek would be for ‘government by clowns’”. There are several possibilities:

  1. A bomolochos was originally “one that waited about the altars, to beg or steal some of the meat offered thereon” (Liddell-Scott), but it acquired a less specific meaning “clown, buffoon”, which was standard in derivatives like the verb bomolocheuomai, “play the buffoon, indulge in ribaldry, play low tricks”, though the idea of begging may be included. So perhaps the best word for “government by clowns” would be bomolocharchy (0 Google hits).
  2. Since our rulers live at our expense, how about a word that means “one who eats at the table of another, and repays him with flattery and buffoonery”? Compounded with “-archy”, that would give us parasitarchy, whose meaning will be clear even to the Greekless.
  3. Another possibility would be an animal metaphor for clownishness. The Greek word for ‘ass’ (donkey, not butt) is ónos (plural ónoi), so the shortest word for “rule by clowns, buffoons, asses” would be onarchy.
  4. The other meaning of English ‘ass’ also provides a very approximate equivalent for ‘clown’, and you don’t need to have studied Greek to figure out what proctarchy would mean.

I’m sure there are other possibilities, but I can’t seem to find my English-Greek Dictionary at the moment.

This entry was posted in Etymology, Orbilius. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to “Government by Clowns”?

  1. I would go for onanocracy, or government by wankers. You may remember the much beloved apocryphal novel, play and film: ‘The Boys of St Onan’s’.

  2. Michael says:

    “kolakarchy (from kolax, cf. Socrates’ discussion with Polus in the Gorgias regarding kolakeia)?”

  3. Don says:

    I owe you a letter but… I prefer onarchy to proctarchy. I have long thought that the Aristophonic epithet “europroktos” implies that there is also someone vicious called stenoproktos and someone virtuous called metrioproktos. So a proctarchy would be “rule by persons exhibiting a mix of opposite vices and the corresponding virtue”.. not much of an insult…

  4. A reader says:

    Your suggestions are all excellent, indeed better than a straight translation. Another word for ‘jester’ is gelotopoios, but as I’m sure you know that is a more favorable word than bomolochos, which is the right tone one would need here. Agroikos would translate ‘clown’ in its older sense of ‘country bumpkin’. But I think your onarchy is pretty inspired, though, and would vote for that. In this connection you could quote Cicero’s famous quip to Antony, quid te, asine, litteras doceam?, used, if memory serves, when Antony had used the unkosher superlative piissumus.

    A standard work, though not terribly interesting, on clowns in greek lit. has been loaded onto google books – get it here: http://books.google.com/books?id=2lkVAAAAYAAJ&dq=clown+greek+literature+aristophanes&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=a9BnwBlPDK&sig=uEQ7rahSavVHeFyOMaPIsGdMM08&hl=en&ei=wfpcSpanLI-kMcnQtK4C&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>