Lovely Footsteps and Erotic Puns
What do you call a comedian whose repertoire relies on sexual puns about feet? Answer: an ancient Athenian.
In the theaters of that cosmopolitan city in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., Greek comic actors could always get a laugh with the popular pun that related feet to male genitals. For centuries, whether male or female, feet were associated with eros in ancient Greece, and evidence of their role abounds in literature and art.
“The foot left its imprint on Greek erotic thought from Homer to the rise of Christianity,” said Daniel Levine, professor of classical studies.
In “ERATON BAMA (‘Her Lovely Footstep’): The Erotics of Feet in Ancient Greece,” Levine draws on archeological and literary sources to extend recent scholarship on the erotic aspects of feet and shoes to a consideration of ancient Greek culture. His work is a chapter in “Body Language in the Greek and Roman Worlds,” edited by Douglas Cairns of University of Edinburgh.
The fondness of Athenian comedians for crude puns about feet reflects a rich tradition of associating feet with love, desire and fertility. In Greek epics, Levine observes, female beauty often resides in fine ankles and lovely feet.
“In addition to beautiful female ankles symbolizing the erotic ideal, the Greeks also linked men’s feet to eros in poetry, arts and myth. …When men and women join in matrimony, feet and shoes play important ritual and artistic roles,” Levine writes.
The morning after the consummation of the
marriage, gifts were presented to the newlyweds,
traditionally including footwear.
For centuries, passages from Greek literature praised the beauty not just of feet, but of the mark they left on the earth. The title of Levine’s chapter comes from Sappho’s longing for her lover’s lovely footstep. In poems and letters, lovers long to kiss footsteps or to step in their beloveds’ bare footprints.
While Levine notes that “most of the time a foot is just a foot,” the impact of the Greek appreciation for the erotic aspect of feet, ankles, sandals and footprints had a broad and diverse effect on their culture and world view.