The Guardian has a story by Helena Smith, “World’s earliest erotic graffiti found in unlikely setting on Aegean island” (subhead “Racy inscriptions and phalluses carved into Astypalaia’s rocky peninsula shed light on very private lives of ancient Greece,” hubba hubba!) that’s been making the rounds, and naturally I was curious (thanks for the link, Eric!). Usually, when newspapers report scientific news they cite some more sober publication that you can check to see what’s actually going on, but here it’s apparently just an interview with “Dr Andreas Vlachopoulos, a specialist in prehistoric archaeology,” so all you have is the story itself, which (all due respect to the Grauniad, which I’m fond of) is almost certain to be inaccurate and wildly inflated. But assuming the whole thing isn’t an invention on the part of some disaffected (and soon to be canned) member of the newspaper’s staff, it’s certainly interesting. Here’s the nub of the story:
Chiselled into the outcrops of dolomite limestone that dot the cape, the inscriptions have provided invaluable insight into the private lives of those who inhabited archaic and classical Greece. One, believed to have been carved in the mid-sixth century BC, proclaimed: “Nikasitimos was here mounting Timiona (Νικασίτιμος οἶφε Τιμίονα).
“We know that in ancient Greece sexual desire between men was not a taboo,” added Dr Vlachopoulos, who returned to the far-flung island last week to resume work with a team of topographers, photographers, conservationists and students. “But this graffiti … is not just among the earliest ever discovered. By using the verb in the past continuous [tense], it clearly says that these two men were making love over a long period of time, emphasising the sexual act in a way that is highly unusual in erotic artwork.”
First off, translating οἴφω as “mount” is ludicrous; even if you don’t want to use “fuck” there are all sorts of printable words like “screw.” (There’s a good short description of the Greek word here; I hadn’t realized it was primarily Doric, and I was surprised that the etymology is unknown — I had thought it was from PIE *yebh-, kin to Sanskrit yabh- and Russian eb-.) In the second place, the name should be Timion, not “Timiona”; Τιμίονα is an accusative form. But hey, it’s a newspaper story, and I await scholarly publication.