All about sycophants and figs

Presumably the sycophant “showed his own figs” or manly vigor inappropriately and also denigrated other people both by pointing out facts about their lives that should have been kept out of the public eye and by shaming them too agressively. As Isocrates wrote (15.314), the sycophant “shows to all [epideik-nusthai] his rawness [omoteta], his misanthropy, and his fondness for making enemies [philapechthemosune].” In misspending in the economy of pleasures, the sycophant stood with moichos, the male prostitute, and the citizen who violated the norms of homosexual love—an exclusive club for those poneroi or base men who did not deserve to be active citizens.65 The intersection of anger and sexuality in the trope of figs does not allow us to produce an epigrammatic definition of who or what the sycophant was but it does allow us to see the web of meaning within which the sycophant’s bad reputation and dirty name were established. That web of meaning is based on an ethical system that coalesced around the problem of trying to deal with desire. The sycophant violates the economy of desire by initiating processes of anger when the time or situation is not appropriate* Thus, Demosthenes describes the statute of limitations as having been drawn up specifically so as to prevent sycophancy (36.26-27).67


The ban on the sycophant’s acts of “exposure” limited excessive aggressiveness in the judicial system. The Athenian requirement that speakers explain their personal interest ensured that prosecutors had only an “honest” interest in sating a “ripe” anger and were not acting for some more savage and unseasonable ulterior motive. The economy of anger put limits on the number of public conflicts and disputes in which any individual could be legitimately involved, just as the economy of desire put limits on the number and kind of homosexual love affairs an Athenian citizen could have and still maintain a political role in the city. The need for prosecutors to prove and justify their personal anger was guard against the much decried oligarchic activity of too frequent and too comprehensive punishment.68
The city’s drive to put constraints on desire operated in all arenas and on the basis of a consistent set of norms for “proper use” that were at the heart of Athenian culture. The slurs against sycophants contributed to the constraint of desire. The word “sycophant” was used to mark the moments when the Athenian normative structure seemed to have failed to constrain a particular individual’s will. Orators who made charges of sycophancy and defended themselves from charges of sycophancy involved themselves in a conversation about how to manage the diverse and conflicting wills of the citizenry, about how to define the Athenian system of value, and about how to regulate behavior that impacted social relationships. Lycurgus’s attempt to redefine sycophancy by validating disinterested prosecution was an attempt to effect a cultural paradigm shift and to redefine the rules for using political insititutions.

Penn Libraries call number: Inc B-720

Penn Libraries call number: Inc B-720

The word sycophant could also be used to mobilize citizens into acting more aggressively to impose their norms upon their fellows. The oligarchs began their late fifth-century attack on Athens by claiming that they would rid the city of its sycophants/* Xenophon reports:
First of all they arrested and brought to trial on capital charges all those persons who were known to have made their living by acting as sycophants [apo sukophantias] and by being offensive to the aristocrats. The Council of 500 and all other citizens were glad to vote against these men. and whoever thought he himself was not like these (sycophants], was in no way troubled. (Hell. 2.3.12-13)
The so-called sycophants were vulnerable to the attack of the Thirty because they had failed to meet the norms of the good man and good citizen. The democrats, who understood themselves as distinct from the sycophants, were willing to let the oligarchs eliminate them. The citizenry’s acceptance of the Thirty’s generalized attack on people labeled sycophants indicates the power of the word to regulate the norms of public agency and boundaries of the city’s ethical system and to legitimate moves against members of the citizenry who failed to live up to these.
The Thirty did not ultimately restrict their attacks on Athenian citizens merely to people whom the citizens already called sycophants. Xenophon writes:

Alice_par_John_Tenniel_21Then the Thirty began to take counsel as to how they might use the city as they saw fit. . . . they arrested those whom they wished—not now the base people and those of little worth [tous ponerous te kai oligou axious), but from this point on those people whom they thought were least likely to submit to being ignored, and who would gather supporters together in the greatest numbers, if they tried to fight back against the Thirty. (Xen. Hell. 2.3.13-14)
The Thirty attacked all those whose wills might disrupt the newly installed oligarchic social system. Ultimately, Xenophon says, the oligarchs’ extermination of the sycophants was not about getting rid of all the people whom the democratic masses normally identified as sycophants (tous homologoumenous sukophantas, Xen. Hell. 2.3.38). Instead, the Thirty used the label “sycophant” to expand the category of the socially unacceptable according to oligarchic terms.70
Theramenes, who was initially a member of the oligarchic faction, eventually came to the conclusion that things had gone too far and expressed his dissent by saying that the Thirty, with their extensive “punishments,” were worse than the sycophants whom they had set out to destroy in the first place (adikotera ton sukophanton, Xen. Hell. 2.3.22). The oligarchs had been able to begin their attack on Athenian democrats by deploying the word sycophant. Theramenes tried to end their attack with the same word. Both he and the other members of the Thirty recognized the power of the word sycophant, with its capacity to delineate “common knowledge” distinctions between the socially acceptable and the socially reiectable. The Athenian orator who called upon his jurors to recognize someone as a sycophant was likewise calling them to a more vigilant defense of the city’s system of value and the distinction between forms of behavior which were and were not socially desirable.
The use of a near obscenity, the term sycophant, to establish the contours of the practice of legitimate prosecution reveals the power of ideology to regulate democratic norms. On the topic of obscenity, Henderson writes:
The great majority of obscene words are those which, although they may be unmistakably direct in their reference, neither attain to the absolute and exclusive explicitness of primary obscenities nor possess their hallucinatory and repressive power, but which distance the listener in a greater or lesser degree. They are products and components of the capacity for abstract and metaphorical thinking characteristic of latency. Unlike the primary obscenity, valuable only for its directness and primitive force, the value of metaphorical obscenity lies precisely in its flexibility and nuance.’
The word sycophant functioned in the following fashion: all Athenians knew in general that a sycophant essentially misused the lust of prosecutorial anger (whether by faking it, overindulging it, or accepting money for it) and thereby violated democratic norms of public agency. No Athenian, however, would (or perhaps could) specify precisely the full set of terms that delineated the sycophant’s misuse (despite modem efforts to write up “economies” of spending desire). And, anyway, the whole matter was slightly obscene. Nonetheless, the word sycophant was widely recognized as a word that straightforwardly separated the socially respectable from the socially rejectable despite, or rather because of, its vagueness, its metaphoricity, and the tinge of obscenity. The word sycophant captured, in general, what was beyond the pale established by the norms of public agency.
General_Jackson_Slaying_the_Many_Headed_Monster_cropE. Csapo writes: “It is often said that symbols are interesting because they encompass contradictions. But symbols are also contradictory because they are interesting. . . . [they are] the loci of struggle between competing social groups, and necessarily ambivalent, because the language of the debate must be common, even if competing groups ascribe different values to the terms.  The word sycophant was vague, so the fence between the respectable and the reject-able could be moved easily with a simple shift in definition (or resignification) of the term sycophant. The word sycophant was available for those like Lycurgus who wished to attach new definitions to it and thereby change the “norms of public agency” in the process. Does this explain why the modem definition of sycophant could have strayed so far from its ancient origins? More important, the vagueness of the word sycophant reveals the degree to which the city’s norms were contestable and the system of value susceptible to being revised over time, despite its consistency across diverse social spaces. The “norms of public agency,” and the symbolic language that expressed those norms, were powerful ideological tools. In the context of democratic Athenian punishment, they primarily allowed for the controlled indulgence of anger; but they also provided orators like Lycurgus with the means with which to contest socially dominant definitions of politics, the public sphere, and the good citizen.

The orators speeches for the prosecution and defense helped to establish a consistent set of norms throughout the citizenry at a given moment in time but also made it possible for that consistent set of norms to be shifted over time. The symbolic rhetoric associated with the sycophant reveals the nature of the media in which the orator worked. Speech could be used both to refer to already existent systems of value and to make those systems malleable and fluid.
But this malleability is not the whole of the story for there was also a written law. Written law aspires not to establish norms that are malleable and fluid but rather norms that are consistent over time. There was a tension, in Athens, between the power of speech to set and revise communal norms and the power of law to fix them. That tension appears in any society that tries to use law, but the Athenians dealt with the tension differently than do modem democrats.


(From the book The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens By Danielle S. Allen)


Basic stats about growing fig trees – part 2

Wasps (in particular tig wasp Blastophaga psenes), may enter the synconium to pollinate the flowers and lay their eggs. Smryna ligs in particular require wasp vistation Not all tig flowers need pollination tor the fruit1 structure to grow. Unpollinated fruits are parthenocarpic’ fruits
Flower buds
Usually two sets of flower buds – breba flower buds overwinter and become apparent In early spring. Main crop flowers are produced in the leaf axils of current season shoot growth.
Growth ot fruit
Double sigmoid growth curve. Fruit is ethylene responsive in final maturation stage. Fruit has a respiratory climacteric as npening and fruit softening approaches.
Time of bud burst
Growth resumes in spring (northern hemisphere – February-March)
Time of flowering
Main crop May-July (northern hemisphere) Breba crop (sec text) in March-Apri (northern hemisphere)
Time ot fruit maturity
Main crop figs ripen from August to October (Northern Hemisphere). Ethephon may hasten ripening. First crop or breba figs ripening occurs earlier (see text)
Soil needs
Should be free draining Rooting can be extensive – and promotive of vegetative vigour. Plants can be grown in large containers where some root restriction will occur. Prefers soils that have a pH between 6-7. Will tolerate some alkalinity
Nutrient requirements
Trees are reputed to not need fertilization every year Fruit growth may benefit from potassium containing fertilisers. Fertilizers high in nitrogen, will promote green leafy growth which may reduce flower bud development Nitrogen dressings to maintain shoot growlh can be given in split applications • avoid fertilizing late in the growing season and delaying hardening for winter An annual total dressing ot between 25-60 units of nitrogen (N). 20-50 units of phosphate (PjOJ and 50-100 units of polash (K20) per hectare – depending on climate, soil, irrigation, plant vigour and yields – may be satisfactory
Minimal soil disturbance so as not to disturb roots and potentially stimulate suckering. Soil movement on sloping sites should be minimised. Bare soils may assist yields in and regions. Bare soil also assists mechanical sweeping of fallen fruit. Cover crops could assist in reducing vegetative vigour
Time to first harvest
Some fruit should be produced in the second growing season
Time to full production
Trees may reach full commercial yields In about 5 years
Expected yield
Yields of between 6 and 15t/ha are achievable
Normal productive life
Orchards should remain productive for 15-20 years, although Irees may be long-lived
Method ot harvest
Table fruit should be cut or twisted and snapped from the tree
Fresh fruit have a short storage life. Refrigerate between 0-4:C. Shelf life may be no greater than 8 days. Dried fruit (using solar or hot air technology) can be kept for several months, especially in dry refrigerated conditions
Main pathogens
Root diseases include Rosellinia necatrix and Armillaria mellea. Botrytis cinerea and Alternaria can affect both foliage and fruit. Fig trees pests in Portugal include two fly species – Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata) and Lonchaea aristella. Scale insects can be problematic e g. fig wax scale. Ceroplastes rusci. Root-knot and plant-parasitic nematodes have been shown to affect figs. Fig leaf miner (Eutromula nemorana) is an important pest in southern Portugal


From the book “Temperate and Subtropical Fruit Production” edited by David Jackson, Norman Earl Looney, Michael Morley-Bunker

Why figs are associated with gays?

It seems to start mainly from Ancient Greece but has got as far as modern slang where it has been defined (urban dictionary) as another term for fag or faggot; used to hate on any person looking, acting, or being accused of being a homosexual. As in “Noah your such a fig.”  The same source defines it as an acronym for “Female Identified Gay” A woman who identifies as a gay man and is not trans. A woman who is a gay man on the inside.  Looking back at the history however there is even more:

“Gathering from the vine was like gathering figs, gathering testicles, gathering female fertility, gathering what is ripe and full of orge, gathering anger. The relation of fertility to both eras and anger allows for the metaphorical transfer of the rules of viticulture, fig gathering, heterosexuality, and homosexuality to processes of anger and punishment and makes punishment itself an analogue to sexual intercourse.

Gay_PhelepsThe Athenians had a number of fig-related words that could be used to insult those who misspent their erotic passions. In the Peace (1351), sukologein and sukazein are used to describe excessive homosexual intercourse. In another play Cleon is essentially accused 6f) being a homosexual rapist with a word that means “squeezing figs” (aposukazein, Kn. 259). He treats other people’s “testicles” too aggressively and too lustily. Negative forms of sexual behavior included not only “fig squeezing” (aposukazein) but also “fig gathering” (psenizein), another euphemism for homosexual contrectation.’’3 Cleon violated the norms of eras by acting too aggressively.
But how did the sycophant, who “pointed out figs,” violate the norms for standard use of the passions? According to Xenophon, the vine is supposed to point out to the farmer which fruits to pick and only those. There is therefore a right time and method for the exposure of ripe figs or of orge. There were rules against improper exposure in the sexual context. According to Henderson, the desire to “expose what should be hidden” was a fundamental part of sexual aggression. Calling attention to one’s opponent’s genitals was an act of violence, and according to Henderson, “references to testicles in Aristophanes almost always occur in threats (to rip out someone’s testicles) or in violent erotic advances (seizing the testicles in preparation for sexual contact) (e.g., Clouds 713, Birds 442).”

From the book “The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens” By Danielle S. Allen

Jesus, fig trees and checking your car brakes

“Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!”

Immediately the tree withered.”     – Matthew 21:18-22

Israel_Bethany_Stone_church_with_silver_domeThe excerpt is well known, the explanation less so.   Most religious researchers believe that Jesus was crucified probably on the 6th of April, 30 A.D.  Which means that when he met the above mentioned fig tree it was not meant to be in fruit anyway as it was long before summer.  However fig trees at that time produce taqsh, small hard, almond sized knobs on the plant which poor peasants were often forced to eat for lack of anything better.   If the tree has no such fig precursors it means that it will not bear fruit this season.  Jesus was not cursing the fig tree but simply announcing what any person who lived in those times would know.  After a long day walking, Jesus perhaps hoped to have a small snack, was disappointed, and thus pronounced the tree barren.

Google searches for “fig tree” are also, as expected seasonal.  From March through until September people are more interested in it either because they want to plant a fig tree, or take care of a fig tree.  A modern day Jesus could see the following pattern of seasonality in Google searches:

figly datachart seasonality of google searches for fig tree c 2015 figly

That green line is the amount of searches (U.S.) for “fig tree”.  Every year they spike from March to September.  But what is that blue line which follows them so closely?  It is the google searches for “brake caliper”!    In fact the correlation is extremely high at r=0.9069.  Similar in seasonality, yet not so exact in volume are searches for “paint code”, “oil filter”, “valve adjustment”, “oil drain” and “gear oil”.  It seems that as Americans come out of winter they have two things in mind:  fixing their car and tending to their fig trees!

Here is the full excerpt from the book “Hard Sayings of the Bible”, (Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, Manfred Brauch)

“The problem is most satisfactorily cleared up in a discussion called “The Barren Fig Tree” published many years ago by W. M. Christie, a Church of Scotland minister in Palestine under the British mandatory regime. He pointed out first the time of year at which the incident is said to have occurred (if, as is probable, Jesus was crucified on April 6th, A.D. 30, the incident occurred during the first days of April). “Now,” wrote Christie, “the facts connected with the fig tree are these. Toward the end of March the leaves begin to appear, and in about a week the foliage coating is complete. Coincident with [this], and sometimes even before, there appears quite a crop of small knobs, not the real figs, but a kind of early forerunner.  They grow to the size of green almonds, in which condition they are eaten by peasants and others when hungry.

When they come to their own indefinite maturity they drop off.” These precursors of the true fig are called taqsh in
Palestinian Arabic. Their appearance is a harbinger of the fully formed appearance of the true fig some six weeks later.

So, as Mark says, the time for figs had not yet come. But if the leaves appear without any taqsh, that is a sign that
there will be no figs. Since Jesus found “nothing but leaves”—leaves without any taqsh—he knew that “it was an ab-
solutely hopeless, fruidess fig tree” and said as much. But if that is the true explanation of his words, why should anyone trouble to record the incident as though it had some special significance? Because it did have some special significance. As recorded by Mark, it is an acted parable with the same lesson as the spoken parable of the fruitess fig tree in Luke 13:6-9.

In that spoken parable a landowner came three years in succession expecting fruit from a fig tree on his property, and when year by year it proved to be fruidess, he told the man in charge of his vineyard to cut it down because it was using up the ground to no good purpose. In both the acted parable and the spoken parable it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the fig tree represents the city of Jerusalem, unresponsive to Jesus as he came to it with the message of God, and thereby incurring destruction. Elsewhere Luke records how Jesus wept over the city’s blindness to its true well-being and foretold its ruin “because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Lk 19:41-44 RSV). It is because the incident of the cursing of the fig tree was seen to convey the same lesson that Mark, followed by Matthew, recorded it.”


The Greeks had a name for it

Syko – is fig in Greek and it was the same in Ancient Greece.   philo-sykos means “friend of the fig” and many famous ancient Greeks professed to this love, including Plato and of course Solon who banned the export of figs as he considered them way too useful for the inhabitants of Attica.  Another Greek king, Mithridates ordered that all citizens of Pontus were he ruled should consume them daily as a cure for all sorts of things.

Greeks loved figs so much that they wore them around their necks in purification ceremonies.  (White figs for women, black ones for men.)  Figs were considered particularly honourable fruit, given to mortals from the godess Demeter and even used as laurels in the first Olympics, they were food for athletes, travellers and of course symposiums as they were considered good food for thinkers as well.