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Middle finger in ancient Rome


Sculpture with a finger

The middle finger is known around the world as an offensive gesture and considered indecent. As it turns out, this gesture was also known in ancient Rome.

The middle finger was referred to in Latin digitus impudicus, meaning “shameless, indecent or offensive finger”. Why such an understanding? Mainly due to the shape of the hand, which resembles a phallus from the front (middle finger) with testicles on the sides (curled fingers).

Its use is described, among others Marcjalis, in one of his songs; namely, a certain figure appears in good health straightens the “indecent [finger]” towards three doctors (Epigrammata VI.70.5).

In late antiquity, Isidore of Seville in his work Etymologiae reports that the middle finger was used when accusing someone of “shameful action”.

Sources

  • “Digitus impudicus”, “the impudent finger”, "Antiquitatem"

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