Rarely is there something as bottom of the barrel—yet as amusing, as the dick joke.
Scrappy, try-hard (emphasis on the hard) and the crux of most Adult Swim comedies, dick jokes and by-in-large, sex humour is not something all that new to our literary and literal ancestors. While Shakespeare's flowery language and incomprehensible old-timey wordplay contains a whole lot of sly references to erections, anal sex, masturbation etc. (Mercutio: O Romeo, that she were! Oh, that she were an open arse, and thou a poperin pear..) you have to hand it to the ancient Greeks for their persisting, hilarious and utterly childish humour.
Let’s narrow our pool down to Sappho; an archaic, female, Greek poet who has something of a controversial and muddied history.
What we do know about Sappho for absolute certain is as follows; she wrote lyric poetry and in doing so, wrote poems about her love and the love of women. Most of Sappho's poetry is now lost and survives only in fragmentary form. As well as lyric poetry, ancient commentators claimed that Sappho wrote elegiac and iambic poetry, and three epigrams attributed to Sappho survive today (the most recent unearthed in 2014).
Sappho, in and of herself though, is no ordinary poet. For the better part of three millennia she’s been under constant scrutiny—about her work, her family life and above all, her sexuality. In the one breath, she id praised for her ‘sublime’ style only to then in the other be ridiculed for her "loose morals."
Legend has it that the early Church burned her works (“A sex-crazed whore who sings of her own wantonness,” one theologian wrote of her) while Victorian scholars were doing their best to explain away her erotic predilections. Other literary contemporaries and eventually modern readers and scholars took Sappho up as a feminist heroine or queer role model or both. Famous critic and queer/gender theorist Judith Butler, is quoted as once saying: “As far as I knew, there was only me and a woman called Sappho.”
Sappho’s lyric genius which is at once point something playful, in the next, utterly anguished in song about her susceptibility to the graces of other women, is coined as bequeathing the adjectives “sapphic” and “lesbian” as terms for modern use.
Again, little is known of Sappho's life. Although her birthplace cannot be verified, she seems to have lived mostly in Mytilene, the capital of Lesbos. She is thought to be from a wealthy family, though the names of both of her parents are uncertain. There are three major sources of information about Sappho's life: her own poetry, other ancient sources, and deductions from knowledge of the historical context in which she worked.
These ancient sources generally say that she was exiled to Sicily around 600 BC, and may have continued to work until around 570. Legends surrounding her death are unverified.
In the modern day, like I said, Sappho’s become something of a symbol for (cis)female homosexuality—and while this modern understanding of sexuality wasn’t something quite on the radar of ancient literati and scholars (at least not with our modern understanding), she’s generally been considered as something of a sexual deviant, beyond the scope and subject of her poems.
In Greek popular culture of the Classical period and afterward, Sappho was known primarily as an oversexed predator—sexually aggressive towards men. This, in fact, was the ancient cliché about “Lesbians”.
In classical Greek, the verb lesbiazein—“to act like someone from Lesbos”—meant performing fellatio, an activity for which inhabitants of the island were thought to be rather good at and have, let’s say, a taste for.
According to the Suda (a 10th century encyclopedia lexicon of the ancient Mediterranean world) Sappho was married to Kerkylas of Andros. Yet, in a beautiful and rippling comedic act to last the ages, the name "Kerkylas" comes from the word "κέρκος" kerkos, which is ancient slang for penis/dick, and is not otherwise attested to as a name, while "Andros", as well as being the name of a Greek island, is like the Greek word "ἀνήρ" (aner), which means man.
Roughly translated and put together this would be; Sappho—the reason lesbians are called lesbians—is wife to Dick Allcock of Man Island.
Sometimes life is beautiful.