One thing I love about research is that you are never done. No matter how much you know, or how well you know a text, there will always be some reference inviting further research. While I was researching for my post on abstinence, I came across a small mention of something interesting: the 'handle-kiss'. In Hans Licht's 'Sexual Life in Ancient Greece', he makes note of the following:

"Eunicus wrote a comedy, Anteia, yet we can say nothing more explicit of the hetaira of this name nor of the comedy itself than that from it only a single verse is preserved - 'Take me by the ears and give me the handle-kiss'." [p.308]

Intrigued, I took to the internet, as my bookshelves offered no further explanation. Here, I found an excellent paper by Richard Hawley, titled 'Give Me a Thousand Kisses', which focusses on kissing practices in ancient Hellas. It's quite a wonderful read. He also mentions the handle-kiss--or as he calls it, the 'jug-kiss', translated from the same source Licht used.
"The affectionate kissing of children, indeed, spawns a unique type of special kiss, the chutra, or ‘jug-kiss’. The Greek lexicographer Pollux records (Onomasticon 10.100) that the chutra is a type of kiss when one kisses one’s children, holding them up by the ears, as if they were two handles of a jug. By way of illustration Pollux cites a fragment (fr. 1) of the comedy Anteia by Eunicus: ‘lift him up by the ears and give him the chutra kiss.’ Bizarrely perhaps, this classical custom is still alive and kicking by the time of Tibullus in the late first century BC, who refers to a child kissing his father while holding his father’s ears (2.5.92), and Plutarch, who writes in the first-second century AD that ‘many people kiss little children by holding their ears and asking the children to do the same’ (Moral Essays 38c).

It is significant that in these instances, it is the parent who is generally described as the active agent, the kisser, and the child as the passive recipient of the kiss. Although sometimes the child kisses back, the narrative focus is upon the kiss as a symbol of the love the parent bears the child, and thus acts to characterise the parent’s virtue of familial affection." [p.5]

From his, we can gather that the handle-kiss (or jug-kiss, or chutra kiss) was a kiss between parent and child, a non-sexual kiss, meant to convey affection by reaching for the ears of the child, or sometimes where the child reaches for the ears of the parent as well. It sounds like a sweet practice.

Julius Pollux's Onomasticon--a collection of ten books which functions as a dictionary for ancient Hellenic life--is not available in English online, not even for purchase, I fear. from him, we will thus learn no more about this practice. Albius Tibullus was a Latin poet, and we can access his works. the full sentence Hawley refers to goes as follows:

"And the mother will bear him a child, the child grab his father’s ears to snatch a kiss: and the grandfather won’t be bored with watching his little grandson, the old man babbling with the young." [2.5.92]

It is part of a poem about the blessings of Apollo(n), should Apollon chose to place blessings upon mankind. 'So once it was, but at last, you, kind Apollo, submerge monstrous things in the savage depths...'. We can also find the reference to Plutarch. In full, it reads:

"Most people in bestowing an affectionate kiss on little children not only take hold of children by the ears but bid the children to do the same by them, thus insinuating in a playful way that they must love most those who confer benefit through the ears. For surely the fact is plain, that the young man who is debarred from hearing all instruction and gets no taste of speech not only remains wholly unfruitful and makes no growth towards virtue, but may also be perverted towards vice, and the product of his mind, like that of a fallow and untilled piece of ground, will be a plentiful crop of wild oats. For if the impulses towards pleasure and the feelings of suspicion towards hard work (which are not of external origin nor imported products of the spoken word, but indigenous sources, as it were, of pestilent emotions and disorders without number) be allowed to continue unconstrained along their natural channels, and if they be not either removed or diverted another way through the agency of goodly discourse, thus putting the natural endowments in a fit condition, there is not one of the wild beasts but would be found more civilized than man." [38c-d]

Thus, Plutarch gives us a valuable clue about the 'why' of the handle-kiss: he feels that the kiss exists because children need to learn that listening--to knowledge being shared, but also military orders and sound advice--needs to be associated with good things (kisses and affection) very early on, and that they must listen to those who speak with hat same affection. He also stresses that those who confer wisdom need to be appreciated for it, this is why the child is asked to hold the ears of his father as well.

The tradition of the handle-kiss suddenly makes a lot of sense in the grand, Hellenic, scheme, doesn't it? With its focus on knowledge, temperance and learning, it seems like a wonderful way to confer to your children from a long age that their ears are there to use and gain great things through. Perhaps, if I ever have a child, I will place the kiss on them as well. It never hurts to try.