"I was wondering if you could answer a question. How did the ancient Hellenes swear and/or insult, how would they have sworn an oath and on what."

The above is a reader question I've received and I had to admit it had me scratching my head a bit. Swear or insult? Well, there were a couple of 'bad words' to call another if you were an ancient Hellenic person that would have mortally offended another. Things like:

- blakas - idiot
- koprophage - dung eater
- kuna - female dog, also known as a bitch
- methusa - "old woman" (used as an insult agains men)
- mhtrokoitos - "motherfucker"
- morosoph - a "learned fool"
- skatophage - another word for "dung eater"
- suagros - someone sexually attracted to pigs
- xanthodontous - yellow-toothed

Curses were often things like: "go to the crows!", "damn your eyes!", "you sack of wine!", "by the Gods!"

The ancient Hellenes tended to swear oaths by the Gods. In different places different deities were more important than others and were more likely to sworn by. Women were more likely than men to swear by female deities, and vise versa. Part of the choice most likely also had to do with the amount of kharis they'd built up with that particular God. Perhaps the situation that made you swear had an effect on the choice of God they swore by as well.

When you swear an oath to the Theoi, hold up your right hand, bend your pinkie and ringfinger down to your palm and extend all other fingers up. An example of an oath sworn is the following from the 'Argonautica' by Apollonius Rhodes:

"I swear by Leto's Son [Apollon], who of His own accord taught me prophetic lore; by my own ill-starred fate; by the dark cloud that veils my eyes; by the Powers below [presumably Haides, Persephone and the Erinyes] – and may They blast me if I die forsworn – that you will not incur the wrath of Heaven by helping me." [2.259]