Egyptians, Lydians, Cilicians, and other peoples: Kratinos, Aristophanes, Suetonius and others on “Egyptianizing” and other ethnicizing stereotypes (sixth century BCE on)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Egyptians, Lydians, Cilicians, and other peoples: Kratinos, Aristophanes, Suetonius and others on “Egyptianizing” and other ethnicizing stereotypes (sixth century BCE on),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified April 23, 2024,

Ancient authors: Kratinos, Aristophanes, Suetonius, and others outlined below.

Comments: Greeks sometimes developed verbal forms in order to capture and express stereotypes about foreign peoples (here especially Egyptians) or to capture the tendencies of certain sub-groups among Greeks themselves. These “-ize” words indicated that someone was adopting or acculturating to the behaviour of the ethnic group in question, usually but not always with negative valences.

We have already discussed Medizing or Persianizing (link), Carianizing (link), Judaizing (link and another link), and barbarizing in general (link), but here are a number of other terms for acculturating to supposedly problematic customs of other peoples. The case of Egyptianizing stands out as strongly negative, meaning behaving in an evil manner. But there are other less harsh or more specific stereotypes involved (e.g. Dorianizing as going around naked). The ongoing rivalry between Sparta and Athens could be expressed in terms of the danger of Lakonizing or Atticizing as well. Suetonius in particular took some time to gather together a variety of examples in Concerning Insults, written in the early second century CE. But many go back to the fifth century BCE and even earlier.

Works consulted: S.D. Olson and R. Seaberg, Kratinos Frr. 299-514: Translation and Commentary (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2018), 233-234; A. Sofia, Aigyptiazein: Frammenti della commedia attica antica (Milan: Vita e pensiero, 2016); J. Taillardat, Suétone: ΠΕΡΙ ΒΛΑΣΦΗΜΙΩΝ, ΠΕΡΙ ΠΑΙΔΙΝ (extraits Byzantins) (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1967).



Kratinos (fifth century BCE) (= PCG IV, fragment no. 406 = Kaibel, no. 378, as cited by Eustathios, Commentary on the Odyssey, p. 1484, line 28 (link))

To Egyptianize (aigyptiazein). . . means to be ready to do absolutely anything (panourgein) and to behave in an evil manner (kakotropeuesthai), as, they say, the comic poet Kratinos makes clear.

Aristophanes (late fifth century BCE), Women at the Thesmophoria 922

  • Euripides: “Do you propose to prevent me from taking my wife, the daughter of Tyndareus, to Sparta?”
  • Kritylla: You seem to me to be a completely wicked person (panourgos) too. You are in collusion with this man, and it was not for nothing that you kept Egyptianizing (aigyptiazein). But the hour for punishment has come. Here is the magistrate arriving with his Scythian archer.
  • Euripides: This is getting awkward. Let me hide.

Suetonius (second century CE), On Insults and the Origin of Each, lines 250-256 (= fourteenth century Byzantine epitomes edited by Taillardat 1967)

Now there are many insulting verbs derived from peoples, cities, and districts: From peoples, for instance, there is to Cilicianize which is to speak falsely (or: to speak like a bastard), to Egyptianize  (aegyptiazein) which is to behave in an evil manner (ponēreuesthai), and to Cretanize which is to lie. Now from cities, for instance, there is to Lesbianize which is to behave shamefully. . . [omitted tangential citations of Pherekrates on women of Lesbos]. Now insults from districts: to Aixonize [Aixoneis was a district of Attica] which is to speak poorly . . . [omitted remainder of gloss].

Eusebios (early fourth century CE), Preparation for the Gospel 13.16.12

In these discourses concerning the soul [in the Republic 620a] it is clear that Plato is Egyptianizing (aigyptiazōn), because his statement is not that of the Hebrews, since it is not in keeping with truth. There is, however, no opportunity to refute this, because he himself did not attempt to solve the problem by providing evidence. . . [omitted remainder].

Hesychios of Alexandria (fifth-sixth centuries CE), lexicon at α 1744

“Egyptianizing” (aigyptiazōn) means behaving in an evil manner (kakotropeuomenos).


Aristophanes, Knights 510-523

Chorus [addressing the audience]: If one of the old authors asked me to climb on this stage to recite his verses, he would not have found it hard to persuade me. But our poet of today is likewise worthy of this favour. He shares our hatred, he dares to tell the truth, he boldly withstands both waterspouts and hurricanes. Many among you, he tells us, have expressed amazement that he has not long since had a piece presented in his own name, and have asked the reason why.

This is what he requests that we say in reply to your questions: It is not without reason that he has courted the shade because, in his opinion, nothing is more difficult than to cultivate the comic Muse. Many court her, but very few secure her favours. Moreover, he knows that you are fickle by nature and betray your poets when they grow old. What fate happened to Magnes, when his hair went white? Often enough, if he had triumphed over his rivals, if he had sung in all keys, played the lyre and fluttered wings, if he Lydianized (lydizōn) [i.e. became a Lydian], even gnatized, and painted himself green to become a frog. All of this would be pointless! When he was young, you applauded him; in his old age you heckeled and mocked him because his genius for being funny had left.



Anakreon (sixth century BCE), PMG, fragment 399 (=  Scholiast on Euripides, Hecuba)

“To Dorianize” (dōriazein) refers to women showing themselves naked, according to Anakreon. “Having taken off her clothing (chiton) to Dorianize (dōriazein)”


Aristophanes (late fifth century BCE), Kokalos, fragment 370 (= Stephanos of Byzantion, Ethnika 374.5)

“I Corinthianize” (korinthiazomai) means: to have sex with a prostitute, from the prostitutes in Corinth, or to be a pimp (mastropeuein).

Lakedaimonizing / Lakonizing

Aristophanes (late fifth century BCE), Babylonians, fragment 97 (= Stephanos of Byzantion, Ethnika 408.5)

Lakedaimon: “I Lakonize” (lakōnizō) and “Lakonist” (lakōnistēs); “I Lakedaimonize” (lakedaimoniazō) is also used, as in Aristophanes, Babylonians.

Aristophanes, Women at the Thesmophoria, part 2, fragment 358 (= Suda lexicon, lambda 62)

“To Lakonize” (lakōnizein) means to sexually desire boys.

Lakonizing vs. Atticizing

Xenophon of Athens (mid-fourth century BCE), Hellenika 6.3.14

[Athenian Kallistratos addressing the Spartans:] “among the populations of all the cities, some favour you [Spartans], and some us. Within each city, some Lakonize while others Atticize.”

Isocrates (mid-fourth century BCE), On the Peace 8.108

Didn’t we choose to pursue a policy that resulted in the Lakedaimonians becoming masters of the Greeks? Didn’t they, in their turn, manage their supremacy so badly that not many years later we again gained the upper hand and became the arbiters of their safety? Didn’t the interference of the Atticizers make the cities Lakonize? And didn’t the violent behaviour of the Lakonizers force the same ones to Atticize?


Source of translations: Translations by Harland or adaptations by Harland of public domain translations.

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