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T. I, Vol. 5

Article by E. Pottier in

Daremberg & Saglio,
Dictionnaire des Antiquités Grecques et Romaines,
Librairie Hachette et Cie., Paris, 1877‑1919.

translation and © William P. Thayer

Urinator (Κυβιστητήρ, ἀρνευτήρ, κολυμβητής). — A diver. The art of diving and of swimming underwater dates to the earliest times. Patrocles, seeing the squire Kebriones dealt a deathblow and fallen off his chariot, makes fun of him and compares him to a man who dives into the sea for a swim (κυβιστᾷ).​1 But the same word is already applied, in Homeric language, to a boatman and to an acrobat [cernuus, petaurista], no doubt by comparison with a diver.​2 Elsewhere Homer uses the term ἀρνευτήρ.3

In Greece, the very ancient sponge-fishing industry had early on developed the diver's art (σπογγοκολυμβητής, sponge-diver).​4 [spongia, p1442]. Plato calls the training pool κολυμβήθρα.​5 Pollux lists the terms having to do with underwater swimming: ὑδροκολυμβηταί, ὕφυδροι, κολυμβηταί δυόμενοι, δύτης, etc.​6 He mentions​7 the name of a famous diver, Scyllis or Scyllias of Scione, who lived at the time of the Persian Wars and whose story is told to us by Herodotus and Pausanias in differing accounts. According to Herodotus,​8 he was a man in the pay of the Persians, and he recovered for them a large amount of valuables that had sunk in the wreck of Xerxes' fleet near Mt. Pelion; but who having kept for himself a good portion, then went over to the Greeks to inform them as to the circumstances of the disaster and the number of Persian vessels. Pausanias on the other hand​9 would attribute the Persian disaster to Scyllis having gone underwater, with his daughter Hydnê whom he had trained in this work, to loose the anchors and deliver the ships to the storm; for this exploit the amphictyons of Delphi set up statues of the diver and of his daughter in the sanctuary; the latter statue was taken off to Rome by Nero.​10 In a most ingenious and seductive conjecture, Mr. Klein supposed that we have, in the statue known as the "Esquiline Venus",​11 a Roman copy of the Greek original which so charmed the imperial art‑lover.​12 A painter of the Hellenistic period, Androbius, painted the diver Scyllis on his way to cut the Persian anchors.13

During the Macedonian war, King Perseus, taking fright at the Romans' rapid advance, had given the order to dump the treasures of the city of Pella into the sea; but shortly afterwards, the king having become ashamed of his precipitancy, divers were able to search for and find almost everything that had been swallowed by the waves.14

As in Greece today, certain places were famed for their divers, and the entire population followed this arduous profession. It was said of the inhabitants of Anthedon in Boeotia, that their complexions were ruddy, their bodies slender, and the tips of their fingernails reddened from working in sea water.​15 Aristophanes and Plato also speak of an exercise practiced by the κολυμβηταί, consisting of swimming on their backs.16

In a black-figured lekythos in the Athens museum,​17 some have wished to see a depiction of a religious feast with contests of divers and boatmen;​18 but this explanation seems unlikely since several of the people shown on the boat or in the water have their hands tied behind their backs, which suggests rather a punishment meted out to criminals.19

In Latin, urinare and urinari (deponent) mean "to dive beneath the water."​20 In Rome the urinatores constituted an important guild that we find associated in one inscription with that of the fishermen; these divers exercised their profession over the entire course of the Tiber.​21 The Digest covers the case where merchandise thrown into the sea to lighten a ship during a storm is recovered by urinatores.22

The Author's Notes:

1 Iliad XVI.745‑750.

2 Ibid. XVIII.605.

3 Ibid. XII.385; Od. XII.913; cf. Eustath. ad loc.

4 Pollux, Onom. VII.31.137.

5 Plato, Republic, V.4, p453D.

6 Poll. VII, chap. 31.

7 Ibid.

8 Herodotus VIII.8.

9 Paus. X.19.1; cf. Pliny, XXXV.32.139.

10 As to the historical accuracy of these two accounts, see Adm. Hauvette's discussion in Un épisode de la seconde Guerre Médique, in Revue de philologie1886. In the same paper see the remarks on the rôle of the woman diver Hydnê, named by other authors as well (Athen. VII, p294E; Anth. Pal. IX.296) and conflated with the mythological tale of the sea‑god Glaucus; see also Hitzig's ed. of Pausanias, vol. III, pp731‑732.

11 Collignon, Sculpt. grecq. II, p686, fig. 359.

Thayer's Note: See the Esquiline Venus at Livius.Org — a modern photograph that is, inevitably, far better. A great flowering of identifications, surmises, and theories has found its way into print, but no consensus.

12 Klein, Wien. Jahreshefte, X, 1907, p142; cf. S. Reinach, Revue arch. 1907, II p345.

13 Pliny, XXXV.32.139.

14 Livy XLIV.10.3.

15 Fragm. hist. graec., Didot ed., II, p259; fragment wrongly attributed to Dicaearchus of Messene; see Hauvette, l.c.

16 Plato ap. Pollux, VII.31.138.

17 Collignon-Couve, Catal. des vas. d'Athènes, no. 969; Dumont-Chaplain, Céramiq. I, pl. 23.

18 O. Rossbach, Arch. Miscellen, in Aus der Anomia, 1890, p202; cf. Paus. II.35.1.

19 Tyrrhenian pirates punished by Dionysus, according to Hirschfeld, Arch. Zeit. 1876 p126; keelhauling, according to Brunn and Hoffmann; cf. Dumont, Op. l. p386.

20 Varro, L. L. V.126 (he seeks to derive from the term the word for a water‑jar, urna); Cic. ap Non. VII.57; Pliny, IX.30.48; XI.37.72.

21 Orelli, Inscr. 4115 = CIL VI.1872.

22 Dig. XIV.2.4, § 1; cf. Manil. Astronom. V.434‑439.

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