(Other than as a sign of otitis media in a child.) The item at the top comes from the collections of the British Museum (via A London Salmagundi), where it is described succinctly as -
Plain gold box-setting from a finger-ring containing an oval sard intaglio: hand pulling ear; inscribed.- and filed as probably Roman, of 1st-3rd century. I had to look up "sard" (carnelian)*, but when I searched the web for further information, what I found was another hand pulling another ear in the Naples Archaeology Museum (via this Flickr user):
I don't have time to dig more deeply. Someone out there must know the answer.
*According to Pliny the Elder, sard derives its name from the city of Sardis in Lydia, but it more likely comes from the Persian word سرد sered, meaning yellowish-red.
Addendum: In keeping with a long-standing tradition at TYWKIWDBI, no question that I ask goes unanswered by the readership.
Reader Pearce O'Leary found a reference to this behavior in A Popular Handbook to the Greek and Roman Antiquities in the British Museum:
Nolandda noted that the inscription reads "ΜΝΗΜΟΝΕΥΕ (a.k.a. Μνημονευε or μνημονευε) : I remember, hold in remembrance, make mention of."
Others found a similar ring offered at Christies and a cameo in the same style in the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum:
On this cameo, a hand pinches an earlobe between the thumb and forefinger; above, there is another object, perhaps a knotted scarf or a diadem. Surrounding the imagery, a long inscription in Greek, comprising a sentimental message that addresses a man: "Remember me, your dear sweetheart, and fare well, Sophronios."And finally:
In Roman art and literature, the ear-tweaking hand is a common motif, signifying a request for attention. Gems such as this were mementos of love, and were probably given as gifts. The knotted object is not common, but very likely it, too, was a symbol of remembrance, its purpose perhaps similar to the modern custom of tying a knot in a handkerchief so as not to forget something important.
I remember doing this a lot as a kid, when we had my favorite dishes for lunch or dinner.One additional observation, from one of the "anons" here:
In Brazil, pinching the earlobe means "very good, excellent." The gesture usually comes with the slang expression "daqui, ó" (which would mean literally "from here"). I can definitely see a connection between this gesture and the "don't forget" connotation explained above.
Very possibly, this gesture came from the Portuguese, Spanish or Italian colonies in Brazil.
Interestingly enough, the earlobe is a pressure point in the Ayurvedic pressure-point system of massage. And pinching or massaging the earlobe is said to stimulate brain circulation and generally improve memory, learn better, etc. In India, bad schoolwork or behaviour will result in having the ear pinched quite strongly by teacher or parent. A common school punishment is to hold the earlobe and stand in a corner or hold the lobes and do squats. Also apologies (especially for forgetting something important) maybe rendered with the ear lobe holding gesture.Thanks to all of my great readers!