11 March 2014

What's the significance of a hand pulling an ear? - updated


(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."

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.
And finally:
I remember doing this a lot as a kid, when we had my favorite dishes for lunch or dinner.

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.
One additional observation, from one of the "anons" here:
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!

20 comments:

  1. This might help: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/431290101787008892/

    ReplyDelete
  2. Also: http://books.google.com/books?id=OmAbAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA651&lpg=PA651&dq=ear+greek+remember+me&source=bl&ots=-G4wZ7oxl-&sig=VZrR43ptsuJR98Wqac_3Zq9xPJE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=MysWU63pC8b7oAShj4HQCA&ved=0CGgQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=ear%20greek%20remember%20me&f=false

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That must be the explanation. Tx, Pearse. I'll append it to the post tomorrow.

      Delete
  3. Ancient Greek anticipation of Carol Burnett.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I was going to say, "Carol Burnett in a previous life."

      Lurker111

      Delete
  4. I think this may shed some light (or sound) on the matter. There are stories and ear tugging that some claim go back to the ancient days before Abraham. According to these tales, when the days of a human came to an end, he sneezed - and gave his soul to God with this sneeze. Since those times, is has been a custom to say something like "God Bless You" when you sneeze--in order to ward off death. Ashkenazi Jews have a custom of tugging an earlobe after sneezing. They say that if someone sneezes when a deceased person is mentioned, one should tug at his ear. The rule is, if a person sneezes when dead people are mentioned, they must tug their ear. The meaning of this custom is this: Adam and Eve did not obey God when God told them not to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge...because if they did, they would die. Adam's and Eve's ears did not hear God's command to stay away from that weird fruit! As a result of their deafness, death came to the world. Sneezing reminds us about death, and death came to the world because of (the malfunctioning of) their ears. That is why after sneezing some believe they should tug at an ear to remind themselves about the necessity of listening to the Almighty so that they don’t die. Got it?

    ReplyDelete
  5. http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/ancient-art-antiquities/a-roman-gold-and-onyx-cameo-finger-5628164-details.aspx?from=salesummary&intObjectID=5628164&sid=f498a856-7e94-4a84-a52f-1162f0b4c8da

    ReplyDelete
  6. http://www.pinterest.com/pin/536209899353824154/

    ReplyDelete
  7. It seems to be a church ritual as well, applying oil to the right ear lobe. May be connected to the Doctrine of Redemption. I'm not a religious scholar in any way at all. But it seems to me it is mourning jewellery that has a religious connotation.

    ReplyDelete
  8. http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/20669/lot/178/ or a lover's token?

    ReplyDelete
  9. And at last, I find you the answer... http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artObjectDetails?artobj=142046 "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."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent find! I'll add that on tomorrow.

      Delete
  10. As a French person, the first thing that comes to my mind is how Napoleon was known for honouring his best soldiers by pulling their ear. I can't really find supporting pictures or even references and less so in english but well, that's popular culture. Kids playing soldiers will often mimick this as part of their shared braveness.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Interesting...

    I remember doing this a lot as a kid, when we had my favorite dishes for lunch or dinner.

    In Brazil, pinching the earlobe means "very good", "excelent". 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.

    http://www.tocadacotia.com/10/10-girias-da-decada-de-60

    ReplyDelete
  12. I always thought it meant "steal third base". :^D

    ReplyDelete
  13. If it is derived from the verb μνημονεύω, in this case, mnemonete (really, it should be μνημονεύετε) specifically is the second person, imperative form. As in, '[you] remember!' It's an order or exhortation. Which makes sense in that they are remembrance tokens.

    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.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Let's not forget, er, let's remember, ok, anyway....Carol Burnett "remembers" her grandmother by tugging on her earlobe at the end of the Q&A at the end of her variety show.

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...