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The 'Fig'

There was another, and less openly apparent, form of the phallus, which has lasted as an amulet during almost innumerable ages. The ancients had two forms of what antiquaries have named the phallic hand, one in which the middle finger was extended at length, and the thumb and other fingers doubled up, while in the other the whole hand was closed, but the thumb was passed between the first and middle

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fingers. The first of these forms appears to have been the more ancient, and is understood to have been intended to represent, by the extended middle finger, the membrum virile, and by the bent fingers on each side the testicles. Hence the middle finger of the hand was called by the Romans, digitus impudicus, or infamis. It was called by the Greeks καταπύγων, which had somewhat the same meaning as the Latin word, except that it had reference especially to degrading practices, which were then less concealed than in modern times. To show the hand in this form was expressed in Greek by the word πκιμαλίζειν, and was considered as a most contemptuous insult, because it was understood to intimate that the person to whom it was addressed was addicted to unnatural vice. This was the meaning also given to it by the Romans, as we learn from the first lines of an epigram of Martial:--

"Rideto, multum, qui te, Sextille, cinædum
       Dixerit, et digitum porrigito medium."
                                  Martial, Ep. ii, 28.

Nevertheless, this gesture of the hand was looked upon at an early period as an amulet against magical influences, and, formed of different materials, it was carried on the person in the same manner as the phallus. It is not an uncommon object among Roman

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antiquities, and was adopted by the Gnostics as one of their symbolical images. The second of these forms of the phallic hand, the intention of which is easily seen (the thumb forming the phallus), was also well known among the Romans, and is found made of various material, such as bronze, coral, lapis lazuli, and chrystal, of a size which was evidently intended to be suspended to the neck or to some other part of the person. In the Musée Secret at Naples, there are examples of such amulets, in the shape of two arms joined at the elbow, one terminating in the head of a phallus, the other having a hand arranged in the form just described, which seem to have been intended for pendents to ladies' ears. This gesture of the hand appears to have been called at a later period of Latin, though we have no knowledge of the date at which this use of the word began, ficus, a fig. Ficus being a word in the feminine gender, appears to have fallen in the popular language into the more common form of feminine nouns, fica, out of which arose the Italian fica (now replaced by fico), the Spanish higa, and the French figue. Florio, who gives the word fica, a fig, says that it was also used in the sense of "a woman's quaint," so that it may perhaps be classed with one or two other fruits, such as the pomegranate and the apricot,

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to which a similar erotic meaning was given. 57 The form, under this name, was preserved through the middle ages, especially in the South of Europe, where Roman traditions were strongest, both as an amulet and as an insulting gesture. The Italian called this gesture fare la fica, to make or do the fig to any one; the Spaniard, dar una higa, to give a fig; and the Frenchman, like the Italian, faire la figue. We can trace this phrase back to the thirteenth century at least. In the judicial proceedings against the Templars in Paris in 1309, one of the brethren of the Order was asked, jokingly, in his examination, because he was rather loose and flippant in his replies, "if he bad been ordered by the said receptor (the officer of the Templars who admitted the new candidate) to make with his fingers the fig at the crucifix." Here the word used is the correct Latin ficus; and it is the same in the plural, in a document of the year 1449, in which an individual is said to have made figs with both hands at another. This phrase appears to have been introduced into the English language in the time of Elizabeth and to have been taken from the Spaniards, with whom our relations were then intimate. This we

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assume from the circumstance that the English phrase was "to give the fig" (dar la higa), 58 and that the writers of the Elizabethan age call it "the fig of Spain." Thus, ancient "Pistol, in Shakespeare:--

----"A figo for thy friendship!--
The fig of Spain." Henry V, III. 6.

The phrase has been preserved in all these countries down to modern times and we still say in English, "a fig for anybody," or "for anything," not meaning that we estimate them at no more than the value of a fig, but that we throw at them that contempt which was intimated by showing them the phallic hand, and which the Greeks, as stated above, called σκιμαλίζειν. The form of showing contempt which was called the fig is still well known among the lower classes of society in England, and it is preserved in most of the countries of Western Europe. In Baretti's Spanish Dictionary, which belongs to the commencement of the present century, we find the word higa interpreted as "A manner of scoffing at people, which consists in showing the thumb between the first and second finger, closing the first, and pointing at the person to whom we want to give this hateful mark of contempt." Baretti also gives as still in use the original meaning of the word, "Higa, a little hand

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made of jet, which they hang about children to keep them from evil eyes; a superstitious custom." The use of this amulet is still common in Italy, and especially in Naples and Sicily; it has an advantage over the mere form of the phallus, that when the artificial fica is not present, an individual, who finds or believes himself in sudden danger, can make the amulet with his own fingers. So profound is the belief of its efficacy in Italy, that it is commonly believed and reported there that, at the battle of Solferino, the king of Italy held his hand in his pocket with this arrangement of the fingers as a protection against the shots of the enemy.


65:56 Plate XII, Figs. 1 and 2.

70:57 See before, page 43. Among the Romans, the fig was considered as a fruit consecrated to Priapus, on account, it is said, of its productiveness.

71:58 "Behold next I see contempt, giving me the fico." Wit's Misery, quoted in Nares, v. Fico.

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