Carl W. Conrad (
Mon, 6 Jan 1997 09:29:07 -0600

At 8:15 AM -0600 1/6/97, Rod Decker wrote:
>This is not directly related to the current wrangle re. etymology (other
>than, perhaps, to illustrate the limitations of etymology!), but any help
>with the classical word SKUTOBRACION would be much appreciated.
>What I know (on this subject!):
> LSJ lists it as meaning "leathern arm" and notes that it was
> a nickname given to the grammarian Dionysius (references:
> Ath 12.515e [=3D Athenaeus Grammaticus, ii/iii AD], cf. Sueton.
> Gramm. 7 [=3D Suetonius, ii AD]. (I don't have access to those texts.)
>What I don't know:
> What is the point of Dionysius being nicknamed "leathern arm"?
>Some background (i.e., where I first ran into this word):
>I've been reading (no, that's too high a rating; maybe, "struggling to
>translate" would be more accurate!) Franz Wessengruber, "Zum Verbalaspekt
>im Griechischen des Neuen Testaments," _Studiem zum Neuen Testament and
>Seiner Umwelt_ 16 (1991): 169-77. [=3D "Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the
>NT," in _Studies in the NT and Its Surroundings_] In it he compares
>Porter's work on aspect to Dionysius' grammatical achievements as follows
>(my rough transl.):
>" may say, first of all from Porter's work, that with its abundance
>of passages and commentary, it may be described as nothing short of a
>storehouse[of information and a reference work, and that it likewise has
>great value for linguists and for exegetes.... (The ancients conferred the
>nickname "Leather Arm" on the learned grammarian Dionysius because of a
>comparably prodigious achievement, not without a certain undertone to be
>In other words, Dionysius was named "Leather Arm" because of his monumental
>achievement; Porter deserves the same title for a similarly prodigious work=
>For those of you who can read it, here is the original text:
>"..., lasst sich zunachest einmal von Porters Arbeit sagen dass sie mit
>ihrer Fulle von Text und Kommentierungen geradezu eine Fundgrube und ein
>Nachschlagewerk darstellt, das ebenso grossen Wert fur Linguisten wie fur
>Exegeten hat; ... (Die Alten haben wegen einer vergleichsweise so
>gewaltigen Leistung, nicht ohne einen gewissen Unterton freilich, dem
>gelehrten Grammatiker Dionysios den Beinamen eines "Skytobrachion"
>I'm also curious as to the implications of the "gewissen Unterton" that is
>(I'm open to any corrections in my German transl. as well!)

If you really want to know why the "leather arm" epithet was used, you
might want to get in touch with a former colleague of mine, Jeff Rusten,
who is now at Cornell; he did a Harvard dissertation on Dionysius
Skutobrachios, unless I am quite mistaken. The last e-address I have for
him is -- he's also the developer of the most recent
versions of the GreekKey fonts for Macintosh and Windows that are
distributed by Scholars Press.

As for the "gewisser Unterton," I think he means it was used with a hint of
the pejorative. The guy was one of those 2nd c. B.C. Alexandrian scholars
devoting themselves to the more arcane and useless sorts of questions.
Browning, in "A Grammarian's Funeral," wonderfully satirized the type:

"He settled hOTI's business--let it be!--
Properly based OUN--
Gave us the doctrine of the enclitic DE,
Dead from the waist down ..."

and Lucian in antiquity was doing similar satires on the Alexandrian
grammarians; there's a wonderful passage in his "True History" where he
speaks of visiting (as a sort of ancient Gulliver, probably Swift's model,
in fact) the same underworld that Odysseus visited in Odyssey 11, and had
an opportunity to talk with Homer, who explained how he despised those

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR