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THE MEANING OF POLYPHAGUS

Suetonius in Nero 37.2 reports that it was believed that Nero
wished to throw living men to be torn to pieces and eaten by
polyphago cuidam Aegypti generis crudam carnem et quidquid
daretur mandere assueto. This phrase is usually translated "a
certain monster of Egyptian birth, accustomed to eating raw
flesh and anything else it was given." The word polyphagus is
a hapax legomenon in Latin. The Greek word :rovcpdayog
means "glutton" or "gourmandizer." Usually polyphagus has
been translated as "devouring monster." I suggest that there is
strong evidence for polyphagus to mean crocodile. The description of the animal in Suetonius as a devourer of flesh, fits
this perfectly. There is evidence that the word actually means
crocodile. A characteristic of ideographic and some syllabic
writing systems is the use of a determinative. A determinative
fixes the class of objects to which the following word belongs.
For example, one might find before any object made of wood,
the determinative for wood, such as "wood" spoon, "wood"
bow, "wood" house. In Egyptian the word for crocodile is
msh. But the ideograph for crocodile is also used as a determinative for words meaning voracious or lustful.' Thus the
word polyphagus seems to be a direct translation of the determinative. I suggest that in Egypt a local Latin and Greek word
for crocodile was polyphagus. To interpret polyphagus as
crocodile in the Suetonius passage makes much the best sense
of the material.
ROBERT J. LITTMAN
UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII

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Alan W. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar3 (Oxford 1964) 475.

AMERICANJOURNAL OF PHILOLOGY 97 369 (1976)
Copyright ? 1976 by The Johns Hopkins University Press