ἀρχαιομελισιδωνοφρυνιχήρατος

I’ve just learned from a colleague that the word ἀρχαιομελισιδωνοφρυνιχ-
ήρατος is used by Japanese twitter-users to express a great astonishment or surprise. She herself has it from one of her students who is currently taking part in an exchange programme in Japan.

The word comes from Aristophanes. It occurs in line 220 of the Wasps and makes fun of Phrynichus, a tragic poet from the beginning of the 5th century BCE who has written several tragedies. One among them is called Phoenissae and had probably almost the same content as Aeschylus’s Persae, which means the defeat of Xerxes’s army. The piece is alluded to by the adjective Sidonian, as the Phoenician women who constituted the chorus of this play were from Sidon.

The word has therefore to be divided as follows ἀρχαιο-μελι-σιδωνο-φρυνιχ-ήρατος: a dear old honey-sweet (song) from Phrynichus’s Sidonian play (Phoenissae). The context is the following:

At the beginning of the play Bdelycleon speaks with his father Philocleon. He holds him back in their house because Bdelycleon wants to prevent his father from going to the court. Philocleon’s habit to go to the law court as a jury has become a disease which has to be cured according to Bdelycleon. When at the end of their discussion, Bdelycleon announces the arriving of the chorus, who is played by fellow-jurors of Philocleon, he describes them as singing, on their way to the court, these dear old honey-sweet Sidonian songs from Phrynichus.

There is no surprise at all in the Aristophanean lines. It is rather to be understood as a bad habit of them at least in the eyes of Bdelycleon. So, where does the surprise in the Japanese use of the word come from? And why on earth has this old Aristophanean word made its way to the young Japanese twitter accounts? Does anyone has an answer to this very nice example of modern reception of ancient Greek?

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