Love Bites

One of the more bizarre stories of the 2014 FIFA World Cup was the Luis Suárez biting incident: Uruguay’s striker, currently playing for Liverpool, bit Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini.

Suárez has a remarkable history of this peculiar behaviour:

Meanwhile, the incident has resulted in a record ban for Suárez as well as in a predictable stream of creative effusions on the internet.

Beyond a doubt, Suárez needs help of some sort (certainly not that of the media, though – or that of this blog, for that matter).

What could be the explanation for Suárez’s behaviour?

Was he just as eager as the young Alcibiades, perhaps, who, too, is reported to have bitten an opponent during sports (Plutarch, Alcibiades 2.1-2)?

φύσει δὲ πολλῶν ὄντων καὶ μεγάλων παθῶν ἐν αὐτῷ, τὸ φιλόνεικον ἰσχυρότατον ἦν καὶ τὸ φιλόπρωτον, ὡς δῆλόν ἐστι τοῖς παιδικοῖς ἀπομνημονεύμασιν. ἐν μὲν γὰρ τῷ παλαίειν πιεζούμενος, ὑπὲρ τοῦ μὴ πεσεῖν ἀναγαγὼν πρὸς τὸ στόμα τὰ ἅμματα τοῦ πιεζοῦντος, οἷος ἦν διαφαγεῖν τὰς χεῖρας. ἀφέντος δὲ τὴν λαβὴν ἐκείνου καὶ εἰπόντος· ‘δάκνεις, ὦ Ἀλκιβιάδη, καθάπερ αἱ γυναῖκες,’ ‘οὐκ ἔγωγε,’ εἶπεν, ‘ἀλλ᾽ ὡς οἱ λέοντες.’

He was naturally a man of many strong passions, the mightiest of which were the love of rivalry and the love of preëminence. This is clear from the story recorded of his boyhood. He was once hard pressed in wrestling, and to save himself from getting a fall, set his teeth in his opponent’s arms, where they clutched him, and was like to have bitten through them. His adversary, letting go his hold, cried: ‘You bite, Alcibiades, as women do!’ ‘Not I,’ said Alcibiades, ‘but as lions do.’

Or it could have been an expression of passion of different sorts, along the lines expressed by the Roman Epicurean poet Lucretius (Lucr. 4.1073-85) . . .

Nec Veneris fructu caret is qui vitat amorem,
sed potius quae sunt sine poena commoda sumit;
nam certe purast sanis magis inde voluptas    1075
quam miseris; etenim potiundi tempore in ipso
fluctuat incertis erroribus ardor amantum
nec constat quid primum oculis manibusque fruantur.
quod petiere, premunt arte faciuntque dolorem
corporis et dentes inlidunt saepe labellis    1080
osculaque adfigunt, quia non est pura voluptas
et stimuli subsunt, qui instigant laedere id ipsum,
quod cumque est, rabies unde illaec germina surgunt.
sed leviter poenas frangit Venus inter amorem
blandaque refrenat morsus admixta voluptas.     1085

Nor is he who shuns love without the fruits of Venus, but rather enjoys those blessings which are without any pain: doubtless the pleasure from such things is more unalloyed for the healthy-minded than for the love-sick; for in the very moment of enjoying the burning desire of lovers wavers and wanders undecided, and they cannot tell what first to enjoy with eyes and hands.

What they have sought, they tightly squeeze and cause pain of body and often imprint their teeth on the lips and clash mouth to mouth in kissing, because the pleasure is not pure and there are hidden stings which stimulate to hurt, even that whatever it is from which spring those germs of frenzy.

But Venus with light hand breaks the force of these pains during love, and the fond pleasure mingled therein reins in the bites.

Perhaps we will find out some day.

Suárez’s grandmother suggested that her grandson had been treated like a dog by FIFA. The footage, however, largely suggests that his conduct on this occasion was somewhat short of that of an adorable lap-dog – a lap-dog that could get away with lovable little nibbles (CIL XIII 488 = CLE 1512):

Quam dulcis fuit ista quam benigna
quae cum viveret in sinu iacebat
somni conscia semper et cubilis
O factum male Myia quod peristi
latrares modo si quis adcubaret     5
rivalis dominae licentiosa
O factum male Myia quod peristi
Altum iam tenet insciam sepulcrum
nec saevire potes nec insilire
nec blandis mihi morsibus renides     10

How sweet she was, how kind,
while she lived she used to lie in my lap
always a confidante of sleep and the couch.
O the sad day, Myia, when you died.
You would bark liberally if anyone should lie
on your mistress as a rival.
O the sad day, Myia, when you died.
Now a deep tomb holds you unconscious,
you can neither howl nor be silent,
nor do you delight at me with your bites or caresses.

Suárez explanation made matters worse, as he claimed that these things happen all the time: a damaging comment, somewhat along the lines of maxime mortiferi morsus solent esse morientium bestiarum (‘the bites of dying animals tend to be particularly deadly’, Florus, Epitome 1.31.43).

Except that Suárez’s comments clearly ended up biting himself.

At any rate,  his opponents must remain hopeful that this was the last time Suárez would bite someone, and that the involved parties will be able to reconcile. Or, as Pope Symmachus had put it, in an inscription that was produced after the schism over his papacy came to an end (ICUR II 4108 = ILCV 985, line 3):

ni(hi)l formido valet, morsus cessere luporum.

Dread achieves nothing: the bites of the wolves have stopped.

About Peter Kruschwitz

Berliner. Classicist. Scatterbrain.
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