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A recondite rendering of "contus" would surely give a sharper point to the joke and furnish the riddle with the sting of an epigram.
As beliefs of this type are an integral part of the character of the lower orders, I am certain that the passage in Petronius is not devoid of sarcasm; and if such is the case, "contus" cannot be rendered "pole."
All translators have rendered "contus" by "pole," notwithstanding the fact that the word is used in a very different sense in Priapeia, x, 3: "traiectus conto sic extendere pedali," and contrary to the tradition which lay behind the gift of an apple or the acceptance of one.
All translators have rendered "contus" by "pole," notwithstanding the fact that the word is used in a very different sense in Priapeia, x, 3:
A bolt of flame from some contus or war spear roared like a furnace, splashing blue fire across the bulkhead in back of me, and I turned and ran as fast as my bad leg would permit for half a hundred ells, driving the remaining sailors before me.
Now this contus was a tough, light pole eight feet long, on the end of which was fixed an old bayonet.
-- “It hath beene of later experience found also to be effectual against the falling sicknesse, that divers have been cured thereby; for after the taking of the _Decoct.manipulor. ii.c. polypod.quercin. contus. ℥ iv. in cerevisia_, they that have been troubled with it twenty-six years, and have fallen once in a weeke, or two or three times in a moneth, have not fallen once in fourteen or fifteen moneths, that is until the writing hereof.”
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