Monday 11 January 2016

The Semantics of Line Drawings XII, Grylloi

[ The Semantics of Line Drawings XI, Anthropomorphism | The Semantics of Line Drawings XIII, Why is Reading so Easy?]

I once read the following in John Adkins Richardson's The Complete Book of Cartooning:

The aggressor with the knife is nothing but a bodiless head with legs and arms sprouting directly from the chin and cheeks. Such figures are of very ancient origin and even have a name. They are grylli (gryllos for singular) and while there are more complicated and monstrous varieties passing under the same rubric, this version is the most typical. During the 1960s underground cartoonist Rich Griffin invented a particularly disquieting version of the gryllos, a disembodied eyeball on legs ..."

I don't have the book to hand, and I've pasted together the quote above from Google Books searches which won't let me look at the illustration Richardson was talking about. I remember it to be of a head on legs with, as he says, arms sprouting from its chin or cheeks. However, the name sounded Greek, so I was fairly sure that the plural should be "grylloi" and not "grylli". A search in Brill’s New Pauly confirmed this:

According to Pliny (HN 35,114), the name for caricature depictions in painting since Antiphilus [4] of Alexandria represented a certain Gryllus in that way. Originally these were dancers with grotesque physical proportions and contortions. As gryllographeîn and grylloeídēs later generally referred to ridiculously proportioned bodies, small-format free-standing sculpture representations can also be described as grylloi. Today the genre is no longer attributed to Alexandrian art only. To cover all animal caricatures and monstrous figures as well as the parodies of gods depicted in the wall painting of Pompeii with the term grylloi is dubious as well. On the other hand, the historical identification of ancient grylloi is increasingly replaced by cultural sociological interpretations of all kinds of representations of misshapen and absurd people ( Caricatures; realism as a means of expression).

Although "gryllos" may have denoted other kinds of distortion, I think that in cartooning, the head-with-arms-and-legs is so common that we do need a word for it. Which might as well be "gryllos". Grylloi are easy to draw, so there are huge numbers of examples. Basically, anything ball-shaped that the artist needs to make into a living being.

My first thought on looking for examples was haggis. And sure enough, an image search yielded lots. Those on all fours probably shouldn't count as grylloi, but as animals. However, this kilted figure, with its arms at a higher level than its mouth, definitely is a gryllos:

From a post by "M-J" on the Nissan Juke Owners Group

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