I was recently reading a work where I became (re)acquainted with the fact that the middle finger can be referred to as the digitus impudicus -- the "shameful finger" -- in Latin.

My question is whether we have classical attestations, anecdotal or otherwise, of the middle finger having the same meaning as it does in many cultures today.


2 Answers 2


The middle finger is mostly known from Greek comedy, but it is also mentioned in some Latin sources.

Martial's Epigram 28, lines 1–2:

Rideto multum qui te, Sextille, cinaedum
Dixerit et digitum porrigito medium.

"Laugh at the man who calls you a faggot, Sextillus, and extend your middle finger."


Logeion, s.v. impudicus, gives Martial 6.70.5 which mind you isn't specified as being the middle finger. But there's an interesting and amusing commentary on that passage in an article (CJ 47:67) on Roman Elementary Mathematics by J. Hilton Turner, which makes it pretty clear that it was. Elsewhere in the same article, there's a translation of a chunk of Bede in which he talks of the middle finger (clear from the context, despite no Latin original in the article) as impudicus.

In Muratori (XI, part 3, p126), in the anonymous Liber de computo sive kalendario attributed to Cyril of Alexandria, §138 there's another digitus impudicus; here too in the context of representing numbers on one's fingers.

Roger Pack, "Catullus, Carmen V: Abacus or Finger-Counting?", AJP 77:47-51 at JSTOR builds on another part of the Turner article, by suggesting that the Catullus poem maybe is best viewed not on an abacus with Turner, but in finger-counting, and there's a bit about the impudicus in his article as well.

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