The middle finger originated in Ancient Greece, where the gesture was used as a symbol of anal intercourse in a manner meant to degrade, intimidate and threaten the individual receiving the gesture
“The middle finger originated in Ancient Greece, where the gesture was used as a symbol of anal intercourse in a manner meant to degrade, intimidate and threaten the individual receiving the gesture. It also represented the phallus, with the fingers next to the middle finger representing testicles; from its close association, the gesture may have assumed apotropaic potency. In the 1st-century Mediterranean world, extending the finger was one of many methods used to divert the ever-present threat of the evil eye.
The Cynic philosopher Diogenes, pictured by Gérôme with the large jar in which he lived; when strangers at the inn were expressing their wish to catch sight of the great orator Demosthenes, Diogenes is said to have stuck out his middle finger and exclaimed “”this, for you, is the demagogue of the Athenians””
In Greek the gesture was known as the katapugon. In ancient Greek comedy, the finger was a gesture of insult toward another person, with the term katapugon also referring to “”a male who submits to anal penetration”” or katapugaina to a female. In Aristophanes’ comedy The Clouds (423 BC), when the character Socrates is quizzing his student on poetic meters, Strepsiades declares that he knows quite well what a dactyl is, and gives the finger. The gesture is a visual pun on the two meanings of the Greek word dactylos, both “”finger”” and the rhythmic measure composed of a long syllable and two short, like the joints of a finger (— ‿ ‿, which also appears as a visual pun on the penis and testicles in a medieval Latin text). Socrates reacts to the gesture as boorish and childish. The gesture recurs as a form of mockery in Peace, alongside farting in someone’s face; the usage is later explained in the Suda and included in the Adagia of Erasmus. The verb “”to play the Siphnian”” appears in a fragment of Aristophanes and has a similar meaning; the usage is once again explained in the Suda, where it is said to mean “”to touch the anus with a finger””. Diogenes Laertius records how the Cynic philosopher Diogenes directed the gesture at the orator Demosthenes in 4th-century BC Athens. In the Discourses of Epictetus, Diogenes’ target is instead one of the sophists.
In Latin, the middle finger was the digitus impudicus, meaning the “”shameless, indecent or offensive finger””. In the 1st century AD, Persius had superstitious female relatives concoct a charm with the “”infamous finger”” (digitus infamis) and “”purifying spit””; while in the Satyricon, an old woman uses dust, spit and her middle finger to mark the forehead before casting a spell. The poet Martial has a character in good health extend “”the indecent one”” toward three doctors. In another epigram, Martial wrote: “”Laugh loud, Sextillus, at whoever calls you a cinaedus and extend your middle finger.”” Juvenal, through synecdoche, has the “”middle nail”” cocked at threatening Fortuna. The indecent finger features again in a mocking context in the Priapeia, a collection of poems relating to the phallic god Priapus. In Late Antiquity, the term “”shameless finger”” is explained in the Etymologiae of Isidore of Seville with reference to its frequent use when accusing someone of a “”shameful action”