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There is reportedly evidence to suggest that social nipple-sucking was a familiar custom in both ancient Ireland and ancient Egypt.

I have unfortunately been unable to obtain the document which contains the translations of the primary ancient Egypt sources (1), but they are described as demonstrating that social nipple-sucking was a relatively widespread custom in ancient Egypt which was used to demonstrate friendliness, trust, and respect.

The primary source in the case of ancient Ireland is far easier to obtain, but is, in my opinion at least, rather more open to interpretation. As far as I have been able to establish, the sole evidence for the practice of social nipple-sucking in ancient Ireland is contained in the "Confession" (also known as the "Confessio") of Saint Patrick, which he himself wrote circa 450. The following is the excerpt which purportedly deals with the subject:

"18. And on the same day that I arrived, the ship was setting out from the place, and I said that I had the wherewithal to sail with them; and the steersman was displeased and replied in anger, sharply: 'By no means attempt to go with us.' Hearing this I left them to go to the hut where I was staying, and on the way I began to pray, and before the prayer was finished I heard one of them shouting loudly after me: 'Come quickly because the men are calling you.' And immediately I went back to them and they started to say to me: 'Come, because we are admitting you out of good faith; make friendship with us in any way you wish.' (And so, on that day, I refused to suck the breasts of these men from fear of God, but nevertheless I had hopes that they would come to faith in Jesus Christ, because they were barbarians.) And for this I continued with them, and forthwith we put to sea."

It has been suggested that the rather matter-of-fact way in which Saint Patrick mentions the demand that he "suck the breasts" of the sailors demonstrates that social nipple-sucking was commonplace. I would suggest at least the possibility of another interpretation, however. Namely, that a bunch of rowdy sailors told Patrick, "Get lost, God-boy, there's no way you're sailing with us!", only to call him back at the last minute to say, "Oh all right then, we'll let you come along if you suck on these". Somehow this doesn't seem at all far-fetched to me. I do hope I'm wrong though: there's nothing new or interesting about being mean. I'd much rather believe in an ancient world where all you had to do to get along was suck a few nipples.

  • (1) Bernard Maier's article "Sugere Mammallas" in "Celtic Connections: Proceedings of the 10th International Congress of Celtic Studies" edited by Ronald Black
  • "Kingdom of the Ark" by Lorraine Evans, ISBN 0-686-86064
  • Simon Young's article "First Contact" in FT 144
  • The "Confessio" of Saint Patrick (translated from the Latin, translator unknown) at http://www.robotwisdom.com/jaj/patrick.html

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