Biblical Euphemisms for Sexual Activity                     

 K. J. Aaron                                        

OF NOTE: This article and subsequent series from K. J. Aaron 's Sexuality and the Bible  has been posted because it is EXCELLENT and that it has value to help people understand the Bible. Please note that Ex-minister does not wish to imply that the author has left the faith.  A special thank you is due to Keith Hunt for his recognition of such rare Biblical study material and for granting permission to re-post it here at this website. Keith is a Christian and  I heartily encourage you to visit his intriguing website http://www.keithhunt.com/  where he has over 300 Biblical Study articles!

At the conclusion of this first chapter there are links to other chapters of the book posted at the end of this article.

 

SEXUALITY AND THE BIBLE 

by K. J. Aaron 

The reader may find himself asking, as the author has, "is that in the Bible?" Whores and whoremongers; polygamists and bigamists; homosexuals and lesbians; incest, intercourse, circumcision, castration, menstruation, urination, masturbation, perversion, wet dreams, adultery, fornication - all are mentioned. Sex, in one form or another, was closely interwoven with the beliefs and practices of the Bible people. As one writer has said: "The Hebrews circumcised the penis, they did not amputate it!" 

Biblical Euphemisms for Sexual Activity

Why does the Bible say, "Adam knew his wife"? Asked a young man in a Sunday School class. Someone answered: "It seems obvious he should know the woman to whom he was married!" 

Most people realize, of course, that the expression "Adam knew his wife" means he had sexual intercourse with her; for, as a result, "she conceived" (Genesis 4:1). To say Adam "knew" his wife (rather than to say he had "sex" with her) is an example of euphemism: the substitution of an inoffensive expression for one that may offend. 

A story is told about Harry Truman giving a speech before a delegation of farmers. "I grew up on a farm," the president said, "and I know that farming means manure, manure, and more manure." A friend of the president's wife leaned over to her, saying, "Really, Bess, you should teach Harry to say 'fertilizer,' not 'manure'." Mrs. Truman shook her head and replied: "Good lord! it has taken me thirty years to get him to say `manure'!" 

Often euphemisms are used as substitute words for the sexual organs. A few of the many listed in "A Dictionary of Euphemisms and Other Double Talk" for the female organs are: field, ring, furrow, cavern, pit, garden, swine, slit, hold, trench, sheath, cunnus, little boat, vulva, and mouse-trap. For the male organ: tail, stem, column, pole, pike, groin, hanger, nerve, stake, stopper, javelin, tree, obelisk, shaft, rod, awl, dart, beam, vein, private, plowshare, prick, weapon, bat, bone, horn, pecker, cock, mouse, tool, peter, and dick. 

In the Bible, euphemisms for the sexual organs include such terms as "secrets" (Deuteronomy 25:11), "stones" (Deuteronomy 23:1), "loins" (Genesis 46:26), "thigh" (Genesis 24:2), "privy member" (Deuteronomy 23:1), "fountain" (Leviticus 20:18), and "the place of the breaking forth of children" (Hosea 13:13). 

As the basis of an analogy, Paul spoke of the various parts of the human body, including the head, eyes, ears, nose, hands and feet, and "our uncomely parts" (1 Corinthians 12:15-24). Elsewhere the Greek word used here is translated "shame" (Revelation 16:15), "unseemly" (Romans 1:27), and is diectly linked with a word meaning the "pundenda (Strong's Concordance, 808, 809). It seems probable, then, that Paul's analogy included the sexual parts of the body, euphemized into the expression "uncomely parts." 

Biblical euphemisms for sexual intercourse, many of which are listed in "Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible," include the following: Adam knew Eve ... and she conceived (Genesis 4:1). Go in unto my maid ... obtain children by her (Genesis 16:2). A man ... to come in unto us (Genesis 19:31). Jacob ... went in unto her (Genesis 29:23). Abimelech had not come near her (Genesis 20:4).  Thou shalt not approach to his wife (Leviticus 18:14). When I came to her, I found her not a maid (Deuteronomy 22:14). I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived (Isaiah 8:3). Thou hast humbled her (Deuteronomy 21:14). He took her, and lay with her (Genesis 34:2). The manner of as the earth (Genesis 19:31). 

The expression "lieth carnally" (Leviticus 19:20 is from two Hebrew words - one meaning to lie down for the sexual act, and the other, to ejaculate semen, the word commonly translated "seed" (Strong's Concordance, 7902, 2233). A similar meaning is evident in the euphemistic phrase, "If any man's seed of copulation go out from him..." (Leviticus 15:16). When a woman becomes pregnant, she has "conceived seed" (Leviticus 12:2), or is "taken with the manner" (Numbers 5:13). If she miscarries, "her fruit departs from her" (Exodus 21:22). Euphemisms for a woman's menstrual flow include "flowers" (Leviticus 15:33), "the custom of women" (Genesis 31:35), and "the manner of women" (Genesis 18:11).

In the marriage act, with the woman on her back, the man would open her robe-"uncover her nakedness" (Leviticus 18:7)-and open his robe to spread it over her. These actions provided the basis for the euphemistic way of speaking: "1 spread my skirt over thee" (Ruth 3:9; Ezekiel 16:8). Immorality is referred to as "filthiness in her skirts" (Lamentations 1:9) and "chambering" (Romans 13:13). Romantic love play is called "sporting" (Genesis 26:8). Homosexual intercourse is called "going after strange flesh" (Jude 7). 

The words "eateth" and "mouth" (as used in Proverbs 30:20) are listed as euphemisms in Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible: "Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness." Since no one links adultery with the normal eating of food or wiping the mouth, the terms are clearly euphemistic for sexual activity.

 Today the word "screw" is a vulgar slang word for sexual intercourse. A comparable word, "grind," was frequently used by the ancients in the same sense. Writers such as the ancient Horace provide proof of this usage. In the Bible, Job said: "If my heart have been deceived by a woman.. then let my wife "grind" unto another, and let others bow down upon her" (Job 31:9,10). In his famous early English translation of the Bible, Coverdale put it this way: "O then let my wife be another man's harlot, and let other lye with her." 

Jerome, noted translator of the Latin Vulgate, understood the word "grind" in Isaiah 47:2 in the same way. Though the expression "grind meal" is used, the wording of the context, "make bare the leg, uncover the thigh ...thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen," strongly suggests a sexual meaning. It should be remembered that captive women taken as concubines were forced to grind in both senses of the word (Strong's Concordance, 2912).

 After Samson was betrayed by Delilah, "the Philistines took him, an put out his out his eyes, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house" (Judges 16:21). This is normally taken to mean he was forced to labor at the mill, grinding meal. But the rabbis understood this as having a sexual meaning - that he was held captive for purpose of "grinding" women! A Talmudic tractate (Sotah 9b-10a) explains that Samson continued his profligate life in prison, and the Philistine women set aside all considerations of marital bonds in the hopes of gaining offspring who would inherit his strength and stature. 

The word that is translated "hinge" (1 Kings 7:50), is the same word that is translated a woman's secret parts" (Isaiah 3:17). This word is defined by Strong as "a hole, i.e. hinge or the female pudenda" (Strong's Concordance, 6596). All of this seems quite strange until we understand the "design" of the ancient hinge. As the accompanying drawing shows, a hinge involved a vertical pin that turned in a hole. Since a woman also has a hole (in which a sexual partner "turns"), the use of "hinge" as an euphemism is understandable - and not radically different from the modem term "swinger"!

 The ancient hinge: a hole, usually in a stone, in which a vertical pin turned. The round hinge stone shown here is from Tell Asmar. 

Sometimes words are brought over from another language, left untranslated, and serve as euphemisms. In time, though, some of them become standard words. Our word "penis," which in Latin simply means tail, is an example. The Romans might have refered to a dog (male or female) as having a tail (penis). 

Interestingly, our word "pencil" (from the Latin penis) means a little tail, the first pencils being a brush of hair. A standard word the Romans would have used for the male organ would have been membrum virile. If they wanted to use an euphemism, they might have called it a gladius (sword). Naturally the gladius (sword) fit into a vagina (the Latin word for sheath)! 

The Latin word for acorn is "glans." Because an acorn resembles the head portion of the male organ, it was a natural development to bring "glans" over into English to designate this part of the male anatomy. Because of this resemblance, the ancients commonly regarded the oak tree as "male." superstitious and idolatrous rites involved oak trees, providing the basis for Isaiah's rebuke about "the oak which ye have desired" (Isaiah 1:29).

 For the bodily part we call testicles, the Greeks used the word "orchis." Since a certain flower has a root with a similar shape, it was called an orchid. By bringing the word over into English untranslated, a young lady can wear a orchid (rather than a "testicle") pinned neatly on her dress! 

We are all familiar with a court procedure in which a person places his hand on a Bible, swearing he will tell the truth and nothing but the truth. An earlier custom required a man to place his hand on the sexual organ, euphemistically called the "thigh," as when Abraham sent his servant to secure a wife for Isaac" "Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh: and I will make thee swear by the Lord" (Genesis 24:2). Such was an established custom of the time. Many years later, when he was dying, Jacob said to Joseph: "Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh ... bury me not in Egypt" (Genesis 47:29).

"Thigh," when used as an euphemism, refers to the "generative parts" (Strong's Concordance, 3409). This is evident in the passages such as Judges 8:30 "And Gideon had threescore and ten sons of his body [margin: going out of his high]: for he had many wives," And, Exodus 1:5: "...the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob [margin: out of the thigh of Jacobl." To put it plainly, as Clarke explains, "In swearing, the hand was often placed on circumcised part," a custom called Yemeen-ed-Dehhereh Gedheeb, The Oath of the Circumcised Penis. 

This method of taking an oath was known as "giving the hand" as the following scriptures show: "And all the princes and the mighty men ... submitted themselves unto Solomon [margin: gave the hand under Solomon]" (1 Chronicles 29: 24). Ezekiel mentioned a king who "despised the oath by breaking the covenant, when, lo, he had given his hand" (Ezekiel 17:18). "We have given the hand to the Egyptians, and to Assyrians, to be satisfied with bread" (Lamentations 5:6). The time of Ezra, swearing they would put away foreign women "gave their hands" (Ezra 10:19).

This custom, in one form or another, has been practiced among numerous tribes and peoples. Among the Arabs, two men might meet with this greeting: "God so willing: inch by inch, may thy firm stalk increase in power and sensitivity!" Then each touched the fingers of his right hand to chest, lips, forehead, and his palm upon the generative organs. 

The accompanying old drawing shows the Egyptian god Osiris swearing by holding his own penis. Such was not considered indecent, but would compare to the present-day custom of placing a hand on the heart while saying a solemn pledge.

 In the Sudan, a tribesman would salute a sheik by touching his hands between his thighs to affirm humility and kiss his beard. The sheik then might, if he chose, acknowledge him by genital examination. If he became erect, he was obligated to entertain him that night with concubines. European captives brought before El-Mahdi were compelled to place their fingers upon his privates while he guided them into the faith. A Hindu custom required men to touch between the thighs or actually grasp the testes. 

Putting the hand "under the thigh" was considered especially solem because it involved the life force, the means of producing offspring. THE NEW BIBLE DICTIONARY says that placing the hand under the "thigh" was simply an euphemistic way of saying "place your hand on my testes." 

Because of this custom, we derive the word "testify" from the Latin root "testis." The word "detest," from the same root, means, roughly, "to hate to the bottom of one's balls." 

Placing the hand upon the testicles of another man while taking an oath was not considered improper - if done by a MAN. But Hebrew law ordered a woman's hand cut off if she grabbed a man in this area (Deuteronomy 25:11,12). 

"When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and puueth forth her hand and taketh him by the secrets: then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her." 

(Now this I must say gives me some trouble, as it has other scholars of the Bible in past times. Maybe it is possible that a law such as this was never enforced, or that it was an eye for an eye law, which meant just retribution. But saving your husband from possible death from another man, you would think nothing would be barred. I really do not have the answer, it is one of those "looking through a glass darkly" of the apostle Paul's words. I guess we can ask the Lord about this law, when He returns to earth. He has not given me the answer at this time - Keith Hunt)

This passage has puzzled and embarrassed commentators, for what purpose could be accomplished by cutting off a woman's hand? Could an act committed in a few seconds be a fair basis for losing a hand for the rest of her life? Especially strange is the severity here, for the woman would have been doing so, according to the text, to help her husband when another was trying to kill him! 

(As I've said above, this does seem to be a strange and severe law. I do not know of it ever being applied in Israel in a literal way - Keith Hunt)

 "My father hath chastised you with whips," king Rehoboam, Solomon's son, threatened. "But I will chastise you with scorpions.... My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins"! (1 Kings 12:10,11). An expression about a thick little finger, if taken literally, would hardly constitute a belligerent threat. But, if we understand "loins" euphemistically (as in Genesis 35:11; Hebrews 7:5), these words, as Brasch points out, probably had a rough sexual connotation; that is: "My litte finger shall be thicker than my father's [erect] penis." Such language would seem all the more emphatic since his father, Solomon, was recognized as quite a stud - a man with a thousand women in his harem (1 Kings 11:3). 

Referring to an unmentionable part of the body, by naming another part in the same vicinity, is known as the Rule of the Displaced Referent. We have seen this usage in the words "lions" and "thigh." Even the more unlikely word "feet" has been so used. When a woman gives birth, the baby "cometh out from between her feet" (Deuteronomy 28:57). Jacob, referring to the offspring of Judah, said: "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet" (Genesis 49:10). 

Today, if we wanted to say testicles, we would probably just say testicles. Or if we were speaking of one's descendants, we would not feel a need to explain what part of the body they came from. Even Clarke seemed a bit embarrassed by this primitive way of speaking: "I am sufficiently aware that the literal meaning of the original 'mibbeyn raglaiv' is from between his feet, and I am as fully satisfied that it should never be so translated ... for reasons which surely need not be mentioned."

In a reference in which our King James translators put the word "piss" (which was not an offensive word in 1611 A.D.), the original actually used an euphemism for urine, as given in the margin: "the water of their feet" (2 Kings 18:27). Since the "water" here is urine, there can be no doubt that "feet" is an euphemism for the sexual organs. 

Israel, destined to suffer the loss of all things, was likened to a man from whom all hair was shaved - not only the hair of the head and beard, but even the pubic hair, euphemized as the hair of the feet: "In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired, namely, by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria, the head, and the hair of the feet, and it shall also consume the beard" (Isaiah 7:20).

Even the expression "wash the feet," used as an euphemism, could have a sexual meaning: When David told Urah to go to his house and "wash thy feet," his feet had doubtless just been washed before coming into the presence of the king. It would not be necessary to wash them again upon entering his own house (which was close - 2 Samuel 11:2), nor would such be necessary for David to mention. The setting makes it clear what David wanted Uriah to do. Apparently Uriah understood these words in a sexual sense, for he later explained why he did not go to his house to "lie with my wife" (2 Samuel 11:1-11).

"Foot" is a very ancient and established euphemism for the male organ. "Shoe," consequently, because a natural euphemism for a man's sexual partner. This may help us better understand a Jewish custom about removing a shoe. If a man refused to marry his brother's widow, as prescribed by the law of Moses. 

then shall his brother's wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face ... and his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that hash his shoe loosed (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). 

Since a foot going into a shoe was emblematic of sexual intercourse, the REVERSE - the act of taking a shoe from the foot - apparently symbolized that sexual intercourse between these two people would not occur. 

Even the word "water," as Strong points out, has been used as an euphemism for semen (Strong's Concordance, 4325). Isaiah 48:1 is an example: "Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah..." The Revised Standard Version substitutes the word "loins" for "waters," but includes a note that the Hebrew actually says "waters." Either way, there can be little doubt that semen is meant. 

The basis for our word "semen" is actually the Hebrew word that is commonly translated "oil" in the Old Testament. Even in the name Gethsemane, the place where Jesus agonized in prayer (Matthew 26:36), the basic words are "gath" (press) and "semen" (oil). Gethsemane was a place where olives were pressed to make oil. We bring the word semen over into English - linking it with that oily substance whereby the seeds of life are planted. Our word seminary is formed on the same basis - a place where thoughts, like seed, are planted in the mind. Even many seminary graduates may not realize the linkage between the words semen and seminary! 

Though scholars are divided as to which beastly animal is intended in Job 40:16,17, there can be little doubt that its sexual powers are euphemistically described: 

Lo now, his strength is in his LOINS, and his FORCE is in the NAVEL of his belly. He moveth his TAIL like a cedar: the sinews of his STONES are wrapped together. 

We have seen how "loins" can be used as a sexual euphemism. "Strength" can mean sexual vigor (cf. Deuteronomy 21:17). "Navel," here, must be an euphemism for the reproductive organ, for sexual "force" is not in the actual navel. The phrase about MOVING his tail like a cedar, quite obscure in the King James version (a cedar not being especially noted for moving), is better understood in the following: "He setteth up his tail like a cedar" (Douay); "his tail stands erect like a cedar tree" (Lamsa); "His tail stiff as any cedar" (Moffatt). 

The fact that "tail" has long been used as a phallic euphemism, coupled with the final phrase about "stones" (or "testicles," as the Douay version has it), leaves little room for doubt that the reproductive organs are euphemistically described. 

When primitive men observed that a horned bull could impregnate many cows, the horn was adopted as the emblem of virility and fertility. Even today. the euphemistic slang expression "horny" is commonly used! 

According to the Council of Toledo in 477 A.D., the Devil not only has a large penis, but horns. In Scotland he is called Auld Hornie. Horns have been ornamentally worn in the East. Zedekiah "made him horns of iron" (I Kings 22:11).Fertility dancers wore reindeer horns. Various fertility gods and goddesses were depicted wearing horns or holding them. The cornucopia, a fertility symbol, is known as the horn of plenty. Horns, ground into powder, have been widely taken as a sex stimulant. Animal horns have long been considered a symbol of the erect male organ. 

In the Bible we read: "The horns of the righteous shall be exalted" (Psalm 75:10). "I will make the horn of David to bud" (Psalm 132:17. "My horn shall thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn" (Psalm 92:10). 

Since men do not have horns in the literal sense, there is strong reason to believe the word "horn" is euphemistic. Though the male organ may not be meant specifically, because the idea of fertility is commonly present in such passages, there is a distinct linkage. 

A passage in Job, however, may be more specific. When Job said, "I have sewed sackcloth upon my skin, and defiled my horn in the dust" (Job 16:15), he had already mentioned such bodily parts as head, mouth, lips, wrinkles, face, teeth, eyes, cheeks, hands, neck, reins, skin, and eyelids. When he then mentions his "horn" - considering the widespread use of the word as a sexual euphemism - it is certainly not impossible that a phallic meaning was intended. 

For a man to be virile - being of full strength, capable of fathering children even in old age - was considered a great blessing. This was, apparently, the thought expressed by Job: "One dieth in his full strength ... his BREASTS are full of MILK" (Job 21:23,24). The word that is here translated "breasts," means "a container," and is not the word translated breasts elsewhere (Strong's Concordance, 5845). Since a male does not have milk in his breasts, there is a strong basis for understanding the container here to mean "testicles" and the "milk" to mean "semen." In this context, the man described was still sexually potent, even in old age. 

Such was apparently not the case of a man who testified in a southern church: 

"The Father has given me victory!" the old man shouted. 

"Victory over what?" some questioned. 

"I's gotten victory over passion!" 

"How old are you now?"

 "I's 96." "We think, brother, that mother nature just helped you out!" 

Solomon, possibly speaking from personal experience, said: "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth," for "youth and manhood will not last" (Ecclesiastes 11:9, 10, Moffatt). He then went on to describe the symptoms of old age:

 "The keepers of the house shall tremble" - the hands become paralytic; "the strong men shall bow" - the legs become feeble and unable to support the weight of the body; "the grinders cease because they are few" - the teeth become decayed and gone, the few remaining unable to carry out their function; "those that look out of the windows be darkened" - old age brings the loss of proper eyesight or, as Moffatt translates it, "...ladies at the lattice lose their lustre." 

He shall rise up at the voice of the bird" - he has trouble sleeing, is nervous; "all the daughters of music shall be brought low - the voice becomes feeble and the tone quality is gone; "afraid of that which is high" - fear of climbing steps, of high places; "the almond tree shall flourish [fall off]" - fitting the words of Hasselquist about the Judean almond tree in full bloom "like an old man with his white locks." Having turned white, the hair finally falls out (Ecclesiastes 12:1-7). 

With this description of a man's aging body in mind, we come now to that portion (verse 5) which says: "...and grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail." Grasshopper? Desire? Clarke mentions various explanation then adds: "Another interpretation has been given of grasshopper; but I pass it by as impertinent and contemptible."

What is this OTHER interpretation? Clarke does not say, but it is probably the belief that "grasshopper" is an euphemism for the male organ. In youth, it would hop up with desire, but now, in old age, would fail to do so. Support for this belief is confirmed by the context which speaks of failing "desire," a word that actually means "caper berry" (Strong's Concordance, 35). As the ANCHOR BIBLE points out, the caper berry was used as a sexual stimulant - but failed to help the aged man described here. His condition was like that of Maevius, mentioned by the classical writer Martial: "Only in dreams you get stiff, Maevius...in vain your wearied fingers ply your wrinkled member - rouse it as you may, it will not raise its drooping head" (Martial 11:47). 

Plants that resembled the genitals were believed to confer sexual potency. Mandrakes, having a split root, sometimes appeared to have human form with legs and sex organs, but certainly not as well defined as the old fifteenth century drawing given here would suggest! We know from the Bible that Jacob and his wife believed in the powers of the mandrake. "And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son's mandrakes. And he lay with her that night ... and she conceived" (Genesis 30:16,17). 

Because the pod-like capsule of the vanilla plant resembles the female genitalia, vanilla was also considered a powerful aphrodisiac (sex stimulant). We know it best as a flavoring, but the word itself comes to us from the Spanish vainilla ("small pod"), the ultimate source being vagina, the word now commonly used for the passage between the vulva and uterus. 

Other substances which have been used as aphrodisiacs, include almonds, anchovies, anise, ants, artichokes, asparagus, bamboo, bananas, brains, cabbage, carrots, celery, cinnamon, clams, crocodile, cucumbers, eels, frogs, garlic, ginger, ginseng, goat, goose tongues, grapes, honey, horseradish, liver, lizard, marijuana, menstrual blood, mushrooms, onions, opium, oysters, semen, shrimp, snails, and spinach!" 

The word "aphrodisiac" comes to us, fittingly, from Aphrodite, goddes of sexual love. The Romans called her Venus, from whose name we obtain "venereal," as in venereal disease. 

The influence of ancient mythology in the development of our language can also be seen in words such as "cereal" which comes from Ceres, goddess of grains "Money" comes from Juno Moneta, the Roman goddess of national finances whose temple included the mint. 

The word "Siren" comes from the Sirens, half-woman and halfbird creatures, who made sounds that lured sailors to their doom. "Echo" comes from a nymph named Echo who could only repeat sounds she heard "Panic" comes from the god Pan who went about scaring people. "Tantalize" comes from Tantalus, from whose hands water flowed, but could never quite reach his mouth. "Janitor" and "January" both come from Janus, the two-faced god of beginnings and keeper of the doors. "Atlas," the word for a book of maps, comes from the god Atlas who is pictured as carrying the earth!

Links to the chapters from K. J. Aaron's "Sexuality and the Bible"

Biblical Euphemisms for Sexual Activities

Prostitutes and Prophets

Nude and Lewd: The Bare Facts

The Sin of Onan: Birth Control and More!

Baal in the Bathroom

Rape, Mutilation and Perversion

The Price of a Dog: Temple Prostitution

The Fertility Parade

The Phallic Covenant

Marriage, Morals and Manners

The Intimate Garden: The Song of Solomon

 

posted by Brian Worley   January 21, 2010 Ex-Minister.org     All rights reserved

 



 



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