To boldly blow…

In his third and final speech on farts, ‘That a fart is a good thing’, the comedian known as Bruscambille cites Cicero, for whom goodness consisted in what was ‘useful, pleasant and honest’ (On Duties, II, 10). The usefulness of the fart, which in turn naturally contributes to its essential goodness, is seen in the widespread proverb, ‘Whoever farts valiantly and with courage extends his life’ (‘Quiconque pette bravement et avec courage prolonge sa vie’). There were indeed proverbs of this type in the air at the time, a variant being ‘Whoever wishes to have a long life should let his arse break wind’ (‘Qui veut vivre longuement il faut donner à son cul vent’). Such proverbs also have their English equivalents, including the (apocryphal?) tombstone bearing the legend, ‘Where’er ye be, let your wind break free, for holding it in was the death of me’, which has its own variant reading, ‘Where’er ye be, let you wind break free. In church and chapel, let it rattle!’

Bruscambille’s piece of age-old proverbial lore has inspired Dominic Hills’s latest print:

Quiconque pette © Dominic Hills

Quiconque pette
© Dominic Hills

Not everyone would agree with this proverb, of course. The great Dutch humanist, Erasmus, would have been among them. In his massive and hugely successful collection of proverbs, the Adages, he cites the ancient saying ‘Suus cuique crepitus bene olet’ (‘Everyone thinks his own fart smells sweet’), but concludes that it doubtlessly originated from the very dregs of society and that he has yet to meet anyone who thinks this way (Adages, III, 4, 2/2302). Yet, from another point of view, the persistence of such sentiments about flatulence across the centuries points to a fundamental continuity in the human condition. Stephen Greenblatt famously opens his Shakespearean Negotiations with the comment that ‘I began with a desire to speak with the dead’ – these proverbs suggest that the answer to fulfilling that desire is blowing in the wind.

 

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