Tuesday, January 17, 2006


A Breach of Good Manners

Diogenes Laertius 6.94 (tr. R.D. Hicks):
Metrocles of Maroneia was the brother of Hipparchia. He had been formerly a pupil of Theophrastus the Peripatetic, and had been so far corrupted by weakness that, when he made a breach of good manners in the course of rehearsing a speech, it drove him to despair, and he shut himself up at home, intending to starve himself to death. On learning this Crates came to visit him as he had been asked to do, and after advisedly making a meal of lupins, he tried to persuade him by argument as well that he had committed no crime, for a prodigy would have happened if he had not taken the natural means of relieving himself. At last by reproducing the action he succeeded in lifting him from his dejection, using for his consolation the likeness of the occurrences. From that time forward Metrocles was his pupil, and became proficient in philosophy.
Euphemisms in the translation obscure somewhat the point of this story. "When he made a breach of good manners" and "by reproducing the action" are both the same word in the original Greek, ἀποπαρδών, aorist participle of ἀποπέρδομαι, fart.

It might seem improbable that shame at this "breach of good manners" would lead Metrocles to the contemplation of suicide. But a similar embarrassment drove Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, into self-imposed exile, according to John Aubrey's Brief Lives:
This Earle of Oxford, making of his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth, happened to let a Fart, at which he was so abashed and ashamed that he went to Travell, 7 yeares. On his return the Queen welcomed him home, and sayd, My Lord, I had forgott the Fart.
The Roman emperor Claudius recognized that an excess of modesty concerning this natural bodily function was a danger to the health of his subjects. Suetonius, Life of Claudius 32 (tr. J.C. Rolfe), reports:
He is even said to have thought of an edict allowing the privilege of breaking wind quietly or noisily at table, having learned of a man who ran some risk by restraining himself through modesty.

dicitur etiam meditatus edictum, quo veniam daret flatum crepitumque ventris in convivio emittendi, cum periclitatum quendam prae pudore ex continentia repperisset.
BigHominid exhibits an exuberant lack of modesty in this regard.

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