Monday, May 22, 2006


More on the God Fart

Thanks to Dr. Max Nelson, who responds in a series of three emails to my query about the ancient god Fart. He even uncovers what seems to be the ultimate source, the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions.

1. Voltaire seems to be influenced here by the early Church Fathers (see particularly Tert., Ad nat. 2.11, Arn., Adv. gent. 4.6-13, and August., Civ. Dei 4.8, 11, 6.9, 7.2-3, and 18.15) but perhaps to have misremembered his source(s). Augustine, for instance, mentions Pertunda, Priapus, and Stercutius, but speaks of Rumina (not Rumilia) as goddess of lactation (not nipples). As far as I can tell, none of these authors mention a god of the fart though Arnobius almost says that there should be one (Adv. gent. 4.10.2-3):
Cur sola meruerint ossa tutelam, non meruerint ungues pili ceteraque alia locis posita in obscuris et verecundioribus partibus? Et sunt casibus obnoxia plurimis et curam magis deorum diligentiamque desiderant. Aut si et has dicitis partes suis agere sub tutelatoribus divis, incipient totidem dii esse quot res sunt: nec explicabitur ratio, cur non rebus omnibus divinae praesideant curae, si certas res esse quibus praesint numina et provideant dixeritis.

Why should the bones alone have found protection, and not the nails, hair, and all the other things which are placed in the hidden parts and members of which we feel ashamed, and are exposed to very many accidents, and stand more in need of the care and attention of the gods? Or if you say that these parts, too, act under the care of their own tutelar deities, there will begin to be as many gods as there are things; nor will the cause be stated why the divine care does not protect all things, if you say that there are certain things over which the deities preside, and for which they care. [Translation from]
2. We should not imagine that Voltaire invented the god Crepitus. He is already mentioned in Abbé Banier's The Mythology and Fables of the Ancients Explained from History (London 1739-1740; translated from the French), vol. 1, p. 199 and vol. 3, p. 196. In the latter place he says that the god is depicted as a young child farting and claims to have gotten his information from Father Pierre-Nicolas Desmolets' continuation of Albert-Henri de Sallengre's Mémoires d'histoire et de littérature which appeared in numerous volumes in Paris in 1730 and 1731 (and which I have not been able to consult).

3. In the Recognitions attributed to Clement of Rome the following is found about Egyptian worship (5.20): alii ... crepitus ventris pro numinibus habendos esse docuerunt. Other similar passages are cited by J. W. Crombie. "A Curious Superstition." The Folk-Lore Journal 2.6 (June 1884) 172-173.

Here is a translation of the passage from the Recognitions cited by Dr. Nelson:
Others ... taught that farts should be regarded as gods.

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