Friday, October 06, 2017



Jan M. Ziolkowski, ed. and tr., Solomon and Marcolf (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008 = Harvard Studies in Medieval Latin, 1), pp. 58-59 (1.30b-34b; all said by Marcolf):
Duodecim torciones faciunt unam iussam.
Duodecim bombi faciunt unum strontum.
Duodecim stronti faciunt unam paladam.
Duodecim palade faciunt unam tinariam.
Duodecim tinarie faciunt unam carradam.

Twelve gas-pains make a fart.
Twelve booming farts make one turd.
Twelve turds make a spadeful.
Twelve spades make one tubful.
Twelve tubs full make one cart load.
Id. (at 127-128, on 1.14b "Mulier pinguis et grossa est largior in dando iussa"):
Rather than being the past participle of the verb iubeo, -ere, "to order," the noun iussum, -i n. means "fart." It and related words figure repeatedly in Marcolf's sallies (15b has the adjectival iussosus; 30b and 46b the noun iussa [feminine, not neuter as here], and 54b the verb iusso, -are).

Benary speculated that the word might have derived not from ius, iuris n., "broth" (compare juice) but from viscum, -i n., "mistletoe, birdlime > stickiness," and viscosus, "sticky, viscous." It may argue against his speculation that viscosus appears at 1.91b and that none of the manuscripts substitutes iussosus for it. In any case, his hypothesis requires accepting the rather unusual metathesis of vi- to iu-, which would have been likely only so long as the initial u was pronounced as a semivowel. After the u became fully consonantalized, the reversal of the two letters would have been caused more by visual than phonological factors.

Another possible origin would be in vissio, -ire (OLD 2077), a verb meaning "to fart softly" that may have had an onomatopoetic origin: see Adams, Sexual Vocabulary, 249. Vissium, a noun related to vissio, is found in Du Cange 6:856. The Latin verb survives in the French vesser: see ML 783, no. 9382. Once again, the transformation of viss- to iuss- could have resulted from metathesis, less of sounds than of written letters. If the two groups of words are related in this way, the verb iusso, -are is formed from the noun without direct awareness of the Classical Latin vissio, -ire but rather of its French derivative.

Marcolf's obsession with flatulence, which intrudes into the text incessantly, matches well the predisposition for farting that peasants as a group allegedly shared. The most extreme expression of this trait is in Rutebeuf (died about 1285), Le pet au vilain (The Peasant's Fart), which adduces an etiology for why peasants are allowed entrance into neither heaven nor hell (and which concludes with a reference to Audigier's shitting into his hat): see Oeuvres complètes de Rutebeuf, ed. Edmond Faral and Julia Bastin (Paris, 1959), 2:305-308. The story goes that the soul of a dying peasant emitted not from the mouth but from the rectum. The smell accompanying the soul of the peasant was so rank that the denizens of hell refused to keep it there. For a detailed contextualization of the peasant's fart in Old French literature, see Luciana Borghi Cedrini, La cosmologia del villano: secondo testi extravaganti del Duecento francese (Turin, 1989), 79-85.
I corrected "viscum, -i m." to "viscum, -i n." I reconstructed pp. 127-128 from Google Books' snippet view, but I think the reconstruction is accurate.

On the anal egress of the soul see also Valerie Allen, On Farting: Language and Laughter in the Middle Ages (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), pp. 69-70, with notes on p. 198:
How do body and soul actually separate? Popular tradition has it that the soul exits through the dying person's mouth. To breathe one's last is more than a figure of speech; the egress of the soul is made audible in the death rattle, crepitus mortis, or, as Rabelais calls it, the "le ped de la mort" [death-fart],295 thereby suggesting that mouth and nostrils are not the only available exits for the departing soul. He recounts how intestinal wind, which is just a gross kind of pneuma, governs the entire life of everybody on the island of Ruach, and marks the death of each one. "They all fart as they die, the men loudly, the women soundlessly, and in this way their souls depart by the back passage."296 Rabelais again genders the fart, in this case at death, when the loud pet befits the man and the soundless vesse the woman.

The soul's egress through the bottom is a marker of low social estate. Rutebeuf recounts the story of how a devil mistakes a peasant's fart for his soul. The peasant, bent double with pain, retires to bed:
Tant ot mangié bon buef aux aux
Et dou graz humei qui fu chauz,
Que sa pance n'estoit pas mole,
Ainz li tent con corde a citole.
N'a mais doute qu'il soit periz
S'or puet porre il ert garis.
A cest effort forment s'efforce,
A cest effort mest il sa force;
Tant s'esforce, tant s'esvertue,
Tant se torne, tant se remue,
C'uns pes en saut qui se desroie.297

[He had eaten so much hearty beef with garlic and swallowed so much rich stock that his belly isn't soft, but stretched as tight as the string of a zither. Without doubt he is a goner. If only he could cut a fart now he would be cured. To that end he forces himself, so mightily does he strain, he gives it everything he's got, so much does he squirm, so much does he wriggle that at last a fart leaps out, which throws everything into disarray.]
A passing devil thinks the peasant to be in extremis and so he bags the fart and takes it off to hell. No one can tell the difference between a churl's soul and his fart, so debased is peasant nature.

The possible anal egress of the soul appears, at least in some cultures, to have provoked real anxiety. In his study of middle eastern sexual life, Allen Edwardes attests to the case of a Brahmin having been found by another in the act of sodomy with one of a lower caste: "having been tainted below the waist, the dishonored Brahmin desired to be suspended by his feet so that his soul would not pass out of his anus, a foul route, into the purgatory of eternal reincarnation in the basest forms of life."298 Hanging also appears to have been considered to block the passage of the soul through the mouth,299 which may contribute to its perceived ignominy as a way of dying. Despite insistence from the theologians that the soul is immaterial, there is a pervading sense that it inhabits the body in concrete ways, and needs a real physical orifice to exit. Medieval legend has it that one of the reasons Judas's bowels spilled out was that the soul was unable to exit from his mouth because he had kissed Christ only days before.
And for þe fiend might not draw his soule out by þe moþe þat had kyssed þe mouþe of Goddys sonne so late befor, þerfor he barst his wombe, and outsched hys guttys, and drew out his soule þat way, and bar hyt to helle.300
Touched by sanctity, Judas's mouth blocked the passage of his corrupted soul, "for it would have been incongruous that a mouth which had touched the lips of Christ should be so foully soiled."301 Thus, his soul sought the nearest way out.

295. Rabelais, Oeuvres, 5.16 (p. 762).
296. Rabelais, Oeuvres, 4.43 (p. 639).
297. Rutebeuf, Le Pet au Vilain, in NRCF 5:369, ll. 35–45.
298. Allen Edwardes, The Jewel in the Lotus: A Historical Survey of the Sexual Culture of the East (New York: Julian Press, 1959), p. 235.
299. John G. Bourke, Scatalogic [sic] Rites of All Nations (Washington, DC: Lowdermilk, 1891; repr, Johnson Corp., 1969), p. 162.
300. Mirk, Festial, p. 79.
301. Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints, trans. William Granger Ryan, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 1:168.


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