Saturday, July 01, 2006


Unruly Members

Montaigne, Essays 1.21 (tr. Donald M. Frame):
The organs that serve to discharge the stomach have their own dilations and compressions, beyond and against our plans, just like those that are destined to discharge the kidneys. To vindicate the omnipotence of our will, St. Augustine alleges that he knew a man who commanded his behind to produce as many farts as he wanted, and his commentator Vives goes him one better with another example of his own time, of farts arranged to suit the tone of verses pronounced to their accompaniment; but all this does not really argue any pure obedience in the organ; for is there any that is more indiscreet or tumultuous? Besides, I know one so turbulent and unruly, that for forty years it has kept its master farting with a constant and unremitting wind and compulsion, and is thus taking him to his grave.2

2Here the 1595 edition adds: "Add would God I knew only from the history books how many times our stomach, by refusing one single fart, brings us to the gates of a very anguished death; and that the Emperor who gave us the liberty to fart anywhere had given us the power to." Suetonius reports that the Emperor Claudius had contemplated such a decree as this.
I don't have access to Vives, but here are the other passages mentioned by Montaigne.

Augustine, City of God 14.24 (tr. Marcus Dodds):
Some have such command of their bowels, that they can break wind continuously at pleasure, so as to produce the effect of singing.

nonnulli ab imo sine pudore ullo ita numerosos pro arbitrio sonitus edunt, ut ex illa etiam parte cantare videantur.
I don't have a critical edition of Augustine's City of God, but there seems to be some disagreement about the text of this passage among the online editions. I see sine pudore ullo (without any shame), sine paedore ullo (without any stink) and sine putore illo (without any stink) as variants. For more on those with this God-given talent, see here.

Suetonius, Life of Claudius 32 (tr. J.C. Rolfe):
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.

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