Thursday, September 21, 2006


Fournier, Vespasian, Claudius, and Elvis

While searching Google News for stories about the resignation of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation chairman Guy Fournier, I saw these words: "There are few things that will cost you your job quicker than speaking publicly about the joys of deification or ...." When I clicked on the link (to a piece by Emil Steiner), this had been corrected to "There are few things that will cost you your job quicker than speaking publicly about the joys of defecation or ...." But a reader's comment indicates that "deification" did indeed appear in the original.

This is not a unique error. A quick Google search turned up other examples, including one by someone evidently not very careful with the English language:
I have the worlds most messuped up dog. But she is cool with thunder now. When I first got her, she would deificate all over at any loud or sudden noise.
The confusion between deification and defecation reminded me of some last words attributed to Roman emperors. According to Suetonius, Life of Vespasian 23.4, that emperor on his deathbed said, "Vae, puto, deus fio," i.e. "Oh dear, I suppose I'm turning into a god," referring to the custom of deifying emperors after their death.

Seneca, in his spoof on the deification of Claudius called the Apocolocyntosis Divi Claudii (the Pumpkinification or Gourdification of the Divine Claudius), joked about what Claudius' last words might have been (4.3, tr. P.T. Eden):
This was the last utterance of his to be heard in this world, after he had let out a louder sound from that part by which he found it easier to communicate: 'Oh dear, I think I've shit myself.' I rather suspect he did. He certainly shat up everything else.

ultima vox eius haec inter homines audita est, cum maiorem sonitum emisisset illa parte, qua facilius loquebatur: 'vae me, puto, concacavi me.' quod an fecerit, nescio: omnia certe concacavit.
Deification at the end for Vespasian, defecation for Claudius? Not really. It was also defecation at the end for Vespasian (Suetonius, Life of Vespasian 24, tr. J.C. Rolfe):
Taken on a sudden with such an attack of diarrhoea that he all but swooned, he said, "An emperor ought to die standing," and while he was struggling to get on his feet, he died in the arms of those who tried to help him, on the ninth day before the Kalends of July, at the age of sixty-nine years, one month and seven days.
It seems from Suetonius' account that Vespasian died on the toilet, like that other famous king, Elvis.

Elvis Presley has been practically deified by some of his admirers. A few years ago hairdresser Flo Briggs offered one of Elvis Presley's teeth and some of his hair for sale on eBay. Briggs had displayed these holy relics in a shrine at her Yellow Strawberry Salon for almost ten years, but wanted to get rid of them because security costs to protect them were too high. The minimum bid for the tooth was $100,000. I don't know if Briggs ever succeeded in selling the relics, but locks of Elvis' hair did once sell at auction for $115,000. His barber Homer Gilleland (no relation of mine) collected them over the years and stored them in Taystee bread bags.

Dr. Gary Vikan is director of the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore. One of his scholarly sidelines is writing papers and delivering lectures about Elvis. Some representative titles are "Off the Wall, From the Heart: Votive Graffiti at Graceland," "Graceland as Locus Sanctus," and "Pilgrimage to Graceland: The Cult of St. Elvis." I've never heard any of Dr. Vikan's lectures or read any of his papers. But it's a little-known fact that there really is a Saint Elvis. An alternate form of the name of sixth-century Irish Saint Ailbhe is Ailbhis. Anglicized, Ailbhis is Elvis.

Back to Guy Fournier. One of the sins that caused his downfall was a radio interview in which he spoke for over ten minutes about the joys of defecation. According to a story by Graeme Hamilton in the National Post,
Mr. Fournier recounted a train trip in the early 1960s during which a friend named Michel said going number two was as pleasurable as having sex.

"From that moment, I started paying closer attention -- and I have to tell you, I quickly realized that Michel was entirely right," Mr. Fournier said.

"And the most extraordinary thing is that, in the end, as you grow older, you continue to go poop once a day if you are in good health, while it is not easy to make love every day. So finally, the pleasure is longer-lasting and more frequent than the other."

He also advised against distractions while on the toilet. "There are even people who push the heresy to the point of doing Sudoku or crosswords rather than concentrating on the pleasure that they would have doing the thing," Mr. Fournier told his radio interviewer. "It is just as heretical as if you read the National Post while making love. It is not to be recommended."
Although my first name in French is Michel, I deny that I ever went on a train trip with Guy Fournier in the early 1960's.

Phil Flemming writes via email:
I'm told that out here in the Southwest there are two practicing cults of Elvis-worshippers, the Elvoids and Elvites. They despise each other and are not allowed to convention in Vegas at the same time after a problem some years ago. Both groups shun publicity and vow to keep the central tenets of their faiths from unbelievers. I think I met an Elvoid some years ago at a gunshow. On his black camos he was wearing a little gold pin that said "Elvis is God." I decided not to argue theology with a man dressed and armed like someone who preferred to settle his arguments ballistically.
I wonder if the name of the Elvoid cult is intended to suggest the manner of Elvis' death. Webster's Dictionary (1913), s.v. void as a verb:
2. To throw or send out; to evacuate; to emit; to discharge; as, to void excrements.

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