Monday, February 12, 2007



The narrator in Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy refers repeatedly to a scholarly treatise De Nasis (On Noses) by Hafen Slawkenbergius. He even quotes a long extract from the work. But Slawkenbergius' treatise is an imaginary book, in the same category as the Ars Honeste Petandi in Societate (The Art of Breaking Wind Politely in Public) mentioned by Rabelais.

In Tristram Shandy we also read:
Of all the tracts my father was at the pains to procure and study in support of his hypothesis, there was not any one wherein he felt a more cruel disappointment at first, than in the celebrated dialogue between Pamphagus and Cocles, written by the chaste pen of the great and venerable Erasmus, upon the various uses and seasonable applications of long noses.
This is a reference to a real work, a colloquy by Erasmus, De Captandis Sacerdotiis (On Benefice-Hunters, tr. Nathan Bailey), which contains the following passage:
PAMPHAGUS: I am not at all sorry for this Nose.
COCLES: No, nor have you any Occasion to be sorry for having a Thing that is fit for so many Uses.
PAMPHAGUS: For what Uses?
COCLES: First of all, it will serve instead of an Extinguisher, to put out Candles.
COCLES: Again, if you want to draw any Thing out of a deep Pit, it will serve instead of an Elephant's Trunk.
PAMPHAGUS: O wonderful.
COCLES: If your Hands be employ'd, it will serve instead of a Pin.
PAMPHAGUS: Is it good for any Thing else?
COCLES: If you have no Bellows, it will serve to blow the Fire.
PAMPHAGUS: This is very pretty; have you any more of it?
COCLES: If the Light offends you when you are writing, it will serve for an Umbrella.
PAMPHAGUS: Ha, ha, ha! Have you any Thing more to say?
COCLES: In a Sea-fight it will serve for a Grappling-hook.
PAMPHAGUS: What will it serve for in a Land-fight?
COCLES: Instead of a Shield.
PAMPHAGUS: And what else?
COCLES: It will serve for a Wedge to cleave Wood withal.
PAMPHAGUS: Well said.
COCLES: If you act the Part of a Herald, it will be for a Trumpet; if you sound an Alarm, a Horn; if you dig, a Spade; if you reap, a Sickle; if you go to Sea, an Anchor; in the Kitchen it will serve for a Flesh-hook; and in Fishing a Fish-hook.
PAMPHAGUS: I am a happy Fellow indeed, I did not know I carry'd about me a Piece of Household Stuff that would serve for so many Uses.
Erasmus was probably inspired by an anonymous poem in the Greek Anthology (11.203, tr. W.R. Paton):
Castor's nose is a hoe for him when he digs anything, a trumpet when he snores and a grape-sickle at vintage time, an anchor on board ship, a plough when he is sowing, a fishing-hook for sailors, a flesh-hook for feasters, a pair of tongs for ship-builders, and for farmers a leek-slicer, an axe for carpenters, and a handle for his door. Such a serviceable implement has Castor the luck to possess, wearing a nose adaptable for any work.
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