Sunday, October 05, 2008


Commit No Nuisance

The late Oriana Fallaci was an atheist, but in La rabbia e l'orgoglio (Rage and Pride, tr. Chris Knipp), she directed the full force of her anger against immigrants who desecrated holy places in Florence (warning — graphic language):
A tent set up in front of the cathedral with the dome by Brunelleschi, beside the baptistery with the golden doors of Ghiberti. A tent, in fine, furnished like a sloppy flat: chairs, tables, sofas, mattresses to sleep or to fuck on, cook stoves to prepare food and befoul the square with smoke and stinking smells. And thanks to the usual insensitivity of the ENEL, which cares about as much about our works of art as it cares about our landscape, it was furnished with electric light. Thanks to a radio-tape player, it was enriched by the tortured voice of a muezzin who regularly exhorted the faithful, deafened the infidels, and drowned out the sound of the church bells.

And together with all that, the yellow lines of urine that profaned the marbles of the baptistery. (Good God! They have a long stream, these sons of Allah. How do they manage to hit a target separated from the protective railing and therefore almost two meters away from their urinary organ?) With the yellow lines of urine was the stink of their shit which blocked the gate of San Salvatore al Vescovo: the exquisite Romanesque church (A.D. 1000) which sits on the shoulders of the Piazza del Duomo and which the sons of Allah had turned into a shithouse.
History repeats itself. Compare the words of a chronicler quoted by John Julius Norwich, A Short History of Byzantium (New York: Vintage Books, 1997), p. 293:
These barbarians...carried their violence to the very foot of the altars. It was thought strange that they should wish to destroy our icons, using them as fuel for the fires on which they cooked. More criminal still, they would dance upon the altars before which the angels trembled, and sing profane songs. Then they would piss all over the church, flooding the floors with their urine.
Even the Bible (2 Kings 10.27) mentions a similar act: "And they demolished the pillar of Baal, and demolished the house of Baal, and made it a latrine to this day."

But "deorum iniuriae dis curae" (Tacitus, Annals 1.73.5), that is, let wrongs committed against the gods be the concern of the gods. John R. Clarke, Looking at Laughter: Humor, Power, and Transgression in Roman Visual Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), pp. 60-62, with notes on pp. 252-253, discusses a first century A.D. bas-relief (Museo Archeologico di Aquileia, 50397 = Clarke, figure 21, p. 61) on which Jupiter is throwing thunderbolts at a defecating man. The provenance of the relief is uncertain, although there seems to be a consensus that it comes from a temple. I can't find an image of the relief on the World Wide Web, so Clarke's detailed description must suffice:
We see Jupiter raising his right arm to hurl a second thunderbolt at a man caught in the act of defecating. He is already falling to the ground from the effects of the first thunderbolt; we see its three top prongs sticking out of the man's back, just behind his head. The artist has emphasized Jupiter's might by placing him above the man, and by making him twice the size of his poor victim. Jupiter's powerful pose—right arm extended, right leg flexed, and left leg extended—harks back to classical models. But if Jupiter is all power, the man is all weakness. His nearly limp right arm searches for support. Rather than showing the man crouching todefecate, the artist has (more tastefully?) suggested that he has been crouching by showing the front of the man's tunic pulled up to his genitals and by depicting the deep bend of his knees. In a word, the man is about to fall forward on his face from what had been a defecating crouch.
As Clarke points out, there are inscriptions warning against this type of punishment for this type of offense, e.g. Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL) IV.7716:
Defecator, watch out for trouble; or, if you act with disrespect, may you have Jupiter angry.

cacator cave malu(m) aut si contempseris habeas Iove(m) iratum
One could here mentally supply either cave (ne facias) malum = beware lest you commit a nuisance, or cave (ne patiare) malum = beware lest you suffer a punishment.

Similarly, CIL VI.29848b warns:
Whoever urinates or defecates here, may he have the twelve gods and Diana and Jupiter best and greatest angry.

duodeci(m) deos et Deana(m) et Iovem Optumu(m) Maximu(m) habeat iratos quisquis hic mixerit aut cacarit
Individual gods are not named in CIL VI.13740:
He who urinates or defecates here, may he have the gods above and below angry.

qui hic mixerit aut cacarit, habeat deos superos et inferos iratos
In Greek inscriptions we also find this turn of phrase (e.g. Tituli Asiae Minoris V,2 1371, from Lydia: τοὺς ἐπουρανίους καὶ καταχθονίους θεοὺς κεχολωμένους ἔχοισαν = may they have the gods above and below angry), but I haven't noticed any Greek inscriptions where this is the punishment for urination or defecation in an inappropriate place. I haven't searched much beyond the discussions of protection of Greek tombs and accompanying curses in Richmond Lattimore, Themes in Greek and Latin Epitaphs (1935; rpt. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1962), pp. 106-118, and Erwin Rohde, Psyche: The Cult of Souls and Belief in Immortality among the Ancient Greeks, 8th ed., tr. W.B. Hillis (1925; rpt. Chicago: Ares Publishers, 1987), pp. 525-526 and notes on pp. 552-554.

There is an interesting variation on the turn of phrase in CIL III.1966 (from Salona in Dalmatia):
Whoever refrains from placing dung in this area or defecating or urinating, may he have these favorable; but if he neglects the warning, watch out!

quisqu(e) in eo vico stercus non pos(u)erit aut non cacaverit aut non miaverit is habeat illas propitias, si neglexerit viderit
These = goddesses (triple Hecate).

The Stoic philosopher Chrysippus criticized urination in holy places, according to Plutarch, On the Contradictions of the Stoics 22.2, p. 1045 a (tr. E. Smith):
Yet he again in his Fifth Book of Nature says, that Hesiod rightly forbids the making water into rivers and fountains, and that we should rather abstain from doing this against any altar, or statue of the Gods; and that it is not to be admitted for an argument, that dogs, asses, and young children do it, who have no discretion or consideration of such things.

ἐν δὲ τῷ πέμπτῳ πάλιν περὶ Φύσεως λέγει καλῶς μὲν ἀπαγορεύειν τὸν Ἡσίοδον εἰς ποταμοὺς καὶ κρήνας οὐρεῖν, ἔτι δὲ μᾶλλον ἀφεκτέον εἶναι τοῦ πρὸς βωμὸν οὐρεῖν ἢ ἀφίδρυμα θεοῦ· μὴ γὰρ εἶναι πρὸς λόγον, εἰ κύνες καὶ ὄνοι τοῦτο ποιοῦσι καὶ παιδάρια νήπια, μηδεμίαν ἐπιστροφὴν μηδ´ ἐπιλογισμὸν ἔχοντα περὶ τῶν τοιούτων.
The Latin poet Persius was a Stoic, and it was said (Suetonius, Life of Persius) that he owned seven hundred volumes of the writings of Chrysippus. It is not surprising, therefore, that in Persius' first Satire (lines 112-114, tr. Susanna Morton Braund) we find a reference to prohibitions against these acts of desecration:
Will that do? "Defecation prohibited here," you say. Paint up two snakes: "Lads, this place is off limits—piss outside."

hoc iuvat? "hic" inquis "veto quisquam faxit oletum."
pinge duos anguis: "pueri, sacer est locus, extra
"Off limits" is sacred, holy (sacer), hence protected.

Persius was a contemporary of the Roman emperor Nero, and Suetonius, Life of Nero 56 (tr. J.C. Rolfe), testifies to Nero's disregard of the prohibition:
He utterly despised all cults, with the sole exception of the Syrian Goddess, and even acquired such a contempt for her that he made water on her image.

religionum usque quaque contemptor, praeter unius Deae Syriae, hanc mox ita sprevit ut urina contaminaret.
In Aristophanes' Wasps, at the end of a prayer to the hero Lycus, Philocleon promises not to act with such contempt (393-394, tr. Alan H. Sommerstein):
O take pity now on me who dwell close to thee, and save me, and I vow never to piss or fart beside your wicker fence.

ἐλέησον καὶ σῶσον νυνὶ τὸν σαυτοῦ πλησιόχωρον·
κοὐ μή ποτέ σου παρὰ τὰς κάννας οὐρήσω μηδ᾽ ἀποπάρδω.
Cf. Horace, Satires 1.8.37-39, where a statue of the god Priapus swears this oath:
But if I am telling a lie in any respect, may I be fouled on my head with the white turds of crows, and may Julius and frail Pediatia and the thief Voranus come to urinate and defecate on me.

mentior at siquid, merdis caput inquiner albis
corvorum atque in me veniat mictum atque cacatum
Iulius et fragilis Pediatia furque Voranus.
In Petronius, Satyricon 71.8 (tr. P.G. Walsh), it is a human, not a god, who will protect a tomb:
I'll be careful to stipulate in my will that I come to no harm when dead; I'll appoint one of my freedmen to mount guard over my tomb, to ensure that people don't make a beeline to shit against it.

ceterum erit mihi curae, ut testamento caveam ne mortuus iniuriam accipiam. praeponam enim unum ex libertis sepulchro meo custodiae causa, ne in monumentum meum populus cacatum currat.
E. Courtney, Musa Lapidaria (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995), pp. 158-159, quotes and translates a couple of inscriptions along the same lines. The first is CIL 6.2357:
Stranger, the buried bones of a man request you not to piss at this tomb, but, if you are an agreeable man, mix a drink, drink it, and give me some.

hospes, ad hunc tumulum ne meias ossa precantur
tecta hominis, set si gratus homo es, misce bibe da mihi.
The second is CIL 4.8899:
Stranger, the bones ask you not to piss at this tomb, for, if you want to be more agreeable to this man, shit.

You see Nettle's tomb; away from here, shitter; it is not safe for you to open your bowels here.

hospes, adhuc tumuli ni meias ossa prec[antur,
  nam, si vis (h)uic gratior esse, caca.

Urticae monumenta vides; discede, cacator.
  non est hic tutum culu(m) aperire tibi.
Courtney (p. 369) explains the joke in the second couplet as follows: "The point is a pun on the name of the hypothetical deceased (for the name Urtica see CIL 5.3637; it is also known as a female name); as the cacator squats, he is in danger of being stung by an urtica, a nettle." Cf. the poison ivy episode in Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002), pp. 17-18.

Horace, Art of Poetry 470-472, humorously supposes that a penchant for writing verses is punishment for urinating on a tomb:
Nor is is sufficiently clear why he composes poetry, whether he urinated on his father's ashes, or impiously disturbed a gloomy sacred site.

nec satis apparet cur versus factitet, utrum
minxerit in patrios cineres, an triste bidental
moverit incestus.
I'll close with a couple of references to committing nuisances against statues. The first is Juvenal 1.127-131 (tr. G.G. Ramsay):
The day itself is marked out by a fine round of business. First comes the dole; then the courts, and Apollo learned in the law, and those triumphal statues among which some Egyptian Arabarch or other has dared to set up his titles; against whose statue more than one kind of nuisance may be committed!

ipse dies pulchro distinguitur ordine rerum:
sportula, deinde forum iurisque peritus Apollo
atque triumphales, inter quas ausus habere
nescio quis titulos Aegyptius atque Arabarches,
cuius ad effigiem non tantum meiere fas est.
Ramsay euphemistically conceals Juvenal's crude language. A more literal translation is "against whose statue it is permitted not only to urinate." Juvenal implies "non tantum meiere fas est, sed etiam cacare," that is, "it is permitted not only to urinate, but also to defecate" on the statue.

The second reference is to the Life of Caracalla (5.7, tr. David Magie) in the Historia Augusta:
At that time men were condemned to death for having urinated in places where there were statues or busts of the Emperor.

damnati sunt eo tempore qui urinam in eo loco fecerunt, in quo statuae aut imagines erant principis.
Related post: Crime and Punishment.

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