Friday, March 24, 2017


Wasted Effort

Erasmus, Adagia I iv 46, in Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol. 31: Adages I i 1 to I v 100, translated by Margaret Mann Phillips, annotated by R.A.B. Mynors (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), p. 355, with note:
46 Surdo oppedere
To break wind in front of a deaf man

Παρὰ κωφῷ ἀποπαρδεῖν, To break wind in the presence of the deaf, is said when an action is useless, or when some fault is committed against stupid people who cannot perceive it, or reproaches are heaped on a person who takes no notice, just as if he had not heard. It is mentioned by Diogenianus and Suidas.

46 Taken, as Erasmus tells us, from the Greek proverb-collections, Diogenianus 7.43 and Suidas Π 371.
The Latin:
Παρὰ κωφῷ ἀποπαρδεῖν, id est Apud surdum crepitum aedere, dicitur vbi quid frustra fit aut vbi peccatur apud stupidos, qui non queant sentire. Siue cum conuiciis incessitur is, qui perinde negligit, quasi non audiat. Refertur a Diogeniano et a Suida.
Cf. also Photius Π 251, Hesychius Π 563, Apostolius 13.99, Macarius 6.89, and J. Fr. Boissonade, ed., Anecdota Graeca, Vol. I (Paris, 1829), p. 396. All these additional references are from Photii Patriarchae Lexicon, ed. Christos Theodoridis, Vol. III: Ν-Φ (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013), p. 162 (Π 251 = παρὰ κωφὸν ἀποπέρδειν).

Dear Michael Gilleland,

Margaret Mann Philips’ translation of “surdo oppedere” as “to break wind in front of a deaf man” seems to me somewhat over-delicate. Oppedere is in fact to fart at somebody as a way of expressing derision, mockery, contempt, opposition; it is to fart in somebody’s face, as it were. At the beginning of Jonson’s The Alchemist, when Subtle tells Face, “I fart at thee!” it is a calque of the Latin oppedo tibi (Greek: καταπέρδω σου). Jonson was familiar with John Baret’s An Aluearie or Triple Dictionarie, in Englishe, Latin, and French (1574), where oppedo is defined: “To fart against one: and metaphorice, to denie with a lowde voice.” A historical example of this would be the "Great Parliament Fart" of 4 March 1607, when Henry Ludlow, the member for Ludgershall, Wiltshire, loudly broke wind (oppepedit) in response to Sir John Croke’s message from the Lords during a debate on the naturalisation of the Scots. Similar to oppedere, the Greek ἀποπαρδεῖν generally implies volition (deliberately farting, as opposed to πέρδω = crepitat mihi venter), as well as direction (farting toward or at somebody or something), and so παρὰ κωφῷ ἀποπαρδεῖν/Apud surdum crepitum aedere would more properly be translated “to let fly with a fart in a deaf man’s house” than “to break wind in the presence of the deaf.” The verb oppedere is not infrequent in the works of Erasmus, e.g. in the letter to Grunnius: “Atqui quum istorum status omnis Romanorum Pontificum auctoritate nitatur, cur illi quoties libuit strenue oppedunt?” (And yet, since their [i.e. the monks’] entire condition rests on the authority of the Roman pontiffs, why do they fart against it so vigorously and so relentlessly?).

Yours sincerely,

Alistair Ian Blyth


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