Monday, February 26, 2018


An Obscenity in Erasmus?

Erasmus, "Additional Formulae," Colloquies, tr. Craig R. Thompson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997 = Complete Works of Erasmus, 39), pp. 118-131 (at 119-120):
Christian What good's a letter without money? Just what purpose does an empty letter serve? What value has it? What good does an empty letter bring, do, serve, afford? Whom does a letter without money please? What good's an idle letter? Of what help is it? For what use? What end does it serve? What does it bring of importance? What do useless, empty letters matter?

Peter Useful, suitable, convenient for cleaning your backside with. They're serviceable for cleaning your buttocks. If you don't know their use, they're good for cleaning your behind. For wiping your buttocks. For cleaning your rear.
The Latin, from Erasmus, "Colloquiorum Familiarum Formulae," Opera Omnia, I.3 = Colloquia, ed. L.-E. Halkin, F. Bierlaire, R. Hoven (Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing Company, 1972), pp. 76-104 (at 81-82, with apparatus):
AVGVSTINVS. Quorsum spectant literae sine pecunia? ad quid tandem inanes conducunt literae? Quorsum valent, ad quid conferunt, faciunt, literae vacuae? Cui gratae, cui acceptae litterae sine nummis, quid emolumenti adferunt literae inanes?

CHRISTIANVS. Podici tergendo vtiles, idoneae, conducunt natibus tergendis. Si vsum nescis earum, ad anum expurgandum valent, ad nates tergendas, ad posticum purgandum.


purgandum B: purgandum. AVGVSTINVS. Equidem noui quendam cuius lingua malim ad hoc abuti. CHRISTIANVS. At ego noui cuius lingua nihilo tutius sit abstergi, quam aconiti foliis. AVGVSTINVS. Iste igitur dignus est, qui aconitum edat ardeleo C
B = ed. Louanii, Th. Martens, Cal. Mart. 1519
C = ed. Louanii, Th. Martens (1519)
Edward Lee, in a letter to Erasmus (February 1, 1520; tr. R.A.B. Mynors), quotes the passage from edition C (apparatus above), which he thought referred to him:
I should by now be ashamed to produce another of your trumped-up charges — it is so foul and disgusting, stinking as it does of the privy — were it not that it provides a second specimen of Erasmus' famous modesty. It runs like this:
AUGUSTINE What useful purpose do these vacuous studies serve?

CHRISTIAN They can be used for wiping the buttocks, and are fit for wrapping mackerel and the like.

AUGUSTINE For my part, I know a man whose tongue I would rather divert to such a task.

CHRISTIAN I on the other hand know someone by whose tongue it would be as risky to be wiped as by aconite leaves.

AUGUSTINE He really deserves then to eat aconite, the rapscalleon.
I ask you, Erasmus, are these words worthy of you? Are they worthy of a man who wishes, like you, to be thought a theologian and the world's great critic? Could one say anything filthier, more revolting, more poisonous? Is there a noisy ruffian, a buffoon, a low comedian, the keeper of a privy who could have voided anything so foul on anyone?
Erasmus defended himself against the charge of obscenity in "An Apologia in Response to the Two Invectives of Edward Lee," tr. Erika Rummel in Erasmus, Controversies (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005 = Complete Works of Erasmus, 72), pp. 1-65 (at 52-53):
First of all, I ask you, dear reader, what is obscene about someone who teaches the Latin language giving this example: 'This book is good for nothing except wiping behinds.' Is it so obscene to name that part of the body when a part popularly considered more obscene is named in the Bible: 'vagina'? Tell me, if a schoolteacher threatens his boys with the rod, is he considered to speak obscenely because he names that part of the body which is usually struck? Would it be considered obscene if those who discuss the nature of living creatures named all parts of the human body by their proper names? You will say: They do so for the purpose of instruction. In this case too I give instruction in the Latin language. Would the author of a lexicon be considered obscene when he explains words denoting in Latin what is commonly regarded as filthy? Just as no blame attaches to the surgeon or physician who treats obscene parts of the body, so the person who names them for some useful purpose ought to be free of blame. I should like to ask Lee: Has he never heard the male member mentioned frivolously at social gatherings with his friends, or the word for hinder parts that is used even by respectable people? And how does this agree with his quotation from Jerome in Annotation 31? Jerome says that it is not dishonourable to mention any part of the human body. I shall not defend here the Cynics, who believe that it is not foul to say what is not foul to do. I like modesty of speech, and have always been careful to preserve it, even in books written for sport and entertainment. In this passage I certainly cannot see anything obscene. It is spoken passionately rather than obscenely against a virulent tongue that deserves to be cut out with the sword and given over to the most abject uses.

As a young man, I remember, I once travelled aboard a ship carrying the usual mixed crowd. Among them was a theologian who had made a great name for himself, a member of the Dominican order, whose sermons were popular with the people. He was a corpulent man. A sailor began joking about him for obviously leading a soft life. When he had said many ridiculous things — the kind of jokes common people usually make about prefects of nunneries — the theologian replied that he lacked only one comfort in life, which had not yet been mentioned. When the sailor asked right away what that was, he said: 'Your tongue, to wipe my backside.' Loud laughter ensued, and no one thought that it was spoken indecently, because it was spoken against a slanderous tongue. For this reason I cannot sufficiently express my surprise at Lee, whose eyes would discern a detestable obscenity in my words even though they are not spoken in my own person and are uttered during a drinking bout.
Related posts:


<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?