Saturday, May 21, 2022


A Foul Smell

Aristophanes, Wealth 703 (tr. Alan H. Sommerstein):
My farts aren't frankincense!

οὐ λιβανωτὸν γὰρ βδέω.
A bit more literally:
Not frankincense do I fart.
M.T. Quinn's school edition of Aristophanes' Plutus (London: George Bell and Sons, 1896) omits lines 697-706 altogether. In the preface Quinn admits that his edition is "expurgated".

Erasmus, Adages III vii 34 (tr. Denis L. Drysdall, with his notes):
34 Pedere thus
To fart frankincense

Βδέειν λιβανωτόν, To fart frankincense, has the appearance of a proverb. It will be apt for those who enjoy their own vices or those who are deeply in love. The cause of the former is φιλαυτία 'love of self,' because everyone enjoys his own vices and finds them pleasant, even if they are of the most nauseous sort.1 The cause of the latter is extravagant love: 'Even Agnes' polyp delights Balbinus' as Horace writes.2 And Aristophanes in the Plutus: 'I am not accustomed to farting frankincense.'3 The expression will also suit flatterers who praise the vilest things instead of the most noble.

34 Aristophanes (see n3 below); in Aristophanes the expression is not used proverbially — Erasmus probably associated it with Adagia III iv 2 Everyone thinks his own fart smells sweet (4 above).

1 Cf Adagia I ii 15 What is one's own is beautiful, where the passage from Horace (n2 below) is also quoted.

2 Horace Satires 1.3.40

3 Aristophanes Plutus 703

Βδέειν λιβανωτόν, id est Pedere thus, proverbii speciem habet. Accommodabitur in hos, quorum et vitia placent aut ipsis aut aliis impendio amantibus. Facit enim hoc φιλαυτία, ut unicuique sua placeant arrideantque, etiam si sint putidissima. Facit item hoc amor immoderatus, ut Polypus etiam Agnae delectet Balbinum, veluti scripsit Horatius. Aristophanes in Pluto: Οὐ λιβανωτὸν γὰρ βδέω, id est Non soleo thura pedere. Quadrabit et in assentatores turpissima pro honestissimis laudantes.
Aristophanes' "not frankincense" reminds me of Cervantes' "not ambergris" in Don Quixote 1.21 (tr. John Ormsby):
Just then, whether it was the cold of the morning that was now approaching, or that he had eaten something laxative at supper, or that it was only natural (as is most likely), Sancho felt a desire to do what no one could do for him; but so great was the fear that had penetrated his heart, he dared not separate himself from his master by as much as the black of his nail; to escape doing what he wanted was, however, also impossible; so what he did for peace's sake was to remove his right hand, which held the back of the saddle, and with it to untie gently and silently the running string which alone held up his breeches, so that on loosening it they at once fell down round his feet like fetters; he then raised his shirt as well as he could and bared his hind quarters, no slim ones. But, this accomplished, which he fancied was all he had to do to get out of this terrible strait and embarrassment, another still greater difficulty presented itself, for it seemed to him impossible to relieve himself without making some noise, and he ground his teeth and squeezed his shoulders together, holding his breath as much as he could; but in spite of his precautions he was unlucky enough after all to make a little noise, very different from that which was causing him so much fear.

Don Quixote, hearing it, said, "What noise is that, Sancho?"

"I don't know, senor," said he; "it must be something new, for adventures and misadventures never begin with a trifle." Once more he tried his luck, and succeeded so well, that without any further noise or disturbance he found himself relieved of the burden that had given him so much discomfort. But as Don Quixote's sense of smell was as acute as his hearing, and as Sancho was so closely linked with him that the fumes rose almost in a straight line, it could not be but that some should reach his nose, and as soon as they did he came to its relief by compressing it between his fingers, saying in a rather snuffing tone, "Sancho, it strikes me thou art in great fear."

"I am," answered Sancho; "but how does your worship perceive it now more than ever?"

"Because just now thou smellest stronger than ever, and not of ambergris," answered Don Quixote.

"Very likely," said Sancho, "but that's not my fault, but your worship's, for leading me about at unseasonable hours and at such unwonted paces."

"Then go back three or four, my friend," said Don Quixote, all the time with his fingers to his nose; "and for the future pay more attention to thy person and to what thou owest to mine; for it is my great familiarity with thee that has bred this contempt."

"I'll bet," replied Sancho, "that your worship thinks I have done something I ought not with my person."

"It makes it worse to stir it, friend Sancho," returned Don Quixote.
Related post: An Icelandic Proverb?.


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