Some societies have found our bodily functions to be highly humorous. The 12th century Tech Midchúarda describes the banquets given by the High King of Ireland where braigetori (or professional farters) were employed alongside the other entertainers. Around the same time, Henry II of England (133-1189) had a favourite minstrel known as Roland le Peteur (Roland the Farter) whose feast-day speciality was to jump, whistle and fart at the same. Not that everyone was amused by these antics.
The error [of these clowns] has so taken hold that they are not forbidden from the residences of great men, those indeed who expose their bodies’ shameful members in front of everyone, so that even a cynic blushes to see it. Still more astonishing, the clowns are not ejected even when the racket of their bottoms befouls the air with repeated noise, more shamefully emitting what is shamefully held in.
(John of Salisbury – Policraticus 1159)
This print by John Derricke called ‘The Image of Irelande’ dates from 1581. Note the two farting braigetori on the right hand side.
“Such was the plain, jolly mirth of those days,” as William Camden put it in 1586, a mirth which reached its highest expression in the Feast of Fools – a festival with pagan roots that was held around Christmastime until the mid-15th century. Revellers would fling excrement at each other, mock the local priest, run around naked and be unspeakably wanton.
But others bear a turd, that on a cushion soft they lay;
And there is that with a flap doth keep the flies away:
I would there might another be, an officer of those,
Whose room might serve to take away the scent from every nose.
(Barnaby Googe – The Popish Kingdome, or Reign of Antichrist 1570)