The past was gross. Deodorant wasn't invented yet, there were plague rats everywhere, and people shat on the floor. Just, right on the floor. To them, this was normal. Bodily functions like sweating, urinating, farting, or defecating were seen in completely different lights. Disgusting lights. Like fluorescents or something. We're talking about ...
To the approximately half of you who don't own a functional uterus, congratulations on not menstruating. But if you had lived in ancient Egypt, there's a pretty good chance you would have anyway. No, this wasn't a weird evolutionary quirk. The culprit was a parasitic worm that lived in Egyptian marshes, and loved nothing more than a good swim up the ol' dickhole. Egyptians referred to the drippy dong syndrome as "ahaa disease," as in "Aha! This mysterious puddle is from my leaky dick. Mystery solved."
Ahaa was so common that it's recorded in at least 50 separate medical texts from the period, which means we know the hieroglyphics for a bleeding wang.
The right side of that image features a dude with what looks like a colossally huge penis, but it is in fact a penile sheath, intended to protect the wearer's fun zone from the worms. This protection was only available to the elite few, however, as was the knowledge of what they were protecting themselves from. The disease was so widespread amongst the common people that many of them thought it was a normal fact of life. While by no means a universal belief, some ancient Egyptians wrote of boys becoming men when blood was seen in their urine, likened to a young woman's first menstruation. This belief continued up until the early 20th century -- the bleeding was seen as a necessary part of growing up, heavily linked with male fertility and sexuality. That is obviously ridiculous to us here in the future, where we assess a man's sexual fitness by the car he drives.
In London, the summer of 1858 was known as "The Great Stink." It was caused by the River Thames mixing up its signature formula, substituting poop for water. As if a literal river of shit wasn't bad enough, London was also experiencing a punishing heat wave, turning an open sewer into a gently fermenting excrement stew.
The smell was so bad that Parliament had to be abandoned and relocated to a rural area upstream. Keep in mind, this was at the height of English imperialism. The government of the most powerful nation on Earth came to a screeching halt, all on the grounds of "yuck."
This non-figurative shitstorm was the reason Victorian engineers finally gave in and implemented modern plumbing. Joseph Bazalgette ended up designing the system that London (as well as much of the modern world) still uses today: A network of over 82 miles of sewers and four huge pumping stations, two of which are apparently important enough to be protected heritage sites. In England, even the shit pumps are fancy.
Off the top of your head, when would you say toilet paper was invented? A few hundred years ago, maybe? How about the 1930s?
Of course, toilet paper existed before then, but not as the cushiony delight we enjoy today. It was so rough that it could (and did) give people splinters. Picture some of the most iconic figures of the '20s -- Al Capone, flappers, Wall Street brokers. They all had splinters in their assholes.
If imagining everyone in The Great Gatsby having a spike-filled butt doesn't make you feel superior, it's nothing compared to the ancient Greeks. They used pessoi, which were rocks, or smooth bits of ceramic. We may not have created the foundations for Western philosophy, but at least we don't wipe our asses with rocks, Greeks.
The Romans may have forged the longest-lasting empire in human history, but they also cleaned their butts with a briny sponge that everyone in the public bathrooms shared. Meanwhile, the Japanese used a chugi, or "shit stick." The less said about that method, the better.
16th-century French monk Rabelais even satirized these practices in his series Gargantua And Pantagruel, wherein a character suggests a list of the best tools one could use to wipe themselves, finally settling on a live goose, due to the "pleasant sensation" it gave to your "scutnozzle." Yes, even in the 16th century, people were making a living by thinking up funny ways to say "asshole."
You don't see a lot of performance farting anymore, and that's a shame. But less than a century ago, it was a skill that could make people rich and famous. The Japanese had heppiri otoko ("fartists") in the 18th century, who would amuse crowds with their "artistic manipulation of flatulence". The 12th-century Irish braigetoirs fulfilled the same role on the other side of the planet, while the English had Roland the Farter, a royal jester who performed for King Henry II every Christmas. Laugh all you want, but the king paid Roland 30 acres of land for this once-a-year performance. When was the last time your boss gave you a house?
The most famous flatulist was Le Petomane (or "The Fartomaniac," for all you English speakers). He was the highest-paid entertainer in France, and one of the most highly paid in the world at the height of his fame in the early 20th century. His act included impressions, playing the flute, blowing smoke rings, extinguishing candles, and the French national anthem, all performed with his butt.
Unfortunately, since this was recorded in 1900, the video is silent ... but deadly.
Le Petomane practiced these skills around the clock for years, and gave himself five enemas a day just to keep his instrument odorless -- proving that even the dumbest skill you can think of still takes unimaginable dedication to master.
In early modern Europe, married couples were legally obliged to bang to ensure the overpopulation of good Christians. It was therefore a man's moral responsibility to get and keep it up, and flaccidity was grounds for an annulment. Of course, they couldn't just take his wife's word for it -- women's words were generally not good for much back then. Impotence had to be proven in court, in front of a judge and God and everybody.
Enter impotency tests. These varied from a clinical examination by a group of physicians to pulling down your pants and willing your phallus into erection right there in front of the jury. It was also common to hire prostitutes who would "expose their breasts and genitals" while using "explicit language." This means the local courts and brothels had some kind of working partnership, and there needs to be a TV show about that immediately.
Borthwick Institute Publications
Obviously, this practice created its share of heroes. In October 1441, John Marche had his member "palpated" by three women in a kitchen while they "embraced his neck" and kissed him, making it the world's very first legally binding porno. Nine women were once deputized to prove that Henry Barlay couldn't successfully have sex, and by god, he defeated each and every one of them.
And there were some tragic defeats. Rene de Cordouan, the Marquis de Langey, chose to undertake a trial by congress, and not the legislative kind. It was like trial by combat on Game Of Thrones, except the opposing champion was his wife, his sword was his dick, and the audience was ... the audience, because this was done in public. The Marquis' trial was conducted in front of a jury of 15 professionals. After several long hours of fruitless grinding, he was found guilty of having a first-degree flop. His marriage was annulled, and he was forbidden to remarry, although he eventually did, and had seven healthy children with his second wife. Burn, the first Mrs. de Cordouan the Marquis de Langey. Epic burn.
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For some more modern and holiday-themed performance farts, check out Merry Methane!
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