I live in Tokyo now but most of my friends and family do not. The main idea here is that I can tell these people about interesting things that happen and are seen.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

People In Olden Days Knew How To Talk About Rude Stuff

The following delightful piece of slander comes from Procopius' "Secret History", published posthumously in the 6th Century AD. It's a description of the Byzantine Empress Theodora, consort of Justinian I - he's generally considered a pretty bodacious dude as far as Byzantine Emperors go, though Procopius evidently had an axe to grind:

On the field of pleasure she was never defeated. Often she would go picnicking with ten young men or more, in the flower of their strength and virility, and dallied with them all, the whole night through. When they wearied of the sport, she would approach their servants, perhaps thirty in number, and fight a duel with each of these; and even thus found no allayment of her craving.

Throughout his career Procopius was commissioned to compose various panegyric histories in praise of Justinian's imperial achievements. I suppose he wrote the Secret History after hours as a way of venting against a boss he didn't particularly appreciate. He puts his prose through various contortions in order to assert that Justinian was simultaneously a moron and yet infernally cunning, finishing off with a literary shrug and a story to the effect that "his head completely detached off his body and flew around the room this one time". But Procopius reserves the best of his venom for the Empress Theodora. He continues:

And though she flung wide three gates to the ambassadors of Cupid, she lamented that nature had not similarly unlocked the straits of her bosom, that she might there have contrived a further welcome to his emissaries.

Have you ever read such a splendid description of some basic rudeness?

The scholar has this to say of her early career in the theatre:

Often, even in the theater, in the sight of all the people, she removed her costume and stood nude in their midst, except for a girdle about the groin: not that she was abashed at revealing that, too, to the audience, but because there was a law against appearing altogether naked on the stage, without at least this much of a fig-leaf. Covered thus with a ribbon, she would sink down to the stage floor and recline on her back. Slaves to whom the duty was entrusted would then scatter grains of barley from above into the calyx of this passion flower, whence geese, trained for the purpose, would next pick the grains one by one with their bills and eat.

The complete text of the Secret History is available here, though I caution that despite the many elegant, classical euphanisms for "eh that girl she nuttin but a straight up ho", it's not exactly a page-turner, especially if you don't know the background. I would recommend instead John Julius Norwich's 3-volume History of Byzantium, which might be at your local library if it doesn't suck. If you're an author of fantasy fiction you could pick a chapter more or less at random and easily base your trilogy upon it.

As for Japan: the Japanese are quiet. Keeping their heads down. They know what's up. And I have reached a conclusion regarding typhoons: Typhoons are bullshit.


Blogger sandy said...

I love ye olde tabloids.

For an ancient version of a Russ Meyer film, try the Carnal Prayer Mat by Li Yu. Was written sometime around the 16th C I think (or maybe even before that).

Basically, dude decides to write a book about the adventures of a naughty scholar who boffs various hot chicks, and also gets a donkey dong transplant. (I am not even kidding here).

Except of course the whole thing is translated from gentile Chinese prose. There is an awful lot of comparing intimate body parts to shoes, moons, chess pieces etc.

The only way Li Yu could even get the book published was to do what Russ Meyer did in his films- stick on a moralising final chapter in which everyone sees the folly of their ways and gets their ultimate comeuppance!

Wed Oct 11, 09:06:00 PM PDT

Blogger sandy said...

How embarrassing- I meant genteel, not gentile, although arguably it is also that, since there probably was not so much Judaism in 17th C China.

Bonus quote:

"My cloud is bursting. Let us die of joy together!"

Wed Oct 11, 09:51:00 PM PDT


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