Bathroom humor has a proud literary tradition, with breaking wind having been a particularly popular scatological topic for millennia. Throughout history, the chance to make an occasional fart joke has often proven irresistible, even to such influential authors as Aristophanes, Shakespeare, and Mark Twain. Here are 11 references to uproarious cheese cutting made by some of the most esteemed writers of all time.
1. The First Joke Ever Recorded // 1900 BCE
Who says girls don’t fart? According to University of Wolverhampton professor Paul McDonald, this ancient Sumerian one-liner is the oldest known joke in recorded history: “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.”
2. Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno // 14th Century CE
This 14th-century masterpiece chronicles a fictional journey purportedly made by Dante himself through the circles of hell. At one point at the close of chapter XXI, he witnesses a demon mobilizing his troops by using “his ass as a trumpet.”
3. William Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors // 1594
In Act 3, the Bard writes, “A man may break a word with you, sir; and words are but wind; Ay, and break it in your face, so he break it not behind.”
4. Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales // 14th Century CE)
In “The Miller’s Tale,” Absolon and Nicholas are both wooing Alison. In one scene, Absolon comes to Alison’s window and asks for a kiss, unaware that Nicholas is spending the night with her. Alison presents not her lips, but her butt, for him to kiss, though it’s so dark he doesn’t realize what she’s done—until Nicholas and Alison laugh him. Angry, Absolon leaves, gets a hot plow blade, and comes back to the window asking for another kiss. This time, it’s Nicholas who puts his bum out the window. When Absolon asks for “Alison” to speak, Nicholas “let fly a fart as loud as it had been a thunder-clap, and well nigh blinded Absolon, poor chap.” Absolon smacks Nicholas with the hot plow blade, burning his butt badly.
5. Jonathan Swift’s "The Benefit of Farting" // 1722
In this notorious essay, the author of Gulliver’s Travels—writing under the incredible pseudonym Don Fartinhando Puff-indorst, Professor of Bumbast in the University of Craccow—argues that women would be better off if they farted more.
6. Mark Twain’s 1601 // 1880
Never one to shy away from irreverent humor, Samuel Clemens’s one-act show is set during a private gathering of Queen Elizabeth’s court wherein somebody unexpectedly rips one, prompting the Queen to ask about its source. Lady Alice (a woman in attendance) quickly declares “Nay tis not I [who has] broughte forth this rich o’emastering fog, this fragrant gloom, so pray you seek ye further.”
7. Aristophanes’s The Clouds // 423 BCE
At one point in the play, a simple-minded character named Strepsiades gives Socrates (yes, that Socrates) a bit too much information about his bowel movements: “I get colic, then the stew sets to rumbling like thunder and finally bursts forth with a terrific noise. ”
8. James Joyce’s Ulysses // 1922
The novel’s protagonist, advertising canvasser Leopold Bloom, is described in a particularly unflattering scene as sitting “asquat the cuckstool … seated calm above his own rising smell.”
9. 1001 Arabian Night’s Tales // 1709
In "The Tale of Abu Hasan," the title character flees his homeland out of raw embarrassment after farting at his own wedding. To hear an excellent reading of the story (complete with unnervingly-realistic sound effects), watch the video above.
10. John Aubrey’s Brief Lives // 17th Century CE
In this book of biographies, Aubrey relays the following story about the 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604): “This Earl … [bowing] to Queen Elizabeth, happened to let a fart, at which he was so abashed and ashamed that he went to travel for seven years. On his return the Queen welcomed him home and said ‘My Lord, I had forgotten the fart.’”
11. J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye // 1951
Listening contemptuously to a “phony” minister’s self-aggrandizing sermon, Holden Caulfield’s scorn is temporarily interrupted when “this guy sitting in the row in front of me, Edgar Marsalla, laid this terrific fart. It was a very crude thing to do, in the chapel and all, but it was also quite amusing. Old Marsalla. He damn near blew the roof off.”