Humour in the ancient world

What we’d see as humour is associated with our recent times but apart from satirical works and the pictures of Pietro Aretino which were more bawdy than humorous, apart from the lightheartedness of Chaucer, was there actual humour as we know it, say, in ancient times?

Did G-d have a sense of humour?

In Ancient Egypt, there is the Queen of Punt:


Notable is the scene at the temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri that portrays the overweight figure of the Queen of Punt, followed by a small donkey.  The caption reads, “the donkey that had to carry the queen”, and apparently the ordinary Egyptians thought this was funny as well, for they repeated the drawing in rough sketch clearly copied from the original.

animal drivers

Another humorous allusion was to animals which were personified as partaking in human activity.

The Greeks

In Iliad, xi, 378, Paris, having hit Diomed, from behind a pillar with an arrow in the foot, springs forth from his concealment and laughs at him, saying he wished he had killed him. In Iliad, xxi, 407, where the gods descend into the battle, Minerva laughs at Mars when she has struck him with a huge stone so that he fell, his hair was draggled in the dust, and his armour clanged around him.

So it’s a cruel humour depicted here and it is but a step to ridiculing personal defects:

Homer tells us that when the gods at their banquet saw Vulcan, who was acting as butler, “stumping about on his lame leg,” they fell into “unextinguishable laughter.”  Thersites is described as “squint-eyed, lame-legged, with bent shoulders pinched over his chest, a pointed head, and very little hair on it.”


It commenced in the harvest homes of Greece and Sicily—in the festivals of the grape-gatherers at the completion of the vintage. They paraded the villages, crowned with vine-leaves, carrying poles and branches, and smeared with the juice of grapes. Their aim was to provoke general merriment by dancing, singing, and grotesque attitudes, and by giving rein to their coarse and pugnacious propensities.

Spectators and passers by were assailed with invectives, pelted with missiles, and treated to all that hostile humour which is associated with practical joking. So vile was their language and conduct that “comedy” came to signify abuse and vilification.

The irony of Sophocles was pretty close to humour:

A man may be either praised or blamed in this way, but Socrates’ intention was always sarcastic. He put questions to men, as if merely desiring some information they could easily give him, while he knew that his inquiries could not be answered, without overthrowing the theories of those he addressed. Thus, he gave instruction whilst he seemed to solicit it.

In various other ways he enlivened and recommended his doctrines by humorous illustration. It is said that he even went to the theatre to see himself caricatured, laughed as heartily as any, and stood up to show the audience how correctly his ill-favoured countenance had been reproduced.

And Homer would rae as humorous in today’s context:

In the Homeric hymn to Mercury, we read that the god extemporized a song, “just as when young men at banquets slily twit each other.” When the cups flowed, and the conversation sparkled, men indulged in repartee, or capped each other in verses. One man, for instance, would quote or compose a line beginning and ending with a certain letter, and another person was called upon for a similar one to complete the couplet.

This is most certainly in today’s vein:

On one occasion, when supping with the tyrant, a small mullet was placed before Philoxenus, and a large one before Dionysius. He thereupon took up his fish and placed it to his ear.

Dionysius asked him why he did so, to which he replied that he was writing a poem, called “Galatæa,” and wanted to hear some news from the kingdom of Nereus. “The fish given to him,” he added, “knew nothing about it, because it had been caught so young; but no doubt that set before Dionysius would know everything.”

The tyrant, we are told, laughed and sent him his mullet.

Reminds me of the supermarket where I kept holding lettuces to my ear until a supermarket lady asked what I was doing.  I replied that I’d been told by my wife to bring back a good lettuce.

“How would I know?” I asked her.

“Check the heart,” she’d replied.



Given that they had no concept of heterosexuality or homosexuality but rather that of the penetrator and the penetrated, then a boy would fall into the latter category but when he became a man, it would be seen as shameful for him to continue this.

The humour was almost barrack room or football locker room humour, with jokes about size and who’d done what.  The Priapus poems were in this vein.  Today’s idiomatic expressions in Italian retain much of this legacy and are colourful in the extreme.

So overall, from what I’ve seen and read, there’s not all that much difference between the ancients and the moderns when it comes to humour.

And for some other ancient boom-booms, check out Jams.

Categories and tags – help!

Help me out here, people.  I’m in the middle of getting these tabs above in order and am recategorizing and putting tags in, a big job.  Could you tell me if the following cover all bases?

You’d need to click this headline to see them laid out:

Arts & culture


















Life & people





Politics & society








Tech & design







High heels – why are they necessary?


The Sydney Morning Herald says:

Aside from the discomfort of wearing ultra high heels for any length of time, there are myriad health problems associated with long-term stiletto love. Many of these, such as bunions, joint pain and hammer toes, are familiar to most women but it appears that heels affect more than one’s feet. Some health experts go so far as to attribute fertility problems, thinning hair and even mental health disorders to prolonged wearing of high heels.

One commenter said:

High heels give you chronic foot/leg/back problems, too flat shoes are equally bad, bags worn over one shoulder give you neck/shoulder/back problems, underwire and pushup bras give you back and neck problems (not to mention being darn uncomfortable no matter how well made they are)…it’s a wonder we poor long suffering females aren’t all hunchbacked invalids by the age of 25!

And yet how many of would prefer to see all women braless, in orthopoedic shoes wearing backpacks? How many of us would still be taken seriously in the office if we did? Of course wearing ridiculously high heels on a daily basis is silly and pointless, but let’s not lose sight of reality entirely. Most women feel sexy and powerful in a nice pair of heels, and that doesn’t make us masochistic, schizophrenic nutters.

Given that men also have a certain height of heel to make all-day wear more comfortable] and of all my shoes, the brogues are the most comfortable], the ladies feel better with at least some heel.

How much though?  Personally, I find the sort of flat shoes that are currently worn by many ladies the prettiest of all [plus natural hair and makeup] but admittedly, if they wore them out with an evening dress, it would look strange and evening dresses are very, very nice.  I love wearing a dinner jacket/tux but the occasions for this are few and far between these days.

Shale – energy future or pie in the sky?


The least interesting subject I can think of is shale: “soft, finely stratified sedimentary rock that formed from consolidated mud or clay and can be split easily into fragile slabs”.

It’s not interesting until one sees that it might be the west’s energy resource of the future, gradually replacing oil and other forms of gas as the primary source.  The current state of play, courtesy of ScotsToryB, is this:

Technical difficulties

For the layman, from Wiki:

Because shales ordinarily have insufficient permeability to allow significant fluid flow to a well bore, most shales are not commercial sources of natural gas. Shale gas is one of a number of “unconventional” sources of natural gas; other unconventional sources of natural gas include coalbed methane, tight sandstones, and methane hydrates. Shale gas areas are often known as resource plays (as opposed to exploration plays). The geological risk of not finding gas is low in resource plays, but the potential profits per well are usually also lower.

Shale has low matrix permeability, so gas production in commercial quantities requires fractures to provide permeability. Shale gas has been produced for years from shales with natural fractures; the shale gas boom in recent years has been due to modern technology in hydraulic fracturing to create extensive artificial fractures around well bores. Horizontal drilling is often used with shale gas wells.

Shales that host economic quantities of gas have a number of common properties. They are rich in organic material, and are usually mature petroleum source rocks in the thermogenic gasgamma radiation are the most productive. window. They are sufficiently brittle and rigid enough to maintain open fractures. In some areas, shale intervals with high natural

Some of the gas produced is held in natural fractures, some in pore spaces, and some is adsorbed onto the organic material. The gas in the fractures is produced immediately; the gas adsorbed onto organic material is released as the formation pressure declines.

What are the prospects?

ASPO USA says:

The most arresting quote came from Mike Graham of EnCana, a Canadian company that holds dominant positions in British Columbia’s Montney and Horn River plays. “Natural gas will displace coal. It will displace oil. There is no reason North America shouldn’t be energy self-sufficient if we can displace a lot of the oil with natural gas.”

To reduce the trade deficit and lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil, you could launch an effort to use compressed natural gas in vehicles … But if the goal is to save carbon, you would use the natural gas to displace coal in the electric sector.

Population is rarely broached in climate discussions, which is unfortunate because growth is a big deal. Reducing emissions while people are increasing is like running down an up escalator.

Governor Ritter, of Colorado, wants to reduce emissions by 20% by 2020.  Clearly, natural gas is the current realistic alternative.  So, the demand is obviously there.

The politics of fuel switching are difficult, because it would raise electric rates and because coal’s markup rivals that of Fiji Water. Each year, the nation’s utilities spin $40 billion worth of coal into $160 billion of electricity. Thus, although the average coal plant is nearly 40 years-old, there’s no incentive to retire it, even though it produces three times more carbon dioxide than a modern gas turbine. If the nation was really serious about addressing climate change, the “cash for clunkers” program would have targeted those ancient coal plants, not F150s.

Does Colorado produce enough natural gas to support such a strategy? Yes, plenty. One-fifth of the state’s current exports would suffice. The math is much more difficult at the national level … For the next year or two, the nation is likely to indeed remain awash in gas. But if the country were to embrace fuel switching, as it may need to do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly, the glut would disappear and boatloads more LNG and dramatic increases in drilling would be needed.

AP writer Judith Kohler adds to the speculation that there might not be enough commercially exploitable reserves and that the costs could be prohibitive:

Arthur Berman, a Texas-based geological consultant, likened the optimistic projections for production from gas shale fields across the country to banks buying into mortgage securitizations, which spurred the housing market crisis and economic meltdown.

“In the midst of a boom or a bubble, it’s hard to sit on the sidelines,” Berman said during the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas conference. “If you’re not in one of these plays, then Wall Street says, ‘Well, what’s the matter with you guys?'”

That was the psychology leading into the current financial crunch, Berman said. Analyses show that gas shale fields in Texas and elsewhere aren’t as profitable and likely don’t contain as much retrievable gas as the industry and others portray, he added.

Not so, say the exponents:

The Potential Gas Committee at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden said in June that the U.S. natural gas reserves total nearly 2,000 trillion cubic feet, up about 35 percent from 2006 estimates and mostly due to such unconventional gas fields as shale and the Rockies’ sandstone formations.

Peter Dea, chief executive of Denver-based Cirque Resources, said the abundance of natural gas “truly is an American treasure.” He called the vast layers of rock containing gas in Texas, the Northeast and elsewhere game-changers.

“It really gives us surety of this 100-plus-year supply that we now have in America,” Dea said.

On this side of the pond, gas is already exploited, mainly from Russia for Europe and we all know the issues there, mainly political.

Nohotair, shale gas promoter, has much to say on the way China jumps as to how far shale goes:

China gets more than enough LNG from Australia thanks, so much that the Ozzies are getting nervous, and the Qatari’s are having kittens since they were depending on sitting in the middle of the world LNG web with Europe on one side and China on the other.

Bloomberg pointed out [in August that] “Carbon capture and storage, particularly for China, is not one of the priorities — the cost is an issue,” Su said in an Aug. 4 telephone interview from Beijing. “If we spent the same money for CCS on energy efficiency and the development of renewables, it would generate larger climate-change benefits.

China does have shale reserves and according to Zhang Yuqing, director of Natural Gas Department of NEA, the resource volume of China’s low permeable gas, coal bed methane, and shale gas are each respectively estimated at 100 trillion cubic meters, 30 trillion cubic meters, and 100 trillion cubic meters. Besides, China is rich in high sulfur natural gas and carbon dioxide-containing natural gas.

At present, China has an annual coal-bed methane output of 5.8 billion cubic meters, and it is preparing for the pilot development of shale gas.

Europe is in a position to go over to shale bigtime. Donald I. Hertzmark, a consultant who advises multinational oil companies on gas projects, said that in a decade or so, the new shale gas resources would improve Europe’s ability to withstand any future reduction in Russian pipeline shipments.

Early estimates of recoverable European shale gas resources range up to 400 trillion cubic feet, less than half the industry’s estimates of what is recoverable in the United States. But European energy executives say they are excited about the prospects because the Continent’s conventional gas reserves are too small to meet demand.

BP plc maintains [and I reprint this in full]:

BP Plc, Europe’s second-largest oil company, forecasts that gas resources may rise 60 percent to 100 years of global use at current rates, helped by unconventional sources that are undeveloped or unidentified.

New discoveries could contribute 4,000 trillion cubic feet of gas resources “over the next few years,” BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward said yesterday. BP estimates that global proven natural-gas reserves totaled 6,500 trillion cubic feet, or 1.2 trillion barrels of oil equivalent, at the end of 2008, enough for 60 years.

“Reserve estimates are rising sharply as technology unlocks unconventional resources,” Hayward said in a Buenos Aires speech posted on the London-based company’s Web site. “Estimates vary, but the U.S. may now be sitting on between 50 and 100 years worth of recoverable natural gas.”

BP forecasts that there is potential to find tight and shale gas resources in North Africa, the Middle East, Europe, China and in the southern areas of Latin America. There are potential reserves in coal seams in Australia and Southeast Asia, according to the statement.

And in the UK?

Nohotair, on the UK situation:

While Ofgem plays “Living in the Past”, in Buenos Aires at the World Gas Conference it looks like the UK has left the planetary building. Shortage? Security of supply? Lights out Britain? At the least the rest of of the planet is looking to the future in confidence, not fear.

The US Energy Information Administration forecasts that unconventional sources will meet 56% of US supply by 2030, up from 27% in 2000. And the rise of unconventional gas will occur elsewhere too, with particularly good growth prospects in Australia and China.

Bang goes the UK having to compete with China for gas supplies theory.

Ofgem isn’t necessarily wrong, simply out of date and unable to keep up with the rapid changes going on. Utilities have, until now, been boring, predictable and glacial in the rate of change. We’re sure Ofgem’s report is full of old, respected high paid wisdom. But that is the point. An Ofgem report takes three years to prepare, while in the new world of abundant natural gas speed is measured in months, or weeks.

[Also] what Eon UK can’t admit that is that Kingsnorth shows that CCS isn’t economical in the new world of abundant gas.

Shell’s CEO Peter Voser came out with an interesting statement at the Buenos Aires Forum:

The U.K.’s fears of over reliance on imports of natural gas in the future are overdone because supply of the fuel will remain ample and secure, said Royal Dutch Shell PLC Chief Executive Peter Voser Tuesday.

The focus of the U.K.’s fears – supply from Russia – made up less than 5% of total supply in 2008 and will be a similar proportion in 2020, he said. Shipments of liquefied natural gas and pipeline imports from Norway will be a much larger proportion of U.K. supply, he said.

“The U.K.’s energy challenge is acute. This raises the question why it can afford to dismiss natural gas as a future source of energy.”

It’s clear that shale gas and other unconventional sources, at a minimum, can prop up current sources of natural gas, it isn’t anywhere near as dire in the UK as Ofgem and the MSM are making out and one has to wonder why the fear tactics and the political implications behind those.

Pink mafia at it again

pink mafia

Tim Worstall summed it up:

I’ve just had a Facebook request (no, I don’t log into it) asking that the “The Daily Mail should retract Jan Moir’s hateful, homophobic article”.

This one.

OK, it’s a bit strong but…..I can imagine the same writer saying exactly the same things about someone who was in an open heterosexual relationship and then died in the same manner.

Someone called Alison [wonder if it’s the lady who used to visit here] said, in comments:

The social media world harbours some pretty smug and self-righteous individuals. The words “I’m sorry, but you’re not allowed to say that!” are never far from their lips – or, to put it another way, only liberals are allowed to be offensive.

The Quiet Man put it a little more forcefully:

Jan Moirs article in the Daily Mail sent several Twitterers and bloggers into overdrive because she said something they didn’t like, pointing out some details over the death of Stephen Gately and the possibility that his relationship was anything but natural.

Well there’s apparently a heavy price to be paid for crossing the Pink Mafia and their politically correct chums, Marks and Spencer don’t want their ads shown with the article in question and no doubt they are not alone.

As the Quiet Man says:

Harry’s Place sums it up succinctly on their blog banner “Liberty if it means anything, is the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear.”

Quite right too.  I’m sick to death of politically correct organizations like the Gay Mafia using their muscle to stamp out free speech on something which is not by any means a valid construct anyway.

At the very least it should be open for debate.  Hypocrites and totalitarians.