Roland, court minstrel to 12th century English king Henry II, probably had many talents. But history has recorded only one. Referred to variously Rowland le Sarcere, Roland le Fartere, Roland le Petour, and Roland the Farter, Roland really had one job in the court: Every Christmas, during the court’s riotous pageant, he performed a dance that ended with “one jump, one whistle, and one fart”, executed simultaneously. For this, Roland was gifted a manor house in Hemingstone, Suffolk, and more than 100 acres of land. For farting on cue.
Farts are and have always been funny—an odiferous, invisible thread in the rich tapestry of global comic tradition. They are funny in virtually every culture, every language, every era. The oldest joke in the world, according to the University of Wolverhampton, is a fart joke: “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap” would have cracked up the Sumerians of 1900 BC. Master Athenian playwright Aristophanes peppered his comic plays with fart jokes, as did Shakespeare. Geoffrey Chaucer used well-placed farts to puncture pretension in his Canterbury Tales, and at least two stories in theThousand and One Nights hinge on farts. An ode to a fart in Parliament from 1607 was popular for decades after the fart itself had dissipated; François Rabelais’s stories of Gargantua and Pantagruel reek of farts; Mark Twain’s fart joke, a mock-Elizabethan diary entry titled “1601” or “Conversation as it was by the Social Fireside in the Time of the Tudors”, was long considered unprintable, featuring as it did Queen Elizabeth sputtering, “Verily in mine eight and sixty yeres have I not heard the fellow to this fart.”