A Touch of Classical Wisdom VII

The Prose Edda

All doorways

 Before entering

Gaze into carefully;

One never knows

Where on the benches

Enemies are sitting.

Sayings of the High One. As said by King Gylfi in The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturlson. [1]


A Touch of Classical Wisdom VI

The fortunate man, in my opinion, is he to whom the gods have granted the power either to do something which is worth recording or to write what is worth reading, and most fortunate of all is the man who can do both.

-Pliny the Younger in a letter to Tacitus describing the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and the death of his famous uncle Pliny the Elder. [1]

Be An American Citizen

Free speech, exercised both individually and through a free press, is a necessity in any country where the people are themselves free. Our Govern-ment is the servan[t] of the people…The President is merely the most im-portant among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in render-ing loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Na-tion as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about anyone else. [1]
– Teddy Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States of America, Sedition, A Free Press, and a Personal Rule, May 7, 1918.
Fact Check it, yo!
[1] Roosevelt, T. Roosevelt in the Kansas City Star: War-Time Editorials. Scholar’s Choice, Feb 17th, 2015. Page 149 in print. Retrieved from: http://www.theodore-roosevelt.com/images/research/rooseveltkansascitystar.pdf

Out of the Mouth of Playboys…

I am writing “My Life” to laugh at myself, and I am succeeding. I write thirteen hours a day, and they pass like thirteen minutes. What pleasure in remembering one’s pleasures! But what effort to recall them to mind! It amuses me because I am inventing nothing. What chagrins me most is that I am forced, at this point, to mask the names, since I cannot expose the affairs of others.

– Giacomo Casanova, The Story of My Life on why he’s cool enough to ruin even the chastity of nuns.

Mozart’s Crap


You know who Mozart is. I shouldn’t need to spend any time explaining that in the 18th century, a musical prodigy was born in Salzburg, Austria, to a chapel director/violin teacher. That this little ruffian was learning the harpsichord at the age of 3 and not a year later was mastering the violin and displaying a proficiency for arithmetics, and that by age 6, had composed his first concerto. [1] You’ve heard his most famous works; Allegro, The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Requiem, to name a small few. You’ve maybe also heard some crackpot theories about Salieri murdering him rather than one of the possible 140 causes of death scholars are still quibbling over. [2]

What is perhaps not as well known about the eccentric powdered Mozart is his obsession and love affair with…crap.


“Lectu mihi mars” or “Leck du mich im Arsch” (For those who don’t know the fun parts of German, “Lick My Arse”)

Indeed, when it was discovered in some of his letters and manuscripts that Mozart had a propensity for fecal preoccupation, there was some embarrassed rejection of the material by later family and scholars of the 19th century (See Victorian prudes)–how could a genius such as Mozart, write about passing a bowel movement on his cousin’s nose? [3] Even Margaret Thatcher, U.K. Prime Minister, wasn’t pleased with the reality of a famous classical composer degrading himself with potty humor and refused to believe it factual. [4]

But the fact of the matter is, it runs in the family.

We lead a most charming life, up early, late to bed, and visitors the whole day; we live like princes. Addio, ben mio, keep well. Stretch your arse up to your mouth. I wish you good-night; Shit in your bed with a resounding crash. It’s already after one o’clock; now you can keep making rhymes yourself.

A note written by Mozart’s mother to her husband on September 26th, 1777 [5]

A leading theory to account for Mozart’s affinity for scatology is to assume he was a sufferer of Tourette’s syndrome–A disorder characterized by involuntary tics, movements, and vocalizations–as a defensible explanation for why Mozart insisted on writing limericks about ‘licking arses’ while he was busy writing and composing some of the most famous operas in existence. Despite gaining traction in the public mindset, however, this theory has been largely debunked. [6] As Mozart would say, what a load of shit.

Notably, there doesn’t appear to be a credible primary source to ascertain Mozart suffered from involuntary tics or movements, nor does simply writing potty jokes in letters translate at all to the coprolalia symptom present in only 10-15% of those diagnosed. [7] In short, Mozart was just a bit of an oddball not unlike other weirdo geniuses, and attempting to diagnose him retroactively, ignores another layer of his cleverness–even if it is about things best left in the toilet. The letter quoted below, which Mozart wrote to his cousin, is one such example. It contains a proficiency in alliteration, mirror construct, synonyms, echo effects, lyrical syntax, and, well, poop. [8]

Dearest cozz buzz!

I have received reprieved your highly esteemed writing biting, and I have noted doted that my uncle garfuncle, my aunt slant, and you too, are all well mell. We, too, thank god, are in good fettle kettle. Today I got the letter setter from my Papa Haha safely into my paws claws. I hope you too have gotten rotten my note quote that I wrote to you from Mannheim. So much the better, better the much so! But now for something more sensuble [sic].

So sorry to hear that Herr Abbate Salate has had another stroke choke. But I hope with the help of God fraud the consequences will not be dire mire. You are writing fighting that you’ll keep your criminal promise which you gave me before my departure from Augsburg, and will do it soon moon. Well, I will most certainly find that regrettable. You write further, indeed you let it all out, you expose yourself, you let yourself be heard, you give me notice, you declare yourself, you indicate to me, you bring me the news, you announce onto me, you state in broad daylight, you demand, you desire, you wish, you want, you like, you command that I, too, should could send you my Portrait. Eh bien, I shall mail fail it for sure. Oui, by the love of my skin, I shit on your nose, so it runs down your chin…

Mozart to his cousin, Maria Anna Thekla Mozart, on November 5th, 1777. [8]

It’s actually even been suggested that Mozart was…behaving completely normal. Defecation, it turns out, has strong roots in not only Mozart’s family discourse but in German culture too. Alan Dundes writes, “The fact that the anal themes so prominent in German folklore are also to be found among the so-called elite. In sum, anality would appear to be an integral part of general German national character and is not limited to either an occasional peasant or a single exceptional theologian, musician, or poet.” [9]


German proverb: “Geld ist Dreck, aber Dreck is kein Geld.” [Money is shit, but shit is not Money]

So to all those parents out there hoping their little baby will be the next concerto prodigy just remember that your kid already has something in common with Mozart: They both giggle when they flatulate. Or, mothers, you’ll know it when you receive this beautiful loving poem from your child pinned to your pillow.

On Monday, I will have the honor of embracing you and kissing your hand

But before that I will already have shit in my pants [9]

Fact check it, yo!

[1] Mozart. (1854). The Illustrated Magazine of Art, 4(24), 331-334. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20538517

 [2] Karhausen, L. (2010). Mozart’s 140 causes of death and 27 mental disorders. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 341(7786), 1328-1329. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25766569

[3] Head, M. (2002). Music & Letters, 83(4), 614-618. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3526384

[4] (1992, October 16) The Mozart Miracle. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/4715973/The-Mozart-miracle.html

[5] Schroeder, D. P. (1999) Mozart in Revolt: Strategies of Resistance, Mischief, and Deception. Retrieved from books.google.com

[6] Davies, P., Karhausen, L., & Heyworth, M. (1993). Mozart’s Scatological Disorder. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 306(6876), 521-522. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/29718658

 [7] Karhausen, L. (1998) Weeding Mozart’s medical history. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, PDF. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1296923/pdf/jrsocmed00020-0044.pdf

[8] Spaethling, R. (2005) Mozart’s Letters, Mozart’s Life. Retrieved from books.google.com

[9] Dundes, A. & Pagter, C. (1978) Work Hard and You shall Be Rewarded: Urban Folklore from the Paperwork Empire. Retriever from books.google.com

French Etiquette

Marie Antoinette's Execution

Pardon me, sir, I did not mean to do it.

-Marie Antoinette’s, the last Queen of France, supposed last words before being guillotined on October 16th, 1793 during the French Revolution. She had accidentally stepped on the executioner’s foot.


Memoirs of the Sansons, Chapter XXXI ‘The Queen’: [1] Source written by the executioner Henri Sanson’s grandson. Makes no mention of this comment, yet other passing phrases between The Queen and her executioner are as follows:

“Have courage, madam!”

“Thank you, sir, thank you.”

He then offered to support her to the scaffold to which she was said to have replied,

“No, I am, thank Heaven, strong enough to walk that short distance.”

Memoirs of Marie Antoinette, by Madame Campan; Removal of the Queen: [2] Memoirs on the court of Marie Antoinette as told by her lady in waiting, Campan. The below is a quote from Alphonse de Lamartine from his Histore des Girondins, a French poet, writer, and politician who helped to compile the Memoirs with Campan:

The Queen, after having written and prayed, slept soundly for some hours. On her waking, Bault’s daughter dressed her and adjusted her hair with more neatness than on other days. Marie Antoinette wore a white gown, a white handkerchief covered her shoulders, a white cap her hair; a black ribbon bound this cap round her temples …. The cries, the looks, the laughter, the jests of the people overwhelmed her with humiliation; her colour, changing continually from purple to paleness, betrayed her agitation …. On reaching the scaffold she inadvertently trod on the executioner’s foot. “Pardon me,” she said, courteously. She knelt for an instant and uttered a half-audible prayer; then rising and glancing towards the towers of the Temple, “Adieu, once again, my children,” she said; “I go to rejoin your father.”

This is, perhaps, the origin–and though most contemporary sources of her time weren’t without bias or accusations of cake eating, this is one of the few sources painting Marie as a sympathetic figure. Unfortunately, with the politics surrounding the French Revolution, it’s a mess to separate fact from fiction.

Marie Antoinette's Prayer Book

Great Grandfather Garafola

(The following was recorded and written by Jeanne Garafola/Maron, my mother’s 2nd cousin in 1965. Transcribed to digital by me on Sept. 9th, 2015)

Farm in Calabria, Italy

                   Farm in Calabria, Italy

Great Grandfather Garafola

Great Grandfather the youngest of 3 boys in his family was born and lived on the same farm all his life. It was located in the State of Calabria, and the province of Cosenza. The mail was sent to the province seat Scigliano, and delivered to the farm known as Monte-di-Corvo, meaning Mountain of the crow.

The farm itself was small and quite rocky. The hillsides had been terraced and many olive trees were grown. At harvest time olive oil merchants would come to Monte-di-Corvo, stay overnight and leave with the olives in bags loaded on donkeys. The donkey caravan carried the product to Naples to be pressed into olive oil.

The rich soil at the foot of the hills was used for cultivation of grapes. Wheat, grains, and vegetables were planted between the rows of vines thus making double use of the small acreage. The vineyards here were known throughout Italy for Great Grandfather Garafola was always experimenting with various graftings. Many varieties of grapes were produced. People came long distance to purchase the vines.

A small brook ran through the farm. Along one side were many fig trees all of one variety. Farther away from the house were two groves of trees. In one grove were chestnuts and great giant oaks. The other grove contained mulberry trees. At one time the leaves of these trees were used for feeding the silkworms. The entire family had participated in this occupation. Finally it was discontinued when Great Grandfather Garafola was young because the other brothers had left and help was unavailable.

When Great Grandfather Garafola married he was in his late thirties which was considered quite old. His wife was from a neighboring farm. She was about 10 years younger than he was. Her name was Peppina (Josephine) Sicilia. It was here on this farm that Grandfather Guiseppe Garafola was born April 19, 1888. When he was seventeen years old, as was the custom among the men of that area, Great Grandfather went to America to seek his fortune. He went on a tramp steamer and landed in Brazil. He was able to find employment on a cattle ranch near Rio De Janeiro. He did not enjoy this type of work so after saving a little money he worked his way back home on a cargo ship bound for Italy.

He devoted his time to improving the soil and experimented extensively with his grape vines. Another son, named Mark was born in 1895. This was all of Great Grandfather Garafola’s family.

Grandfather Guiseppe Garafola was sent to school. He had to cross the brook and go around to the other side of the hill. His father accompanied him part of the way. However there were no truant officers in those days and Grandfather attended very few days of the very short school term. Other boys his age joined him and they spent their time in hunting and perfecting various gymnastic skills. He often said he went to school two terms (about six months) when he refused to go any longer. Great Grandfather Garafola warned him that he would regret it some day.

In 1905 Grandfather Guiseppe Garafola married Maria Talerico. They lived with the family at Monte-di-Corvo. After a year Grandfather Garafola decided it was time to follow his father’s footsteps and seek his fortune in the New World. He had information that employment was available in the iron mines of Minnesota. So in June of 1910 he left Grandmother Garafola and a 4 month old daughter and went to Elba, a mining location near Gilbert, Minnesota on the Mesabi Iron Range.

His first job was in an underground mine as a driver of mule drawn ore cars that brought the ore to the mouth of the shaft. He received $1.10 for a 12 hour day, working six days a week. After working a year he received a raise to $1.25 a day. Many considered him fortunate because he had no previous experiences and was very young. After mastering the English language so he could be understood he often suggested some improvements that would benefit both company and the workers. Many suggestions were accepted and put to practice. For this The Pickands Mather Mining Company gave him a number of awards. He often aided the young mining engineers with some of their work. At times he did most of the work for them. He could no advance in this field due to his lack of education. This is when he mentioned that he had not appreciated the opportunity offered him to continue his schooling

Grandfather Garafola saved his poor earnings and after 4 years, in early July sent transportation tickets to Grandmother and Aunt Rose. He had rented a house and furnished it completely; a surprise which he planned was a fully equipped kitchen and a pantry full of food. After much delay for reason which were never very clear to her, Grandmother Garafola set sail on August 1, 1910 for the land which would be her home for the next 42 years. The train took them from Scigliano to Naples, then aboard a French liner to Marseilles. Passengers were taken aboard there and the ship continued through the Strait of Gibralter across the Atlantic Ocean. Because many relatives had settled in sections of Ontario, Canada, the ticket sent to her by Grandfather Garafola for her entry to the United States by way of Montreal, Canada, Sault Ste. Marie Canada and then to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. From the Soo [sic] Grandmother Garafola went on to Duluth, Minnesota and finally to her destination. Her arrival was awaited for with great enthusiasm by the little location of Elba. Each expecting some first hand news of their relatives. The train arrived in the early evening, on August 15, but Grandfather was working the night shift, because it had taken longer for her to come then expected another man who had worked all day went back underground and relieved him so Grandfather could enjoy the great event. It was an event to be remembered, the celebration lasted several days. All friends and countrymen paid the new arrivals a visit during this time, bringing gifts and foods.

The family lived here at Elba until the ore vein in the Elba and Corsica mines were exhausted then they moved to Hibbing continuing living in a mining location and working for the same company. Several other moves were made. In 1926 the family made its last move to Ironton, Minnesota, a home with land was purchased.

There were 5 children in Grandfather Garafola’s family. One was born in Italy and the rest in Minnesota. Grandfather Garafola became ill due to damp conditions in the mine and passed away on January 7, 1928. At the time of his death, Great Grandfather Garafola was 80 years old and still tending to his grapevines.