Richard Armitage and Aristophanes: A comparative study of scatological humor

Doesn’t that sound all intellectual and analytical?  Weeeellll, yes and no.  Since Richard Armitage has been flexing his scatological humor muscles lately, I thought I might jump on the bandwagon.

If “toilet” humor is not your thing, you may want to exit now…I’m goin’ in!

I’ve had draft sitting in my computer for over a year comparing some of the jokes Richard Armitage has made with the comedy stylings of the sole extant example of Greek Old Comedy – Aristophanes.  I’ll chalk it up to my aversion to delving into literary analysis, but then this happened last week:

Note the #nobathroomprivacyinerebor "bwhahahaha!!

Note the #nobathroomprivacyinerebor

It reminded me distinctly of a scene from an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 where the crew is commenting on Godzilla vs the Sea Monster.  I think it’s Croww who says something along the lines of Godzilla spending some time on the “thunderbucket” and then a warning about not disturbing Godzilla when he’s sitting on the “throne.”

godzilla thunderbucket

“One of you guys wanna get me a magazine? I’m gonna be here a while.” ….Godzilla Source

I remember watching this and laughing myself silly – I am highly susceptible to toilet humor it seems.  In fact, my husband has long complained that it seems to be a genetic trait in my family since the topic comes up with freakish regularity, even at the dinner table!  As luck would have it, just such an event happened last night.  My sister played the latest Poopourri ad on her phone which sent my children into convulsive laughter, me snickering and even had my mother chortling.

Judging by the aforementioned tweet, his jokes on Australian radio about lighting farts and a certain quip along the lines of, “we’ll just have a crap and go then.” during post production for The Hobbit...(not to mention a certain affinity to naughty double entendre, a related comic vein) Richard Armitage is well versed in the timeless traditions of scatological humor.  Indeed, this tendency to toilet humor puts him in the august company of the classical Greeks who loved a good fart joke!

For all of the pathos and heavy drama of tragedy, the ancient Greeks were highly entertained by comedy that was intensely topical both politically and socially, but also unrepentantly “earthy.”   The moment the actors hit the stage, costumed with padded back ends and giant, waggling phalluses, the audience knew it was in for a ribald romp, and the dialogue rarely let them down.  Aristophanes’ lampoon against Socrates and the Athenian tradition of sophism, The Clouds, is replete with scatological jokes…here Socrates explains how Zeus’ thunderbolt isn’t the *actual* cause of thunder:

Aristophanes, The Clouds l501ff

Aristophanes, The Clouds

And on and on and on.  The comedies of Aristophanes are all that remains of the genre, but it is highly doubtful that his was the only predilection towards toilet humor in the Old Comedy corpus.  It was a an award winning shtick that the audience loved.

Apparently, it’s a type of humor that never gets old!

Here’s one my son told me when he was seven:

Question:  How do you spell icup?

Answer:  I. C. U. P.  

(cue uproarious child laughter – every time!)

ὅ παῖς καλός: Richard Armitage, Getty Images App edition

Thanks to a heads up from Guylty, I have found the embedding feature in the new iOS 8 Getty Stream app.  I’m testing it out below with some images of the ever καλός Richard Armitage.  They are in no particular order, but I’m guessing many of you could line them up chronologically in a snap.  





  I’ve learned two things today….this new app could become dangerous and ὅ παῖς καλός  is an apt descriptor for Richard Armitage!

fRAntic Fathers: Laocoon and Gary What’shisnamenow?

Morris – Fuller – Fuller – Morris….I keep mixing up the surname of the father character played by Richard Armitage in Into the Storm.  It doesn’t really matter anyway…it is completely immaterial to the unfolding action.


This film, which is not long on character development, did a pretty decent job of illustrating Gary’s single minded determination to protect his children, especially his lost son Donny, in the face of waves of destructive funnel clouds.  My son even pointed it out as one of the more successful character devices.  Specifically noting that it was successful because it was how a parent would naturally react to the situation of a lost and endangered child.

Out of high water Source

Out of high water

It’s a highly dramatic moment…a moment full of emotion as a frantic father is reunited with both of his sons.  It reminded me rather distinctly of famous Hellenistic depiction of a father and his sons.

Laocoon and his sons Source

Laocoon and his sons

Laocoon was a Trojan priest and seer who warned his people against accepting the gift of the “Trojan Horse” from the enemy Greeks (“Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” and all comes from this story.)  The ancient sources differ in the details of how Laocoon got to the point depicted above, but no one differs on how it ends up.  One or another god was greatly angered with Laocoon and send a massive serpent to do him in.  This sculptural group, which Pliny the Elder attributed to the Rhodian sculptors Agesandor, Athenodoros and Polydoros, exhibits all the dramatic baroque glory of the late Hellentisic period.  (It dates to the 1st century BC/AD)  The viewer can almost feel Laocoon and his sons as they writhe and struggle against the twining, twisting danger of the serpent.  The piece as a whole is one of the hallmarks of the theatrical impact of the Hellenistic style, but it is the head of Laocoon particularly moving to me.

Laocoon Detail Source

Laocoon Detail

His struggle is clear in the contorted features of his face…wildly tousled hair and beard, open mouth, flaring nostrils, furrowed brow all emotionally revealing.  Without their painted detail, it’s hard to say what his eyes convey.  Could he be looking skyward, imploring the intervention of one of the gods of Olympus?  Maybe, but if so, it was in vain.

Detail of above

Detail of Gary Mor..ah Fuller from above

I’ve often been struck by the level of emotion that Richard Armitage is able to convey simply through facial expressions, and his expression as Gary gratefully clasps his rescued son is another example of that.  I found it reminiscent of that of Laocoon, if for different reasons.  Where Laocoon’s impending doom is etched upon his face, Gary’s ultimate relief in the safety of his sons is equally evocative on his.

Which Wolf Are You Feeding?

Love this:

A Small Act Of Kindness Can Bring Smile On Million Faces

One evening, an elderly grandfather told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all.

One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment,inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is good. It is joy, peace love, hope serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather:

“Which wolf wins?…”

The old man simply replied,

“The one that you feed the most”


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OT: Lest anyone think it’s all erudition all the time in Prof. Obscura’s class…

Upon handing back first set of graded assignments:  Lesson #1 for today:


This is a STAPLER.  I have it on good authority that they are readily available at local retail outlets.  

mini staplers

OMG – LOOK!!  They come in handy pocket size to fit in your book bag!!!



If you just received a paper from me that looks like this one, it means I employed a stapler for you…the price of that service on your next un-stapled submission will be 5 points.

So begins

STAPLEGATE – Fall Semester 2014 Edition

Did you say “Oedipus” Richard Armitage?!

He did!!  .…during the #AskArmitage Twitter Q&A Richard Armitage said,

Thanks to Servetus for allowing me to keep my Twitter virginity by supplying me with pertinent screen caps...

Thanks to Servetus for allowing me to keep my Twitter virginity by supplying me with pertinent screen caps…

There it is…Right there in black and white.  A tweet that has had me wriggling in Classics nerd delight since last week.  (So much so that I will overlook the fact that Mr. Armitage was shockingly non specific in his verbiage given that there are numerous extant variations on the Oedipal theme.)   I imagine that it’s safe to assume that he’s referring to the iconic Oedipus the King by Sophocles.  I like this play a lot.  In fact, it is the second Greek tragedy that I read as an undergraduate, but the first one that I really comprehended in any meaningful way.  (I will accept pats on the back for continuing in the field after my first exposure to Greek tragedy in the form of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound for an Intro to Honors course during my first semester at college.)


I just can’t do it.  There isn’t really a need to spoiler alert a 2500 year old play is there?  In any case,  foreknowledge of the details of the Oedipus myth was an important part of the interplay between the unfolding drama and the audience.  At one point, EVERYBODY, including the audience, knows the great secret.  EVERYBODY but Oedipus that is.

Solving the Riddle of the Sphinx... Source

Solving the Riddle of the Sphinx…

Sophocles’ Oedipus is perhaps the archetypal tragic hero.  In solving the Sphinx’s riddle and saving Thebes, he proved himself a hero, achieved excellence (arete) and seems to have been successful at warding off the trap of hubris after he was made King of Thebes.  In these qualities, he is a much less detestable character than say,  Jason with his general ineptitude, or Pentheus with his aggressive arrogance.  No, as the story opens, we are introduced to Oedipus as a king who is greatly troubled by the hard times that have come upon his people.  A king who vows to stop at nothing to seek out the truth and lift the curse,  promising punishment for the guilty party.

Translation by David Grene Source

Translation by David Grene

Yet he is far from perfect.  He lashes out repeatedly at people who are wholly innocent or worse, trying to save him from the horror of the truth.  The blind seer Tiresias who knows the truth but refuses to tell it, his brother-in-law Creon who is accused of colluding with Tiresias to take the throne for himself, and even his wife Jocasta who he accuses of being mercenary when she, having figured out the truth, begs him to stop his questioning, for his own sake:

oedipus line2

Translation by David Grene

In the end it is revealed that Oedipus’ tragic hubris took place long before, when as a young man, he sought to avoid the fate foretold to him by the oracle of Apollo at Delphi.  This notion of the immutable nature of fate loomed very large in Greek tragedy, and those who tried to escape fate usually suffered greatly for it…Oedipus is no exception.

Another element that really jumps out at me throughout this play is the imagery of blindness.  It is the blind seer Tiresias who first “sees” who Oedipus is….and as Oedipus slowly comes to know the truth he reflects that the blind seer did “have eyes.”  It is the final scene though, when Oedipus emerges on stage, blinded, but finally fully aware of the truth, that is the height of tragic drama:

Translation by David Grene

Translation by David Grene

Yep…this play has lost none of it’s power in the millenia since it was first written for the Greek stage.  I would LOVE to see Richard Armitage in the title role.  To see him work through all of that pathos.  To see him partner again with Yael Farber, who has a long standing interest in Classical tragedy…maybe even perform it in the open air at the ancient Theater of Epidauros?

Festival Epidauros Source

Epidauros Festival

I would pay my eye teeth to see that!

(Pun totally intended!!)