Historical habit of insulting
our fellow humans
By Ismail Veli……
From time immemorial, humans have relished the delights of verbal warfare. It is a paradox of our own inarticulate age the pleasure of a clever insult has never been higher. Having lost our interest in using language with articulate imagination. we hide behind fuzzy words and bad language to ram home the point. Often we admire those who have the courage to say aloud what we ourselves dare not say.
This malicious pleasure is as old as humanity itself. TV, stage comedians and politicians in particular specialise in blunt verbal abuse that brings laughter or support for parties that represent our views and help to deride those we disagree with.
There was a time not so long ago when insults were indeed an art; when people had strong opinions and all too ready to dish out the insults in order to humiliate opponents. Some attempted wit and humour, while others simply went for the jugular. Winston Churchill excelled in this kind of rhetoric, with the result that he made many of his opponents look very ordinary.
Oratory in Ancient Greece and Rome was an art form that often led to successful careers or death at the hands of their opponents when the wheels of fortune had changed. Cicero who had insulted Mark Anthony in his famous speeches in the Roman senate became known as the ”Philippic’s”. When Mark Anthony together with Octavian gained victory during a civil war he insisted on marking Cicero out in the ‘proscription’ list as an enemy of the state. He not only had Cicero murdered but had his hands cut off and nailed to the senate door as a reminder to others that writing insults about him would not be tolerated.
In spite of being in the space age our form of insult has become much more unsophisticated and blunt to say the least. Rude and derogatory language is no longer a taboo of the past, therefore the grammar in use is much cruder.
The following are just some of the infinite number of insults that have gone down in history.
3 attacks on Mark Anthony by MARCUS TULLIUS CICERO(106 BC-43 BC)
- “Not to know what happened before you were born is to be a child forever. For what is the time of a man, except it be interwoven with that memory of ancient things of a superior age?”
- “No one dances sober, unless he is insane.”
- “Let the welfare of the people be the ultimate law.”
DEMOSTHENES (384-322 BC); The Athenians will kill you, Phocian, if they go crazy.
PHOCIAN (402-317 BC); But they will kill you if they come to their senses, Demosthenes.
GNAEUS POMPEIUS MAGNUS (POMPEY) 106-48 BC; quoting a verse from Sophocles on his own mistaken actions. ”whoever takes his way into a tyrant’s court becomes his slave, although he went there as a free man.
MARCUS TULLIUS CICERO There was a young Roman who was suspected of having given his father a poisoned cake. In a debate the young man retorted to a statement by Cicero that ”I will give Cicero a bit of my mind”. ”I would much prefer it, said Cicero, ”to a bit of his cake.’
METELLUS NEPOS; asking Cicero repeatedly, ”Who is your father?”
MARCUS TULLIUS CICERO; ”I can scarcely ask you the same question since your mother has made it a rather difficult one to answer”.
OSCAR WILDE (1854-1900) The English country gentleman galloping after a fox – the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable
LADY ASTOR: Winston, if you were my husband, I should flavour your coffee with poison.
CHURCHILL: Madame if I were your husband, I should drink it
CLARE BOOTH LUCE (meeting D. Parker in a doorway): Age before beauty!
DOROTHY PARKER 1893-1967: (gliding through the door responded): ”Pearls before swine”.
BERNARD SHAW once sent Churchill two tickets for the opening of his new play, with an invitation.
”Bring a friend if you have one”
CHURCHILL regretted he was unable to attend, and asked for tickets for the second performance ”If there was one”.
BESSIE BRADDOCK to CHURCHILL ”Winston, you’re drunk!”
CHURCHILL; ”Bessie, you’re ugly, and tomorrow morning I shall be sober”.
MARCUS TULLIUS CICERO (106 BC-43 BC) to a gentleman he disliked
“Though I miss the convenience of your help at every point, it is not for my sake but for yours that I am sorry you are unwell… Be sure at this time not to attend in your kindness to anything other than what is most appropriate to regain your health.”
ANERURIN BEVAN (1897-1960) on NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN
He has the lucidity which is the by-product of a fundamentally sterile mind.. Listening to a speech by Chamberlain is like paying a visit to Woolworth’s; everything in its place and nothing above sixpence.
The old saying ‘never speak ill of the dead have not always stopped people from writing epitaphs. On a tombstone of ”Mary, wife of Thomas Bond” by her brother-in-law he wrote:
She was proud, peevish and passionate.
Her behaviour was discreet toward strangers.
Independent in her family.
She was a professed enemy of flattery,
and was seldom known to praise or commend.
The talents in which she principally excelled.
Were difference of opinion, and discovering flaws and imperfections.
She sometimes made her husband happy
Much more frequently miserable
In so much that in 30 years cohabitation he had not in the whole,
enjoyed two years of matrimonial comfort at length
Finding that she had lost the affections of her husband,
as well as the regard of her neighbours,
Family disputes having been divulged by servants,
she died of vexation, July 20 1768, aged 48 years.