Tag Archives: Humour

Mediaeval adultery: quiz answer

Here, I bombarded readers with disturbing mediaeval book illustrations, of which the last one was a quiz.

The queen is being caressed by a dragon while the king watches the scene from behind the door. What is going on there?

This is the Conception of Alexander the Great, from the Historiae Alexandri Magni of Quintus Curtius Rufus, produced in Bruges ca. 1468-1475.

It represents, perhaps, one of the most complicated cover-up stories for adultery in history.

According to the ancient myth, Alexander was the product of a liaison between his mother, Olympias, and Ammon, a relatively obscure Asian god.

Under normal circumstances, Ammon appeared as a handsome man with bull horns.


He turned into a serpent to seduce Olympias.

My first reaction was like, “A serpent?! Wait a minute. What was wrong with the horny man avatar?”

I can only assume Ammon always changed appearances, when aroused (like most men) or realised his horns were making Olympias’ favourite love-making positions awkward or even dangerous. Recently, a theory was proposed that the horns might disagree with Olympias’ habit of wearing crown in bed. The academic community, citing the case of Edward VIII, dismissed the suggestion as a liberal fantasy: a crown is known to have been tossed aside at passionate moments by queens and kings alike.

Alexander’s father, Philip, couldn’t interfere in this affair because Christianity, the only religion that allowed humans to crucify God now and pay later, had not been invented yet. Greek gods didn’t grace their people with eternal love and afterlife.  Their relationship was mainly about vanity, envy, and inventive ways of immediate retribution. It went both ways, with the Ancient Greeks often beating their gods at this game.

This also explains why the Modern Greeks don’t have much respect for the German God of Euro, the French God of Austerity, or the Brussels God of Proper Administration. They believe they can show them all the middle finger, and keep the finger, reenacting the famous moment when English archers mocked their French enemies with the V sign. The archers were advertising their ability to aim and shoot arrows despite the French earlier promise to cut off their fingers. The only difference between then and now is that the archers, unlike the Modern Greeks, did have their long-bows and arrows to back up the threat.

Back to Philip now. He had to watch in awe how a Loch Ness monster was having sex with his wife who was having great time with Ammon, who must have immensely enjoyed himself both physically and spiritually, foreseeing that his son would pepper all the lands he would conquer with shrines to Ammon his father.

Is the now forgotten trick of informing your son he was fathered by a god the right career start for a power maniac? Discuss.

Even the Ancient Greeks, famous for their ability to spin tales found it difficult to believe this fantasy.

They said, nay, it couldn’t be Ammon. I totally agree: gods that sound like “Come on” uttered by someone with a digested nose can’t be historically important.

It must have been Nectanebo, they said, formerly a sorcerer, a skilled astrologist, and the ruler of Egypt, who arrived to Macedonia as a political refugee a few years before Alexander was born.

First, he foretold Olympias would have a son conceived by the god Ammon who would appear as a serpent, then he changed into a serpent, and had unprotected sex with her.

You know, that’s plausible. It’s what the Americans want Assange for: he did something similar to a Swedish girl. She testified she had been convinced she was having sex with the god of the freedom of expression, that is until she boasted of the escapade to a friend.

Years later Nectanebo’s secret was revealed, and Olympias had to admit she had been tricked into having extramatiral sex with a dragon, or a serpent, or even a large eagle. She couldn’t point out the exact species, but recalled that the size was impressive. I wonder if she smiled inwardly at remembering the experience.

A thought-provoking story, isn’t it? Alas, it is almost forgotten. Alexander’s hollywood biopic does not feature this episode (a PG rating would hurt revenues), serious history books bypass its absurdity, and even telling the story to students is rarely possible. They are underage when they study this period at school, and are likely to file a harassment suit against their professor at uni.

Just imagine what could transpire if Tolkien preferred the subtlety of Southern myths to the brutality of their Northern varieties! We could end up with a much more adventurous story of Bilbo Baggins.

But now you know it, and thanks to a mediaeval publisher, you’ve just witnessed its climax.

Can Man fool God?


“Rock, scissors, paper
Is an endless game of chance,
And chance means freedom!”



This week, I go for tanka, as a tool to interpret art, which today is a humorous take on Michelangelo’s fresco in the Sistine Chapel. It is a bit longer than haiku, which readers of my blog seem to have enjoyed. If you liked this tanka, check out the previous one, about Life, Death, and Hell. Let’s see if it works!

The art of losing virginity. Seriously?!

Meet Clayton Pettett, a young aspiring artist. This cute guy is going to publicly lose his virginity to a man at a London art gallery.

Previously, public sex has been criminally prosecuted or at least frowned upon. In most instances the police could not help themselves from becoming involved.

In Redditch, an electrician was jailed for having sex with cracks in cobbled pavements, in 1993. Having lived in a town that was named after a gutter, the guy was destined to get shortcircuted. A few years later another gentleman was sentenced for sexually abusing his own bicycle in his own hotel room.

In 2008, Mr Daniel French, (have you noticed that whenever a scandal occurs of a sexual nature the French have to be mentioned, a clear definition of one upmanship you might say), was arrested for having sex with fence railings on Leicester Square in London. As one newspaper commented in the stiff-upper-lip English, “At court, Mr French angrily denied making romantic overtures towards the fence”. This indignant denial didn’t help Mr French to mollify the English court though.

The US has not been immune to this kind of eccentricity. Four years ago a father of three was prosecuted for having sex with his own plastic garden table (you know, they have that hole in the middle for inserting a parasol), in the yard of his own home, when he thought he was alone. Of course his neighbours called the police. I mean, you know these archetype American next-door characters. They always watch you from the attic. The local police captain (yeah, that’s the guy in the picture) said, “Once you think you’ve seen it all, something else comes around”.

I’ve not checked out Catholic societies, but I assume a Swiss Guard in Vatican may react on autopilot with his halberd to such an offence, changing the offender’s sex without the obligatory psychotherapy course. Or maybe his bright harlequin costume and the way that he provocatively holds his mighty staff alludes to more a tolerant empathetic behaviour.

Having sex with inanimate objects (man + object), publicly, is not far from a public loss of virginity (man + wo/man), especially if you look at it from the plastic table’s point of view. The table, as well as the cobbled pavement in Redditch did have the flower of its innocence withered (pardon my Shakespearean).

The guy who announced his loss of virginity will be parting with it within a gallery space during five days, in the presence of 100 spectators. He believes these circumstances make it art, with the message on the social importance of virginity or the lack of it, or the loss of it.

I’d say, having sex for five days is more a medical, rather than artistic achievement. I urge any medical professionals who happen to read this blog and be in London when the event will be taking place, to attend. A defibrillator may come in handy. Perhaps Kleenex or Pfizer (Viagra) could sponsor the event.

On the artistic side of it, is losing virginity really a problem today, I mean, in London? This event has nothing whatsoever to do with loss and everything to do with gaining! Gaining experience, fame, and sexually transmitted diseases that have got fancy long names to them. The latter is an important step to realise that STDs with simple abbreviated names are better be avoided. Tracy Emin said it all. She’s got her Turner prize for it, for saying it out loud.

There are many more subtle and interesting ways to talk about virginity than having sex in public.

If I wanted to say something new about virginity, I’d think of parents’ collective letter to the makers of the WoW (World of Warcraft) that would consist of a single sentence. “Thank you, the makers of WoW for preserving the virginity of our nerdy sons!” Guess how many signatures that open letter would be collecting!

I could provoke public debate with the topic, “A girl who preserves her virginity until her wedding day risks preserving it until she’s put in a nursing home. Or not?”

I guess I could have the U.N co-sponsoring the conference, “Fighting for Peace. Isn’t it the same as having sex for virginity?”. Oh wait we did that before in the 1960’s under the banner ‘Make Love Not War’, and look where it got us, more war and H.I.V. Hmmmm, maybe not !

Performance arts could benefit from a march through Piccadilly (5th Ave/the Red Square) with the banner “Remember, those who die virgins get to the paradise of islamic extremists!” There would be a helluvalot of fight about virginity, sexuality, and religious beliefs from this one act alone.

Public sex with another human being as artistic method is plain dumb, commercially. You can’t take it to the Venice Biennale. You can’t sell it to the Qatar Foundation. Roman Abramovich won’t be interested. No American billionaire regardless of his or her eccentricity would want to come close. It can’t even help future sales. First, there would be no more virginity to peddle around, second, who would want to have an artwork whose author is best described by “that’s the guy who was publicly shagged by another guy”?

As Khrushchev used to say to Kennedy during the Caribbean crisis, “You show me yours, and I’ll show you mine”. I don’t think art should have any boundaries, except if it comes anywhere close to injury or murder, including self-inflicted wounds and suicide.

I am OK with artists poking at public notions of what is moral and what is not.

Unless the poking is done by the artist’s genitals.

That’s too nakedly obvious.

Expressive art is by nature intended to arouse an emotional response, anger, fury, disgust, but does simple disdain qualify?

I think not.

I might have missed some subtext here, though. I might have overlooked a profound thought buried deep down there, in the act.

Is this public loss of virginity Art, for you personally? You don’t have to justify yourself to view if you don’t want to. Just let me know if it is or is not. Please.

Modern Russia’s imperfect mirror

Sports in the Soviet Union used to be a fight promoting the Big Idea of Communism. As a kid, I was certain a communist man was better than a capitalist one, both morally and physically.

Look at these optimistic runners by Alexander Deineka, a chief realist painter in the Soviet Union. What a happy bunch of athletes! They sport breasts, thighs and bottoms of the same attractive sizes – and all this sex appeal is coming toward and past the viewer, creating a tidal wave of emotional response in men, who never fail to register the absence of bras. As observers stand in front of this painting, the wind from the runners brushes their faces, tickling their noses with the smell of sweat, set midst the endless rolling expanse of Soviet Socialist nature. A new dawn, a brave new world, a bright future devoid of the trappings and shackles, and certainly the underwear, of corrupted and polluting capitalism.

Alexander Deineka, The Expanse, 1944

Alexander Deineka, The Expanse, 1944

Weren’t the girls superior to a typical decadent American pin-up mistress?


Of course they were.

Until I realised the Deineka girls were fake. Which happened about the time the Big Idea of the Just Communist Society turned out to be a bluff.

In the real sports, that superiority idea was just as bad as having a mosquito tattooed on your shoulder. Unsuspecting nations wanted to slap Russia all the time, thinking they were, in fact, helping. Russians would kick back. The already suspecting nations would retaliate with more force. And a full-blown anabolic-fueled battle would ensue. That was sports back then.

People learn from their mistakes. Nations don’t.

Today, Russian authorities try to push the same agenda, but there’s no big idea to ground it on, except Russia’s historic predestination to uphold the virtuous heterosexuality of Mankind.

However, that’s not a fool-proof pedestal to mount the New Russian Athlete on. What if he/she comes out as, you know, “deviant”? What if he/she wins?! imagine Putin having to shake hands with someone whose heart – according to the Russian Goebbels (Dmitry Kiselev) – shall be burned. Shame.

No Martini – No party. No big idea – no mouth-foamed zealots.

Indeed, believers in the Russian uber-might are now few and comical. Consumerism has become the true religion of modern Russia just as everywhere else. The L’Oreal Generation puts money and sex in the front row (“because you’re worth it”). Today, Russkies are more famous for their extravagant parties in St. Tropez rather than ballet or chess, unless, of course a ballet director is assassinated or a former chess champion is busted at a street protest in Moscow.

Eventually, art mirroring the modern Russia’s view on sports and itself must have been created by someone.

A Russian illustrator produced an alchemic mix of the modern Russian values (or, as many Russians believe, values imported from the capitalist West), traditional Soviet poster style, and pin-up philosophy to arrive at an erotic, sexist, homophobic, and funny 2014 calendar dedicated to the Sochi Games.

This is the equation:


This is the result by Andrew Tarusov (some of the translations are awkward, but in Russian they rhyme OK):

Pinning this calendar up an office wall may not be a good idea in countries where sexual harassment is frowned upon, but the girl is obviously over 18, so it must be OK to have the images stored on a personal computer.

Now, if you made it this far, there’s a bonus.

Russian jokes about CALENDARS. 

Will you sync your google calendars? Will you create a joint account on Facebook? Will you keep creating content for your family website until death do part you? You are now husband and wife. Exchange your social network passwords.

What exactly were you doing at 7:30 pm on January 28, 2001? – I was sitting in my chair holding a calendar and watching the clock on the wall, of course.

When the Maya Calendar came to an end, the calendar of Junea began.

Wall calendars at the office are needed to perfect counting black days until the red ones.

“Good Morning” is when it is 1 pm on the clock, Saturday on the calendar, and an ocean view from the window.

Is this a real Picasso? – No, this is a calendar with Picasso reproduction… But what made you think it was a real Picasso?! – Its price.

Asking a girl who she is according to the Chinese Calendar can help the man establish her age without asking it directly. The margin of error is plus or minus 12 years.

You understand you overstayed your welcome when the hostess begins to look up – every now and then – at the wall calendar rather than the wall clock.

First time visiting this blog? To sample it, click on About at the top. It has links to some of my best or typical posts. There’s an Art & Fun shelf if you feel like in need of a laugh.

Gloating delight, right?

Does knowledge interfere with feelings in a bad way? Some people say, the more you know, the less you feel spontaneously. This “Woe from Wit” concept essentially means that impromptu feelings are deeper and stronger than emotional reactions kicking in after the thinking engine, fuelled by knowledge on the subject, has done its “rationalising” job.

All our joys come from follies, and all our woes stem from thinking too much, yeah?

This’s so much not true, with the latest refutation of the thesis provided by Dasha Zhukova.


The public emotional reaction to this photo was a function of conclusions about the Act of Sitting shown in the photo. These conclusions were linked to knowledge about who and what was represented in the picture.

I have four types of reactions summarised into tables as proof.

If knowledge was ground zero:

Knowledge level Conclusion Emotional reaction
A white woman sits in a chair modelled as a black woman This is a racist white woman (RWW) Dislike/Cringed nose: nothing new, just another RWW

If knowledge was limited (which was the case for the majority of commenters):

Knowledge level Conclusion Emotional reaction
Dasha Zhukova, the Russian wife of a Russian billionaire sits in a chair modelled as a black woman This is a rich racist white woman (RRWW) Antagonism and Resentment. An RRWW begs for something deeper than just a RWW, because it is a class thing now on top of racism: the rich who are also white believe they will always be on top of coloured people!

If knowledge was above the average (like, in most people who’d had a fleeting brush with art):

Knowledge level Conclusion Emotional reaction
Dasha Zhukova sits in a chair created as a work of art Dasha Zhukova is a personification of the insensitive stupidity of the white, rich, and famous Glee: the new rich can be utterly stupid

If the commenter suffered from obesity with knowledge:

Knowledge level Conclusion Emotional reaction
Dasha Zhukova who invests a lot of her sugar daddy’s money into modern art sits in a chair created as a work of art after a famous work of art created by Allen Jones in 1969 (a chair, table, and coat rack) Dasha Zhukova is a personification of the insensitive stupidity of the white, rich, and famous who want to be accepted by the modern intellectual elite as equals Gloating Delight: the new rich can’t be the modern intellectual elite regardless of how hard they try
Allen Jones' sculptures

Allen Jones’ sculptures

Emotional reaction in the last table is well exemplified by Jonathan Johnes in the Guardian, whose ending line was, “There is lot of idiocy in this tale, but none of it necessarily comes from the work of art now crassly labelled a “racist chair”.

Gloating delight is a longer-term emotion than simple glee or resentment. It runs deeper, its current is stronger.

So, knowledge dials up the power of emotional response. 

I am not saying that knowledge = wisdom here.

A wise man would probably feel pity and compassion towards a young woman full of aspiration but lacking the capacity to change into an intellectual queen she wants to become. She is loaded with dough, but she ain’t cooking any pastry. it can be the beginning of a deep human drama, actually.

Is this Modigliani guy dead or alive?

Today’s Daily Prompt is about conversations that were involuntarily overheard while the overhearer wished it had been otherwise. 

Many visitors to art exhibitions annoyingly believe their opinions, questions, or concerns are something to be loudly shared because obviously everyone else must have the same opinion, question or concern, so maxing the volume up serves the public.

Sometimes, these exchanges are, indeed, a bonus. Very often though, the effort that goes into NOT bursting with laughter prevents subsequent involvement into the art being exhibited.

Dialogue 1

Queue for tickets to The Encounter with Modigliani exhibition at the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum in Moscow.

“Modigliani… Do you think he’s alive?”
“Of course he is! The show’s name is “The Encounter with Modigliani”. It would be sick to make people bump into him were he dead!”


Dialogue 2

A large Picasso exhibition in Moscow a few years ago had a few photographs of Picasso with his contemporaries on one of the walls. Now imagine a formidable middle-aged man, looking a great deal posh and a bit artistic, with a young “model” trailing behind. The man is both exhibiting his girlfriend and attending the exhibition.

They approach the photographs, the girl leans towards them and reads out names of artists in the picture: “Pablo Picasso… Lucien Freud…” and then she happily announces, “I remember you were telling me that Lucien Freud was a son of Picasso!”

The gentleman lover, now blushing, hisses spitefully, “No!! (“you idiot” can be lip-read, but not heard) He was a grandson of Zigmund Freud!” 

As the embarrassed gentleman nudges his girlfriend towards the exit, giving her hushing signs and sounds along the way, she keeps entertaining the room with her glamorous Moscow drawl, “But daaaarlin’! Was Zigmund Freud also a painter?”


Have you ever overheard a dialogue about art that changed your perspective?