Erasmus, writing about the customs of his time, did not forget to mention folly. “If, among the guests, there is not at least one capable of making everyone laugh by his natural or artificial folly, a buffoon is paid, or some ridiculous parasite is brought, who knows how to chase silence and sadness away from the drinkers, by hilarious clumsiness.”
Rich Romans always have this “ridiculousness” around them, to amuse them during meals. Weaving sententious maxims into his discourse, this unprejudiced and undisciplined philosopher pays for the hospitality given to him, by witty sallies, the only money he owns.
But these types of buffoons are not seen only at meals. They also appear at funerals, after the hired mourners and the flute players. These strolling players, these actors, can also be found in triumphal processions, when a conqueror enters a town in pomp.
After the Battle of Philippes, when Anthony goes to Asia to raise the money promised to the legionaries, he enters each town with a whole troupe of asiatic jesters, who surpass in buffooneries and in lewd jokes, the same sort of people brought with him from Italy.
This fashion comes from the Orient anyway, because, according to Plutarch, the King of Persia had a fool at his table.
In the time of David, King Akish of Gath kept fools at his court. In the Book of Kings, it is said that David, pursued by Saul’s anger, arrives at Akish’s home. Recognised by the King’s servants, he pretends to be mad. Akish says to his servants: “You can see that this man has lost his mind. Why do you bring him to me? Do I have any lack of fools, that you bring me this one and show me his extravagances?”
The great Solomon, himself, had his buffoon.
The little Greek sovereigns all had fools around them. They are found at the court of Philip II of Macedonia, and at the courts of the successors of Alexander, his son; in the homes of the Attales, Kings of Pergamo; in the palace of the tyrant Denys, at Syracuse; later at the home of Theodoric II, King of the Spanish Wisigoths, and with Attila, sovereign of the Huns.
So, the use of buffoons, which went from the Orient into Greece, then from Greece to Rome, goes back very far.
The expression “race of buffoons” may seem strange, but it can be explained. Dynasties of buffoons did exist. This profession was exercised from father to son.
Speaking of an idiot, Bouchet declares that this servant “was from a family and of a race of whom all were honestly foolish and joyful: further, all those who were born in the house where this servant was born, even if they were not of his line, came into the world mad and were mad all their lives; so much so, that the great lords obtained fools from this house, and, by this method, they brought great revenue to its master”.
Second part tomorrow.