Italian Renaissance Etiquette Had Meal Farting Protocol—and It's The Same As Today

When you're presented with a delicious meal, the temptation to tear into your piping hot plate with reckless abandon will inevitably bubble from deep within you. You must resist this urge, strong though it may be. Modern society demands that you mind your manners during dinner.

People have been inventing stringent sets of rules around mealtimes for thousands of years, and as a result, different etiquette systems have emerged from every culture. Many of us are familiar with American table manners – sit up straight, chew with your mouth shut, and keep your elbows off the table. But did you know that burping is good manners in China, because it lets whoever made your dinner know that you liked it?

In Renaissance Italy, which is often touted as the artistic, philosophical, and scientific peak of historical sophistication, people still needed to find polite ways to contend with bodily functions while seated at the dinner table. As a result, an informal meal farting protocol emerged.

One philosopher's position on politely passing gas

The process of digestion can contribute to the gas inside of your stomach, but flatulence is also the result of swallowed air. You gulp a bit of gas down your gullet every time you swallow, which is why mealtimes can so often be accompanied with a cacophony of broken wind.

You may think that this impolite act would have been frowned upon in a luxurious, Renaissance-era dining hall. In reality, this assumption is only partially correct. Desiderius Erasmus, a Dutch philosopher who was a renowned thinker in the field of Christian Humanism, took time away from his theological explorations to lay down some ground rules in regards to farting at the table. According to the 1990 historical collection "The Erasmus Reader," in his 1530 treatise "On Good Manners," Erasmus explained that a person shouldn't bear the discomfort associated with retaining one's flatulence for the sake of civility, but noted that the bodily function should be done discreetly in a public setting, saying, "...If you may withdraw, do so in private. But if not, then in the words of the old adage, let him cover the sound with a cough." By feigning a cough, you may be able to hide your gas from the assembled company – whether or not that's a worthwhile social tradeoff at a post COVID-19 dinner party is ultimately up to you.

Erasmus on flatulence and the continued legacy of the cough cover

Erasmus' musings about passing gas didn't end with his suggestion that you distract from your fart by pretending to cough. Later in "On Good Manners," Erasmus explains that if you fail to sit at the dinner table with proper posture, instead opting to wiggle around in your chair, the other guests may come to assume that you are passing gas, per "The Erasmus Reader."

Though Erasmus wrote his suggestions for proper meal farting protocol hundreds of years ago, his words continue to ring true. The delicate art of faking a cough to cover the sound of your broken wind remains a common practice, though anyone who attempts this method should be wary of an overly odorous or exceptionally loud emission, which could prove too powerful for your diversion to cover. If you want to limit your flatulence altogether, you can simply slow down while you're eating. This will minimize the amount of fart-inducing air you're sucking down into your stomach, and also allow you more time to converse with your dinner guests. Erasmus would be proud!