|Sydney Professor circumcises King of France|
Amazing scientific breakthrough
Experts astoundedIn an astounding scientific breakthrough, believed to be a world first, Sydney University’s leading physio-alchemical guru, Professor Blade Norris (Mac the Knife to his friends), today reported that he had gone back in time to circumcise Louis XVI, last King of France before the Revolution.
Renowned for his detailed and extensive knowledge of boys’ penises, Professor Norris is best known for his campaign to eradicate the foreskin from human anatomy. “It’s just a mistake of Nature”, he told the Lower Pee-Pee Times. “If I had been in charge back then, mammals would never have evolved foreskins. Nasty, messy, excitable things.” Professor Norris insists, however, that there is nothing wrong with foreskins in their place, and that place is in the freezer in his laboratory.
“I used to get a steady supply of fresh baby foreskins from Sydney hospitals for my interesting experiments. Unfortunately, the flow has diminished in recent years, and I’m very pissed off”, he complained. “It’s selfish and unreasonable for boys to hang onto their foreskins when I need them, not only to advance scientific knowledge and make face cream, but to clean up the neighbourhood. Sometimes I can scarcely breathe in the lecture theatre, the stink of all those unclipped genitals gives me the willies.” He added with a confidential grimace, “You know that uncircumcised men need three showers day just to keep the smell within reasonable bounds. Just think of the water that gets wasted.”
Professor Norris has staked his scientific reputation and hopes for a Nobel Prize on the proposition that only the elimination of the foreskin can save the western world from fearsome epidemics of zipper injury, splashes on the bathroom floor, pimples, and mature-age surgery that will make the Black Death and AIDS in Africa look like a Sunday school picnic. “Uncircumcised men are dying”, he pointed out. “Men with foreskins are 90 per cent more likely to experience foreskin problems than those who have had the good fortune to be circumcised. On top of that, uncircumcised men have a 65 per cent greater probability of catching mumps, chicken pox, Bright’s disease, angina and housemaid’s knee”.
Mature-age surgery? “But that’s the biggest health benefit of circumcision of them all”, the professor explained. “If it’s done in infancy, it doesn’t have to be done in adulthood. It’s one less thing for the modern adult to worry about. An immense advantage.”
In view of these incontrovertible scientific facts, Professor Norris said that the case for circumcision was overwhelming. He condemned the anti-circumcision lobby as the same sort of emotional, mucous membrane-loving ratbags who had managed to get clitoridectomy kicked out of the standard surgical repertoire in the 1860s. “We won’t make the same mistake this time”, he said, fingering his scalpel.
Hitherto Professor Norris has confined his efforts to getting all living and future males circumcised, but even this achievement is not enough for the intrepid philanthropist. “It’s all very well to cleanse the world today, and to ensure that the future is prepuce-free”, he confided, “but what about all those filthy, disease-generating foreskins in the past? The very memory of them might be enough to initiate another epidemic.”
To this end, and in an amazing scientific breakthrough, Professor Norris has been able to travel back in time in a device constructed with the assistance of his good friends Drs Eager Spoon (aka Frosty), Terror Rustler (Plastiboy to his buddies) and James Badger (Penisguy). “Since they were already living in the nineteenth century”, Norris explained, “it was no big deal for them to go back another hundred years or so”. Once back in eighteenth century France, Norris lost no time in gaining access to the palace of Versailles, assuming the appearance of Marie Antoinette’s father, Joseph II of Austria, and advising Louis firmly that his only chance of getting the missus preggers was if he got circumcised pronto. He warned the King that unless had had kids soon (preferably a boy), he would be losing more than a few superfluous inches of his dick in a few years time.
Unfortunately, a slight technical hitch at this point caused Professor Norris to be catapulted back into the present, so he was unable to be sure as to whether his advice was followed. “But I’m confident it was”, Professor Norris said. “After all, they did have children, and everybody knows that you can’t have children if the semen flow is blocked by all those billowing curtains. There’s a definitive case reported in the Bible – Abraham, you know, in Genesis.”
The professor was forced to concede, however, that even though Louis certainly did get himself circumcised, it was a case of too little, too late, for his tardiness in producing children did indeed lead to some unfortunate turbulence in the 1790s. As Norris told his colleague Dr Admass Whiskitoff, editor of the well known scientific journal BioErsatz, the delay had historical consequences. And if you have doubts, the proof is on Norris’s website (hosted by courtesy of the Sydney University Physiology Department.)
Asked about his next move, Professor Norris said that his forthcoming mercy dash into the past (assuming the technical problems could be solved) would be to Russia, around 1910. “I’ve got a theory that the Tsarevitch’s haemophilia was caused by a tight foreskin. If I can get in there and cut it off, no Rasputin and no Russian Revolution. Just think how famous I’ll be then. With luck I may even win the Remondino Prize for outstanding contributions to posthephobia”, he added wistfully.
It is indeed a noble aim, and with this inspiring thought in mind we leave the gaunt yet agile professor to his dreams of world conquest.
NOTE: Professor Norris holds the Victor Frankenstein memorial chair of Physio-alchemical Surgery at the University of Sydney.
But seriously, now ...Satire, of course, and we would not for one moment suggest that whoever wrote it and sent it here thought that there was the faintest similarity between Blade Norris and Brian Morris. It is of interest, however, that in his zeal to demonise the foreskin and find yet another reason for circumcision, Professor Morris insinuates that Louis XVI’s phimosis caused the French Revolution. He states in his website:
There are many fascinating historical aspects involving circumcision or lack thereof. For example, some argue that the latter may have precipitated the French Revolution. Marie Antoinette, 12th daughter of the Emperor and Empress of Austria, much hated by France, married the future Louis XVI in 1770 at the age of 14. By 18, still immature and lacking in intellectual interests, she became queen.
Louis XVI suffered from phimosis (tight foreskin) that prevented successful intercourse. As a result Antoinette was deprived of the responsibilities of motherhood, which might have matured her. She indulged in lavish amusements, balls, plays and receptions that pandered to her childish fantasies, even building a model dairy farm “dolls house” at Trianon. Her enemies accused her of bankrupting France. In a secret visit to France her brother, Emperor Joseph II, reprimanded her and also persuaded Louis to get circumcised. This was 8 years after their marriage. Although she subsequently bore 3 children, the damage had been done. The rest is history, the Revolution took place, and both were executed in 1793.
Who those mysterious “some”, in the vague “some argue that …” claim, may be is not revealed.
As Androutsos has shown , there was nothing secret about Joseph’s visit to France, and there is not the slightest possibility that the King was circumcised, yet Morris repeats this far-fetched story in his article in the scientific journal BioEssays,  giving as a reference source … his own website.
Even if Professor Morris is unable to read French, or knows nobody who could translate for him, the barest knowledge of the history of medically rationalised circumcision would have been enough to tell him that the notion of the King of France getting circumcised was implausible. The earliest mention of circumcision as a medical or health related procedure comes in the early eighteenth century, in a peculiar book on venereal disease by John Marten – the same pox doctor and quack who bears much of the responsibility for launching the masturbation phobia on the Western world.  But even then the operation was only suggested for adults who have problems, and there is no evidence that the procedure was widely, or ever, performed.
It would have been a most extraordinary thing if the King of France – His Most Christian Majesty – had consented to being circumcised, and if we consider how circumcision was viewed in eighteenth century France we can readily appreciate how preposterous the suggestion really is. In eighteenth century Europe circumcision was almost unheard of as a medical procedure, and insofar as it was known at all, it was understood as a religious rite performed by Jews, Muslims and certain African cultures, some of which practised circumcision of women as well. An authoritative statement of how Louis XVI’s contemporaries regarded circumcision is provided by the famous Encyclopedie compiled by Denis Diderot and the Comte d’Alembert in the years 1751 to 1765.
The Encyclopedie on circumcisionThe entry for circumcision states unequivocally:
Circumcision, noun (Theol.) religious ceremony among Jews and Mohammedans. It consists in the cutting of the foreskin of males who must or who want to profess the Jewish or Muslim religion.
The entry continues with a lengthy discussion of Jewish practice, followed by an explanation of why the Church Fathers rejected the procedure and banned it among Christians. It then adds that the various other peoples that practise circumcision inherited the rite from the Jews:
The origin and use of circumcision among peoples other than the Hebrews, is easy to demonstrate, but all have derived it from Abraham and his descendents. Ishmael driven from the house of the patriarch communicated it to the people of which he was the father, that is, the Ishmaelites and to the Arabs. From these peoples, it was transmitted to the Saracens, to the Turks, and to all the peoples who profess the doctrine of Mohamed. 
In the most up to date and comprehensive encyclopaedia in the world at that time, and one which made special efforts to include all the latest scientific and medical advances, the entry for circumcision makes no mention of the operation as any kind of medical, therapeutic or health-related procedure.
It is of interest, however, that the Encyclopedia’s entry for Prepuce actually says very little about the anatomy or physiology of the penis, but launches immediately into a discussion of circumcision as a hygienic measure desirable in hot climates:
It is more than apparent that the method of circumcising, practiced so universally in the Orient, that it is necessary to consider it less as an act of religion than as a means of keeping the part clean and of hindering the diseases that originate in these regions due to the retention of mucosity supplied by glands that are underneath the prepuce. The same author adds that he has seen Orientals, who, having large swollen prepuces, were frightened to see a mucosity issuing forth, which undoubtedly would not have been there had it not amassed between the prepuce and the glans. It is without doubt this problem among others that the divine legislator of the Jews had in mind to prevent when making a law of circumcision. 
Two persistent medical mythsWe see here the beginning of two medical myths that still maintain their grip on certain dusty corners of the modern medical empire: first, the myth that there are glands (usually identified as Tyson’s Glands) on or under the foreskin; secondly, the myth that ritual circumcision as practised by the ancient Hebrews and some Arabs (and later by the Muslims) had its origin in the need to keep the penis clean. (Some travellers claimed that the foreskins of the people in Middle Eastern regions grew so long that they had to be cut in order to permit impregnation.) There is no truth in either of these stories. There are no glands under the foreskin. Ritual circumcision as practised in the ancient Middle East did not arise from hygienic motives. 
The fact that the entry for Prepuce differs from the entry for Circumcision reflects the different authors – the latter by a priest (who would be expected to give the traditional religious explanation), the former by the Chevalier de Jaucourt, who was an enthusiastic party to the Encyclopedists' secularising project. Although they knew little about the anatomy of the penis or the origins and significance of the customs of non-Western peoples, they were determined to give secular and rationalist explanations for strange customs, not the traditional religious explanations that assumed the exstence and agency of a supernatural being. Something as bizarre and counter-intuitive as genital mutilation might be explained as a command from the Deity, but if you were trying to take the Deity out of modern life, you had to find another explanation for something so apparently irrational. Hence the health argument: adapting the Comte de Montesquieu’s account of different social structures and customs arising from differing climatic conditions, the Encyclopedists assumed that the custom of circumcision in the desert regions familiar to them was not result of a divine command, but of a rational appreciation of the inconvenience or even the unhealthiness of a foreskin in such torrid conditions. They explained the practice of female circumcision, also common in these regions, in similar terms. Their essential aim was to "disenchant the world" by providing secular explanations for phenomena previously attributed to the will of the deity.
The secularising mission of the French Enlightenment also meant that the Encyclopedie was willing to entertain the possibility of circumcision as a treatment for persistent phimosis in adults, though medical opinion at the time was divided as to the necessity for what was still regarded as a dangerous operation that resulted in an embarrassing disfigurement. As Androutsos reports, the great French surgeons Pierre Dionis and Dr Moreau were against it, on the grounds that the problem usually resolved itself (through manipulation and usage), and that surgery was always risky and often left a messy and unaesthetic result.
Pancoucke's medical dictionaryThe situation had not changed very much by the early nineteenth century. In Charles Pancoucke’s massive Dictionnnaire des Sciences Medicales (1812-20), circumcision is defined as follows:
Circumcision, noun, circumcisio, peritome of the Greeks. Very ancient operation that is only rarely performed for surgical reasons and which is almost always performed for religious or political motives.
Speculating as to the rationale of the rite, the entry expressed clear awareness that circumcision reduced sexual sensation when it stated that losing one’s foreskin was a sacrifice of something precious:
Perhaps the idea of sacrificing to god a part of the organ that is most important to man, from that which enables him to enjoy the only form of immortality to which he has the right to partake, may have played a role in the institution of this bizarre operation.
Nor was the dictionary unaware that circumcision often had unfortunate “complications”:
On the other hand, one cannot say that this operation is followed by no unfortunate accidents. The skin is the only organ affected, and the vessels that run through it in this area are of such little importance that cutting them should cause a haemorrhage that one could not stop easily and promptly.
Pancoucke did acknowledge that circumcision could be useful in cases of severe phimosis in adulthood, though it insisted that, while this condition could be an “inconvenience” to intercourse, it would not necessarily prevent it. If circumcision was performed, the entry continued, it was necessary to ensure that only the bare minimum of tissue be excised, just enough to allow the foreskin to retract easily when the penis is erect. 
ConclusionThese comments, along with the article by Androutsos, forcefully make the point that phimosis in late childhood or adolescence does not usually require surgery, and certainly does not require surgery as radical as circumcision. Persistent phimosis and frenulum breve in adulthood, however, do require intervention, and it’s interesting that the recommended procedure even in the eighteenth century, long before drugs were available, was a minimal slitting of the fibres of the foreskin that prevented retraction. These days, as we know, the conditions can be easily cured by steroid cream or other minor surgery not requiring the amputation of anything.
In conclusion, we may state with confidence that Professor Morris is wrong on all counts. Louis XVI was not circumcised, and still managed to have children; circumcision was not regarded as a medical procedure in the eighteenth century, but solely as a religious rite; the marital difficulties of an eighteenth century monarch are not among the reasons why circumcision is “imperative” for the 21st century; phimosis is not a reason for prophylactic (precautionary) circumcision of infants, and is very rarely needed for therapeutic circumcision of children or adults. The preferred treatment for phimosis in these modern, scientific times is application of a topical steroid (usually betamethasone valerate), and if that fails there are other options that do not involve amputation. To imply that radical surgery is the only option is to live in the past.
Modern treatments of phimosis
If an undergraduate history student had made such gross howlers as these in an essay he would have been marked down severely and might have been failed. Such nonsense would certainly never be accepted in a respectable history journal, but it is apparently perfectly acceptable to a scientific publication such as BioEssays. If Professor Morris can retail a hoary old chestnut like this one as though it was a proven fact, can we really believe anything he says?
References1. Androutsos G., Le phimosis de Louis XVI (1754-1793) aurait-il ete a l’origine de ses difficultes sexuelles et de sa fecundite retardee?. Prog Urol. 2002; 12(1):132-7. English translation on this site.
2. Brian Morris, “Why circumcision is a biomedical imperative for the 21st century”, BioEssays, November 2007
3. John Marten, A Treatise of all the Degrees and Symptoms of the Venereal Disease, in Both Sexes, 6th edn, London, 1708, Facsimile reprint, New York, Garland, 1985. Discussed in Robert Darby, A Surgical Temptation: The Demonization of the Foreskin and the Rise of Circumcision in Britain (University of Chicago Press, 2005), pp. 41, 48-9; Angus McLaren, Impotence: A Cultural History (University of Chicago Press, 2007), chap. 4; Patrick Singy, “The history of masturbation” (Review of Thomas Laqueur, Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation), Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Vol. 59, 2004, pp. 112-21
4. Abbe Edme Mallet, “Circumcision”, in Denis Diderot (1713-1784) and Jean d’Alembert (eds), Encyclopedie; ou Dictionnaire raisonne des sciences, des arts et des metiers. Paris: Briasson, 1751-1765, Vol. 3, pp. 458-462.
5. Louis le Chevalier de Jaucourt, “Prepuce”, Encyclopedie, Vol. 13, pp. 306-307
6. Robert Darby, “The riddle of the sands: Circumcision, history and myth”, New Zealand Medical Journal, Vol. 118, 15 July 2005
7. Charles Panckoucke, Dictionnaire des Sciences Medicales (60 vols, Paris, 1812-22), Vol. 5, pp. 223-227, available online here.