CLOSE
ThinkStock
ThinkStock

10 Tips for Criticizing People More Effectively

ThinkStock
ThinkStock

In the 1930s, William B. Pettus, the president of the College of Chinese Studies in Beijing, came across a strange little Chinese essay. It began by arguing that, "having a desire to revile, should you persistently restrain it you will sooner or later develop some malady or infirmity. Therefore, having this desire, it is right to give it vent, and there is no harm in so doing."

However, the essay continued, most people lacked the skill that great reviling required. What followed was a list of tips and techniques for becoming a master reviler, "one who enjoys reviling and meets with no rebuff."

When Pettus published his translation of this book, The Art of Reviling, he did not know who the original author was. It was later revealed to be Liang Shiqiu, the scholar now known for being the first to translate the entire works of Shakespeare into Chinese. Liang also wrote light satirical sketches of Chinese life, of which this is clearly an example, but knowing it is satire makes it no less true or useful—especially in the era of internet comment sections, where mastery of the art of reviling is more important than ever. Here are the 10 keys to becoming a master reviler.

1. You must know yourself and know your man.

"If another person has shortcomings, and you yourself are guilty of the same, in reviling him it is well to avoid mention of these."

2. Do not revile those who are your inferiors.

"You should select a person at least slightly superior to yourself…as soon as he replies…this brings you on a parity with him, as one pays no heed to inferiors…If, on the contrary, you revile a person of no reputation, the more you revile, the more pleased he is. The rule is that by reviling a man of no reputation you create one for him. Is this not a distressing sequence?"

3. In reviling, enough is enough and there one should stop.

"When you are reviling a man of standing and he has replied, this is the place to stop. Should you continue you cannot carry the bystanders with you."

4. Use the method of indirect attack.

"The more severely you wish to revile one, the more important is it to begin with expressions of pity & appreciation & even of respect and regret…the listeners feel that you are only speaking the truth and regard you as a person of poise & dignity."

5. Preserve a placid exterior.

"In ordinary street reviling the crowd regards the one whose voice is the louder and demeanor the fiercer as being in the right. But one who can truly revile is able to conceal his weapon until his antagonist's is wearied…when all energy is expended, he can retort in a few words, every one of which will draw blood."

6. In reviling use chaste and elegant language.

"Prevent your antagonist from perceiving, at first, that he is being reviled…the more polite your expressions the sharper will be the sting. It is a good rule in reviling to incorporate in your retorts favorite expressions of your antagonist."

7. Conquer by retreating.

"When about to revile and you remember that you yourself have shortcomings, it is wise at the start boldly to acknowledge these in a thorough manner…You must bring yourself down to the humblest position. This prevents your opponent's bringing you down to a lower level."

8. Lay a trap for your adversary.

"One experienced in reviling carefully notes his antagonist's every expression for those which can be returned with telling effect…by dropping an insignificant expression he will grasp at it and shoot his arrow…show him that it has lodged in a sandbank and that no injury results."

9. Make much of little.

"If a person deserves reviling, but the offense is of minor significance & scarcely worthy of reprimand…lead him into deeper water. Point by point use correct logic and endeavor to lead him to make illogical statements…When this is accomplished you can turn & severely revile him."

10. Make war on that which is near and cultivate friendship for that which is remote.

"At one time revile only one person, or, if need be, only one class of men, or you will have too many adversaries. Attack your opponent, but do not involve the listener. If it is absolutely necessary to include a large number of persons, under these circumstances you should declare that in so doing you have the interest of all at heart. If you fail in this you will have an avalanche of reviling descend upon you which will be troublesome to withstand."

Now go forth and revile well, my friends.

arrow
History
A Very Brief History of Chamber Pots

Some of the oldest chamber pots found by archeologists have been discovered in ancient Greece, but portable toilets have come a long way since then. Whether referred to as "the Jordan" (possibly a reference to the river), "Oliver's Skull" (maybe a nod to Oliver Cromwell's perambulating cranium), or "the Looking Glass" (because doctors would examine urine for diagnosis), they were an essential fact of life in houses and on the road for centuries. In this video from the Wellcome Collection, Visitor Experience Assistant Rob Bidder discusses two 19th century chamber pots in the museum while offering a brief survey of the use of chamber pots in Britain (including why they were particularly useful in wartime).

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Photo illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Saint Nicholas: HULTON ARCHIVE, GETTY IMAGES. Skulls, backgrounds: iStock
arrow
History
Tomb Raider: The Story of Saint Nicholas's Stolen Bones
Photo illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Saint Nicholas: HULTON ARCHIVE, GETTY IMAGES. Skulls, backgrounds: iStock
Photo illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Saint Nicholas: HULTON ARCHIVE, GETTY IMAGES. Skulls, backgrounds: iStock

Throughout history, corpses have been bought and sold, studied, collected, stolen, and dissected. In Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses, Mental Floss editor Bess Lovejoy looked into the afterlife of numerous famous corpses, including Saint Nicholas, one of the many canonized bodies whose parts were highly prized by churches, thieves, and the faithful.

Don't tell the kids, but Santa Claus has been dead for more than sixteen hundred years. No, his body is not at the North Pole, and he's not buried with Mrs. Claus. In fact, his remains are thousands of miles away, on Italy's sunny Adriatic coast. And while Santa might be enjoying his Mediterranean vacation, he's probably not too happy about what happened to his remains. They were stolen in the eleventh century, and people have been fighting over them ever since.

Of course, the Santa Claus of folklore doesn't have a skeleton. But his inspiration, Saint Nicholas, does. That's about all we can say for sure about Nicholas: he was a bishop who lived and died in what is now Turkey in the first half of the fourth century. Legend tells us that he was born into a rich family and delighted in giving gifts. Once, he threw three bags of gold into the window of a poor family's house, saving the three daughters who lived there from a life of prostitution. Another time, he raised three children from the dead after a butcher carved them up and stored them in a vat of brine. He also protected sailors, who were said to cry out his name in rough seas, then watch the waves mysteriously smooth.

The sailors spread Nicholas's cult around the world. Within a century of his death, the bishop was worshipped as a saint, lending his name to hundreds of ports, islands, and inlets, and thousands of baby boys. He became one of the best-loved saints in all of Christendom, adopted by both the Eastern and Western traditions. Christmas probably owes something to his December 6 feast day, while Santa Claus’s red outfit may come from his red bishop’s robes. "Santa Claus" is derived from "Sinterklaas," which was how Dutch immigrants to New Amsterdam pronounced his name.

As one of the most popular saints in the Christian world, Nicholas had a particularly powerful corpse. The bodies of saints and martyrs had been important to Christianity since its beginning: the earliest churches were built on the tombs of saints. It was thought that the bodily bits of saints functioned like spiritual walkie-talkies: you could communicate with higher powers through them, and they, in turn, could manifest holy forces on Earth. They could heal you, protect you, and even perform miracles.

Sometimes, the miracles concerned the saints' own bodies. Their corpses would refuse to decay, exude an inexplicable ooze, or start to drip blood that mysteriously solidified and then reliquefied. So it was with Nicholas: at some point after his death, his bones began to secrete a liquid called manna or myrrh, which was said to smell like roses and possess potent healing powers.

The appearance of the manna was taken as a sign that Nicholas’s corpse was especially holy, and pilgrims began flocking by the thousands to his tomb in the port city of Myra (now called Demre). By the eleventh century, other cities started getting jealous. At the time, cities and churches often competed for relics, which brought power and prestige to their hometowns the way a successful sports team might today. Originally, the relics trade had been nourished by the catacombs in Rome, but when demand outstripped supply, merchants—and even monks—weren't above sneaking down into the crypts of churches to steal some holy bones. Such thefts weren't seen as a sin; the sanctity of the remains trumped any ethical concerns. The relics were also thought to have their own personalities—if they didn't want to be stolen, they wouldn't allow it. Like King Arthur's sword in the stone, they could only be removed by the right person.

That was how Myra lost Saint Nicholas. The culprits were a group of merchants and sailors from the town of Bari, located on the heel of Italy's boot. Like other relic thefts, this one came at a time of crisis for the town where the thieves lived, which in this case had recently been invaded by a horde of rapacious Normans. The conquerors wanted to compete with the Venetians, their trading rivals to the north, who were known for stealing the bones of Saint Mark (disguised in a basket of pork) from Alexandria in 827. And when the Normans heard that Myra had recently fallen to the Turks, leaving Nicholas’s tomb vulnerable, they decided to try stealing a saint for themselves.

According to an account written shortly after the theft by a Barian clerk, three ships sailed from Bari into Myra's harbor in the spring of 1087. Forty-seven well armed Barians disembarked and strode into the church of Saint Nicholas, where they asked to see the saint’s tomb. The monks, who weren't idiots, got suspicious and asked why they wanted to know. The Barians then dropped any pretense of politeness, tied the monks up, and smashed their way into Nicholas's sarcophagus. They found his skeleton submerged in its manna and smelled a heavenly perfume wafting up from the bones, which "licked at the venerable priests as if in insatiable embrace."

And so Nicholas of Myra became Nicholas of Bari. The relics made the town, and the men who stole them. The thieves became famous in the area, and for centuries their descendants received a percentage of the offerings given on the saint’s feast day. The townspeople built a new basilica to hold the remains, which drew thousands of pilgrims throughout the Middle Ages. Even today, Bari remains a major pilgrimage site in southern Italy, visited by both Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Every May an elaborate festival, the Feast of the Translation, celebrates the arrival of Nicholas’s relics. As one of the highlights, the rector of the basilica bends over Nicholas’s sarcophagus and draws off some of the manna in a crystal vial. The fluid is mixed with holy water and poured into decorated bottles sold in Bari's shops; it is thought to be a curative drink.

But Bari is not the only place that boasts of the bones of Saint Nicholas. If you ask the Venetians, they will say their own sailors visited Myra during the First Crusade and stole Nicholas’s remains, which have been in Venice ever since. For centuries, both Bari and Venice have claimed the saint's skeleton.

In the twentieth century, scientists waded into the dispute. During renovations to the basilica of Bari in 1953, church officials allowed University of Bari anatomy professor Luigi Martino to examine the remains— the first time the tomb had been opened in more than eight hundred years. Martino found the bones wet, fragile, and fragmented, with many of them missing. He concluded that they had belonged to a man who died in his seventies, although because Martino was given only a short time with the bones, he could say little more.

Four decades later, Martino and other scientists also studied the Venetian bones. They concluded that those relics and the ones in Bari had come from the same skeleton, and theorized that the Venetian sailors had stolen what was left in Myra after the Barians had done all their smashing.

As for Demre, all they have is an empty tomb. And they want their bones back. In 2009, the Turkish government said it was considering a formal request to Rome for the return of Nicholas's remains. Though the bones have little religious significance in a nation that’s 99 percent Muslim, there’s still a sense in Turkey that the centuries-old theft was a cultural violation. Its restitution would certainly be an economic benefit: according to local officials, tourists in Demre frequently complain about the barren tomb, and they weren't satisfied by the giant plastic sculpture of Santa Claus that once stood outside Nicholas’s church. Even though Santa has become an international cultural icon, his myth is still rooted in a set of bones far from home.

From REST IN PIECES: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses by Bess Lovejoy. Copyright © 2013 by Bess Lovejoy. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios