The History Of Clowns

Right through medieval and modern times, there have always been people in the society with the ability to entertain and make others laugh. Unfortunately, there isn’t much written about clowns in ancient times. Much of the available history is all about wars, battles and major events that highlighted different generations. Such records have been passed down to recent times and are often being studied by scholars in a bid to turn back the wheels of time just to have a glimpse of how people lived years ago. The art and day to day activities of ordinary folk in the society were lost in time.

It is therefore safe to state with certainty that indeed, the history of clowns is drenched in ambiguity. But that does not mean that they didn’t exist. They did, just like poets, painters and musicians. There are in fact quite a handful of books, articles and journals that can come in handy as far as tracing the history of clowns is concerned. Here is a brief overview of the history of clowns:

Ancient Egypt

About 5000 years ago, Egyptians used to keep African Pygmies in the royal place to entertain the Pharaoh and his royal family. The pygmies were back then referred to as Dangas. The interesting bit is however, how the Dangas used to dress. Their costumes were mainly made of leopard skin. Their faces would be painted in strange yet funny ways all in a bid to entertain the pharaoh. A close examination to masks that the Dangas used to wear reveals striking similarities between them and Bes – the Egyptian god of dance and battle.

Ancient China

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Again, clowns here were a preserve for the royal family in China. But unlike the Egyptians, the Chinese did not import clowns. They had their own professional clowns. The clowns made a living from their art and paid taxes to the king just like other members of the society. They were attached to the Imperial Court, an official palace that is synonymous with the Zhou Dynasty.

A popular clown back then know as Yu Sze is on record as having been an exceptional entertainer to king Ch’in Shih Huang-ti, the king who initiated the construction of the Great Wall of China. Other kings after him too had their personal clowns some of which were rumored to be close friends to members of the Chinese royal family.

Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece revolutionized the art of clowning. Unlike the aforementioned clowns, Greek clowns entertained not just the royal family but the public. Their attires and costumes were refined and resembled what modern clowns adorn today. They wore short tunics, known as ‘chiton.’ The tunics were grotesquely stuffed and padded at the rear and front. The clowns also wore colorful knitted socks like tights. A striking feature was an exaggerated artificial phallus that was strapped around the loins of the clown. It is rumored that the makers of the Medallion Man derived their inspiration from this attire.

Ancient Rome

Ancient Rome too had clowns. They were popular and loved by the masses for their ability to joke, dance and pull rib cracking grimaces with their faces. Some of the most notable clowns from Ancient Rome include Sannio and Stupidus from whom the English word ‘stupid’ was derived. Sannio was loved by the masses for his ability to dance and pull rib craking grimaces with his face and body. Stupidus was also loved for his ability to mimic fools. Other popular clowns in ancient Rome include Scurra and Fatui.

Clowns Today

Today, clowns can make a living from their art. They entertain both children and adults alike. It is in fact recommended by psychologist to have clowns entertain children during birthday parties or any special events. Clowns in Calgary are known to bring about the ‘happy feeling’ which can go a long way to boost a child’s mood!

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