A-Z of Ceramics - N is for Nobody
Ceramic figures of Nobody combine a surprisingly ancient joke with a uniquely English pun. The joke concerns the denial of guilt: 'Who did that?' 'Nobody!' He is seen as always innocent, yet always blamed for others' deeds. Homer's Odysseus escaped Polyphemus by giving his name as 'No-man'. A medieval monk created a mock-saint (Saint Nemo) by finding all references to 'nemo' in the Bible e.g. 'Nemo deum vidit' (No-one has seen God).
In 16th-century Germany, 'Niemand' was blamed by bad servants for household breakages. Moralists took this over, arguing that individuals were responsible for the state of the Church and Society, and Protestant Reformers took this notion to England.
The pun 'No...body' is not possible in other European languages, so only ceramics destined for the British market depict a man whose legs join straight onto his head. He comes from a 1606 woodcut frontispiece to the play 'Nobody and Somebody', which Shakespeare mentions in 'The Tempest'.