Ship of fools
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The ship of fools is an allegory that has long been a fixture and reminder in Western literature and art. The allegory depicts a vessel populated by human inhabitants who are deranged, frivolous, or oblivious, passengers aboard a ship without a pilot, and seemingly ignorant of their own direction. This concept makes up the framework of the 15th century book Ship of Fools (1494) by Sebastian Brant, which served as the inspiration for Bosch's famous painting, Ship of Fools: a ship—an entire fleet at first—sets off from Basel to the paradise of fools. In literary and artistic compositions of the 15th and 16th centuries, the cultural motif of the ship of fools also served to parody the 'ark of salvation' (as the Catholic Church was styled).
Michel Foucault, in "Madness and Civilization", claimed that "ships of fools" were used as primitive concentration camps, to dispose of people having mental disorders. He further claims that these ships were routinely denied permission to dock anywhere, and thus were stranded at sea, sailing endlessly from port to port. There is no evidence, however, that such ships ever actually existed, and some have opined that Foucault had misinterpreted accounts that were originally intended to be figurative, fanciful, or allegorical.
In popular music
Van Der Graaf, the late 1970s incarnation of Van Der Graaf Generator, had a song called "Ship of Fools" that was the opening track on the live album Vital and a studio version of the song was the B-side on the final single released by the band.
Robert Plant recorded a song by this name on his album Now and Zen released in 1988.