The medieval period gave us universities, the scientific method, and architectural masterpieces like the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
But they sure had some strange lifestyle advice…
All quotes come from the great blog Ask the Past: Advice from Old Books.
1) How to impress girls at a dance, 16th century
“Furthermore never fart when you are dancing; grit your teeth and compel your arse to hold back the fart… Do not have a dripping nose and do not dribble at the mouth. No woman desires a man with rabies. And refrain from spitting before the maidens, because that makes one sick and even revolts the stomach. If you spit or blow your nose or sneeze, remember to turn your head away after the spasm; and remember not to wipe your nose with your fingers; do it properly with a white handkerchief. Do not eat either leeks or onions because they leave an unpleasant odour in the mouth.” – Antonius Arena, Leges dansandi (source)
2) How to wash your hair, 12th century
“After leaving the bath, let her adorn her hair, and first of all let her wash it with a cleanser such as this. Take ashes of burnt vine, the chaff of barley nodes, and licorice wood (so that it may the more brightly shine), and sowbread… with this cleanser let the woman wash her head. After the washing, let her leave it to dry by itself, and her hair will be golden and shimmering… If the woman wishes to have long and black hair, take a green lizard and, having removed its head and tail, cook it in common oil. Anoint the head with this oil. It makes the hair long and black.” – The Trotula (source)
3) How not to treat college freshmen, 15th century
“Statute Forbidding Any One to Annoy or Unduly Injure the Freshmen. Each and every one attached to this university is forbidden to offend with insult, torment, harass, drench with water or urine, throw on or defile with dust or any filth, mock by whistling, cry at them with a terrifying voice, or dare to molest in any way whatsoever physically or severely, any, who are called freshmen, in the market, streets, courts, colleges and living houses, or any place whatsoever, and particularly in the present college, when they have entered in order to matriculate or are leaving after matriculation.” – Leipzig University Statute (source)
4) How to lose weight fast, 12th century
“If, however, the woman is fat and seemingly dropsical, let us mix cow dung with very good wine and with such a mixture we afterward anoint her. Then let her enter a steambath up to the neck, which steambath should be very hot from a fire made of elder [wood], and in it, while she is covered, let her emit a lot of sweat… We also treat fat men in another way. We make for them a grave next to the shore of the sea in the sand, and in the described manner you will anoint them, and when the heat is very great we place them halfway into the grave, halfway covered with hot sand poured over. And there we make them sweat very much. And afterward we wash them very well with the water of the previous bath.” – The Trotula (source)
5) How to be irresistible to your husband, 15th century
“When a woman wants to be well loved by her husband or her lover, she must give him catnip to eat: he will be so much in love with her that he will not rest unless she is close to him.” – The Distaff Gospels (source)
6) The trick to soothing a teething baby, 15th century
“Sometimes babies have trouble with teething. In that case you should squeeze the gums with your fingers, and gently massage them, and the palate as well. And you should anoint the gums with the brains of a hare (which are very suitable for this purpose), or with fat or butter or good-quality olive oil; and you should do this twice a day. The milk of a dog is suitable, too. It is also very helpful to use hen’s fat for both anointing and massaging the gums.” – Michele Savonarola, Ad mulieres ferrarienses (source)
7) The secret to keeping your cat from leaving your house, 15th century
“If you have a good cat and you don’t want to lose it, you must rub its nose and four legs with butter for three days, and it will never leave the house.” – The Distaff Gospels (source)
8) How to tell if someone is dead or not, 14th century
“Moreover, if there is any doubt as to whether a person is or is not dead, apply lightly roasted onion to his nostrils, and if he be alive, he will immediately scratch his nose.” – Johannes de Mirfield, Breviarium Bartholomei (source)
9) How to care for a newborn, 13th century
“After the woman has delivered the child, you should know how to take care of the child. Know that as soon as the child is born, it should be wrapped in crushed roses mixed with fine salt… And when one wishes to swaddle [the baby], the members should be gently couched and arranged so as to give them a good shape, and this is easy for a wise nurse; for just as wax when it is soft takes whatever form one wishes to give to it, so also the child takes the form which its nurses give to it. And for this reason, you should know that beauty and ugliness are due in large measure to nurses. And when its arms are swaddled, and the hands over the knees, and the head lightly swaddled and covered, let it sleep in the cradle.” – Aldobrandino of Siena, Regimen for the Body (source)
10) How to have a successful business trip, 16th century
“Dress in rose color, and speak little.” – Baldesar Castiglione, Il libro del cortegiano (source)
11) How to prevent pregnancy, 13th century
“A weasel placed on a scorpion bite helps greatly… if its heel is taken from it while it still lives and is placed on a woman, she will not get pregnant as long as it is there.” – Albertus Magnus, De animalibus (source)
12) How to improve your memory, 16th century
“To make one have a good memorie. Take a Tooth or the lefte legge of a Badgre… and binde it aboute youre riggt arme nexte unto the flesh. Take also the gall of a Partrich, and rubbe your temples with it that it maie soke into the skin and fleshe, ones in a moneth, and it will make you have a good memorie.” – The Second Part of the Secretes of Maister Alexis of Piemont (source)
13) The healing powers of bacon, 6th century
“As for raw bacon which, so I hear, the Franks have a habit of eating… they are healthier than other people because of this food. Let me give a good example so that what I am writing may be believed: thick bacon, placed for a long time on all wounds, be they external or internal or caused by a blow, both cleanses any putrefaction and aids healing. Look at what power there is in raw bacon, and see how the Franks heal what doctors try to cure with drugs or with potions.” – Anthimus, On the Observance of Foods (source)
14) How not to talk about your kids, 16th century
“Those who are constantly talking about their children, their wives or their nursemaids, are equally at fault. ‘Yesterday my boy made me laugh so much. Listen to this…You have never seen a more lovable son than my Momo…’ No-one has so little to do that he has the time to answer or even to listen to such nonsense and so it irritates everyone.” Giovanni della Casa, Galateo (source)
15) How to grow a beard fast, 16th century
“To make hair and beard grow. Take honeybees in quantity and dry them in a basket by the fire, then make a powder of them, which you thin out with olive oil, and with this ointment, dab several times the place where you would like to have hair, and you will see miracles.” – Traicté nouveau, intitulé, bastiment de receptes (source)
16) How to care for your teeth, 13th century
“This is how to keep your teeth: gather the grains of a leek, burn them with henbane, and direct the smoke thereof to your teeth with a funnel, as if smoking a pipe.” – Regimen sanitatis Salernitanum (source)
17) How to dress well for a dance, 16th century
“You must always be garbed to perfection and your codpiece must be well tied. We sometimes see codpieces slip to the ground during the basse dance so you must tie them well.” – Antonius Arena, Leges dansandi (source)
18) How to cure baldness, 13th century
“By frequently rubbing your bald spots with ground onions, you will be able to recover the charm of your head.” – Regimen sanitatis salernitanum (source)
19) How to put out a fire, 12th century
“If a fire blazes up, it should be extinguished with sand and bran. If it blazes up further, put on sand soaked in urine.” – Mappae clavicula (source)
For more, check out the great blog Ask the Past: Advice from Old Books.
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