Saturday, May 27, 2006

Medieval Hygiene 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThe manner of living throughout the Middle Ages made general lousiness inevitable. In England, in the 12th and 13th centuries, the houses of the poor were mere hovels, often with only a hole in the roof to let out the smoke of the central fire; and in cold weather the families were huddled together at night without changing the simple garments – usually a single shift – which they wore in the daytime. Washing was practically out of the question, and the better classes – not very much more comfortable in their badly heated domiciles – wore a great many clothes, which they rarely changed. MacArthur’s story of Thomas a Becket’s funeral illustrates this:

The Archbishop was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral on the evening of the 29th of December. The body lay in the Cathedral all night, as was prepared for burial on the following day. The Archbishop was dressed in an extraordinary collection of clothes. He had on a large brown mantle; under it, a white surplice; below that, a lamb’s wool coat,; then another woolen coat; and a third woolen coat below this; under this, there was the black, cowled robe of the Benedictine Order; under this, a shirt; and next to the body a curious hair-cloth, covered with linen. As the body grew cold, the vermin that were living in this multiple covering started to crawl out, and, as MacArthur quotes the chronicler: 'The vermin boiled over like water in a simmering cauldron, and the onlookers burst into alternate weeping and laughter.'

From my favorite book of all time, Rats, Lice and History: A Bacteriologist's Class History of Mankind's Epic Struggle to Conquer the Scourge of Typhus

One of our pages reported a man waiting for a public computer who was casually picking lice off of his skin and flinging and flicking them around him indiscriminately, as if they were pieces of lint.

The guard who asked him to leave reported that his favorite lice story – and we all have one here at the library – happened a few years ago. Two rough, unkempt men asked to borrow a magnifying glass from the science desk. The librarian, curious, saw them examine something pinched between one of the men’s fingers, and then compare it to the page of an open book. One turned to the other, a look of satisfaction on his face, and said, “See, I told you it was lice!”

Before the miracle of Topspot I lived in Alabama with my Jack Russell terrier, Sid. Fleas there were impervious to baths and collars and other chemical poisons, so every morning I would use my fingers to comb through his coat searching for fleas. Upon capturing them I would pinch and rub them between by thumb and forefinger, and then, for good measure, drop them in a bowl of dish soap and water. The dish soap somehow prevented them from jumping back out, so I was ensured of them dying a watery, as well as fragrant, death. On his all white coat there was nowhere for fleas to hide, and I found grooming him a very relaxing, soothing, almost meditative task. When Sid was about a year old Topspot eliminated my need to do this, and, although I was overjoyed to be rid of the fleas, as I'm sure Sid was, I found myself missing our morning grooming ritual. Human beings are primates, after all, and monkeys spend a large portion of their day grooming each other, and seem to take great pleasure in doing so, grooming serving both a practical and social purpose. Some evolutionary biologists believe that gossiping is a verbal replacement for grooming.

Here is the complete picture of Bosch's Christ Carrying the Cross.

Honey it's called OCD.
Who's the chicken posting as anonymous?
I find the flea picking of your dog not to be ocd-ish but a little like needle point. I don't have the patience. But what I would do is comb my dog with one of those fine toothed flea brushes instead of the pesticide. That is if I had a dog with an easy coat like a jack russell. Brushing my dog with a flea comb would again be like needle point. Half golden retriever, half shepherd.
The fleas couldn't jump out of soapy water because it eliminates the surface tension. Without the soap the surface of the water is like a big trampoline to a flea.
This s why soap makes you get cleaner..the water will go deeper into little nooks and crannies.

I'm a nerd.
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