Wednesday, February 10, 2016

How to Use Wheat, c. 1150

Tacuinum sanitatis casanatense (14th c.)
 "Wheat is hot and full of profit. Nothing is lacking in it… But, if anyone sifts out the bran from the flour (which is semolina), and then makes bread from that flour, the bread is weaker and more feeble than if it had been made from the proper flour… Whosoever cooks wheat without the entire grain, or wheat not ground in the mill, it is as if he eats another food, for this wheat furnishes neither correct blood nor healthy flesh, but more mucus. It is scarcely digested. It is not at all good for a sick person, even if a healthy person is able to survive on this food… If someone is ailing in his back or loins, cook grains of wheat in water, and place them, warm, over the place where he is ailing. The heat of the wheat will chase away the powers of that disease." 
 Hildegard of Bingen, Physica  
An advisory from the Medieval Grain Council: white bread will turn you into an ill-blooded mucus-monster. Also, have you tried porridge on your loins? 

Friday, January 22, 2016

How to Plan for Snow, 1600

British Library, Add. MS 35313, f. 1v (c. 1500)
"Now the daies are shortened, & the nights prolonged, winds are sharp, snow and suddaine inundations of waters arise, the earth is congealed with frost and ice, & all liuing creatures do quiuer with cold. Therefore a man must vse warme and drie meates: for the cheerefull vertues of the bodie are now weakened by the cold aire, and the naturall heate is driuen into the inward partes of the bodie, to comfort and maintaine the vitall spirites. All rost, baked, or fried meates be good; and so are boyled beefe and porke. Veale agreeth not, except it be well rosted. Also wardens, apples and peares may be vsed with wine or with salt for swelling, or with comfits for windinesse. Beware least the cold annoy your bodie. And aboue all things haue a regard to keepe your head, neck, and feete warm. To vse carnall copulation is expedient." 
William Vaughan, Naturall and Artificial Directions for Health
Snow day action plan: fried meat and chill. (But for the love of God, keep your socks on.)

Friday, January 15, 2016

How to Improve In-Law Relations, c. 1470

J. Paul Getty Museum MS 27, f. 46v (c. 1430)
"If a woman very much wants her husband to love her relatives and friends whom he has never liked, when they come to visit her with their dog, she must collect urine from the dog and give some to her husband to drink, in barley beer or in a soup, without his knowledge. And after he has given a warm welcome to the dog, he will be friendly with the people the dog loves."  
The Distaff Gospels
Your husband will be humping the whole family's legs in no time.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

How to Survive the Winter, c. 1200

J. Paul Getty Museum MS 14, f. 3r (13th century)
"Winter is damp and cold: we should turn to food. Nourishment should be delicious in the winter. Neither purging nor bloodletting is helpful then, and encounters in bed with your lady friend should be moderate." 
Daniel of Beccles, Urbanus magnus
If your New Year's resolutions involved less eating and more sex, you might be in trouble.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

How to Get a Manicure, c. 1150

Tacuinum sanitatis (14th c., Biblioteca Casanatense)
One who has very ugly nails should smear them with liquid from the little bladder of the bumblebee and tie it with a band. He should do this until they become beautiful.
Hildegard of Bingen, Physica 
Better make sure your beautician is also trained in entomology.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Ye Olde Ask the Past Gift Guide

The Graphic (1874), The British Library
Shopping got you down? Don't worry – the Past has done this before. Here assembled for your triumphant gift-giving is the wisdom of the ages (or at least the 19th century).

Recipe for success: (1) spend a lot, and (2) Toilet Soaps. 
“It is all very well to send Christmas Cards as cheap and handy presents to each and all of one’s friends, but how much better, and more acceptable they become, when accompanied by some useful article! The hint we would give, and which we trust will be acted upon to the full, is to spend shillings where one intended pence, and pounds where one meant to spend shillings… For this purpose, what could be more acceptable than family boxes of mixed Toilet Soaps… Our word for it that a box of toilet soaps, or scents… would be equally as, or more acceptable than even the conventional hampers of game or barrels of oysters.”
The Reliquary and Illustrated Archaeologist (1879)
Need a special gift for a special guy? Play it safe with a silver mucilage pot, or go bold with a monkey-skin hymnal.
"Silver seals, silver mucilage pots, silver pen-racks, silver penholders, silver pen-tweezers, small silver stamp-boxes for the waistcoat pocket, are among the many little things much more reasonable... The fad for silver is universal... A very useful Christmas present is a hymnal, or hymnal and prayer-book, bound in black monkey-skin, with silver monogram or gilt initials (the latter stamped inside the cover), of size for the waistcoat pocket. These would cost – marking and all – $10. Elephant-skin is not as handsome as monkey, and the snake-skin is beautiful to look at, but most perishable."
Harper's Bazaar (1896)
Ah, the lady who has everything. I promise she does not have a complete winter ensemble of rat fur.
"What more delightful or dignified present can any lord make his lady than presenting her with a complete suit of ermine, comprising muff, cuffs, cape, tippet, boa, and cloak... How comes it, then, that polecats' and stoats' skins are held so inestimable, while the poor humble rat's skin is held in detestation, when in texture and softness it is quite equal, if not superior, to either?... I am satisfied there is no one thing can equal them for ladies' gloves, where delicacy and softness are the ideal requisites to form the beau-ideal of perfection. 
James Rodwell, The Rat: Its History and Destructive Character (1858)
Shopping for children? The Saucy Milk-Maid has what you need.

“The mechanical toys imported from Paris are the finest ever brought to this country… The Saucy Milk-Maid is propelled rapidly about the room, shaking her head and patting her cow, while the cow munches oats and lows contentedly. The Drunken Muleteer applies the bottle to his mouth with one hand, and holds on to the mule with the other." 
Harper's Bazaar (1877)
If you're on a budget, just get creative with a Revolutionary War era brocade gown.
"If any woman owns remnants of the old-fashioned brocade gown worn by her great-great-grandmother in Revolutionary days she is fortunate indeed, for she has it in her power to bestow Christmas presents which will be valued by every member of the family connection. Pin-cushions, pen-wipers, work-bags, sachets, sofa pillows – all these articles, in every variety of shape and size, afford an opportunity to use the brocade, or, if the pieces are large enough, handkerchief and glove cases may be added to the list." 
Harper's Bazaar (1893)
And of course, everyone on your list will appreciate a copy of Ask the Past

Monday, December 7, 2015

How to Exercise in Cold Weather, 1315

J. Paul Getty Museum, MS Ludwig IX 6, f. 2r
"If you will, walk daily somewhere morning and evening. And if the weather is cold, if you can, run on [an] empty stomach or at least walk rapidly, that the natural heat may be revived... If you cannot go outside your lodgings, either because the weather does not permit or it is raining, climb the stairs rapidly three or four times, and have in your room a big heavy stick like a sword and wield it now with one hand, now with the other, as in a scrimmage, until you are almost winded. This is a splendid exercise to warm one up and expel noxious vapors through the pores and consume other superfluities. Jumping is a similar exercise. Singing, too, exercises the chest. And if you will do this, you will have healthy limbs, a sound intellect and memory, and you will avoid rheum." 
Peter of Fagarola, Letter to his sons
Too cold for running outside? No problem – your mock swordplay and singing will definitely impress the other gym-goers.