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#1
Old 08-14-2007, 05:10 AM
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Why the medieval antipathy toward baths?

I'm reading a book on the Black Plague right now, and one of the risk factors was that medieval people lived in filthy areas and didn't bathe. I've also read other histories where high-born people actually bragged about not bathing (I can't remember who exactly, but there was one queen that bragged she was bathed at birth and before her wedding [she had another after she died]).

I understand that it was difficult in a practical sense, and I think there may have been some teachings by the Church Fathers that said taking a bath was a temptation.

So, why did medieval Europeans hate baths? And why was not taking a bath something to be proud of?
#2
Old 08-14-2007, 05:42 AM
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The fact that the occasional person bragged about not bathing doesn't really tell us much. One swallow does not a summer make.

This site gives a more realistic picture:

Quote:
Medieval society may have liked to bathe more than one might expect, however, this was not always an easy process. Medieval castle residents used wooden tubs with water heated from the fire in the great hall. In good weather, the tub might be placed out in the garden. Lords often employed a person whose sole responsibility was preparing baths for the family. This person would often travel with the family.

Hot baths were very popular and most towns, as late as the mid-1200s had public bathhouses. Wood fires heated the water, but this posed two problems. First, out of control fires could consume several blocks of buildings. And as the forests were depleted, firewood became expensive and the rising costs of heating the water forced most of the bathhouses to close. Some tried burning coal to heat water, but the fumes proved to be unhealthy.

By the mid-1300s, only the very wealthy could afford firewood for hot water in the winter. The rest of the population was forced to be dirty most of the time. Barrels were often used as baths, with entire families sharing the same water.
#3
Old 08-14-2007, 06:31 AM
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One factor - although not the only one - is the strong association of pagan Rome with bathing. The Romans did like bathing, and not bathing was a way to distinguish oneself from them and emphasize that one was not a decadent pagan. Combine that with mortification of the flesh and denial of earthly pleasures, and you have a religious reason not to bathe any more often than you have to.

I suspect the common person, along with royalty, didn't have a problem with a thorough scrub once in awhile. It's just that it was nowhere near as easy for them to draw a hot bath as it is for us.
#4
Old 08-14-2007, 07:02 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Broomstick
One factor - although not the only one - is the strong association of pagan Rome with bathing. The Romans did like bathing, and not bathing was a way to distinguish oneself from them and emphasize that one was not a decadent pagan.
The Roman empire made Christianity it's official religion way before the medieval period.
#5
Old 08-14-2007, 08:24 AM
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One of the complaints written about the Norse in England a thousand years ago was that they took baths and combed their hair.

So the attitude varied among different people.
#6
Old 08-14-2007, 08:52 AM
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Next time you want to take a shower, do this, instead:

Walk at least half a mile to a friend's house, with two buckets. Fill those buckets with cold water from their tap. Bring them back to your house and dump them into the tub. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat until you have enough water to fill your bathtub. Now take some of the water back out of the bathtub and put it in your biggest pot set over your barbeque grill out back. Heat until hot, and then put the water back into the tub. Repeat until the water is warm enough to bathe in, but remember that your husband gets to bathe first, then any of your sons, and then you. The smaller girl children can use the water last.

Oh, you'll need soap, too. Burn a bunch of bracken or wood until it's powdered ash. Soak the ash in water - careful, it's lye now, so it will burn your skin and cause blindness if you get it in your eyes! Now add in some melted fat. Pig's fat will work, although it's smelly. Heat and stir and heat and stir and careful not to splash, and if you get the temperature just right, your lye and your fat will emulsify and you'll end up with soap. If the proportions or the temperature isn't just perfect, it will end up greasy or just won't mix together at all. You'll have to taste it to see when it's right - the burning sharp taste of the lye will disappear when it's ready. Just don't test it too soon or often, or the lye will burn your throat and mouth.

And mind you have dinner on the table on time! And is that another soiled (cloth) diaper to change? Hey, isn't it time to get Granny her posset? You know she gets confused and belligerent if she isn't given a little milk and wine laced with poppy soaked rag to suck on. Oh, look, the children just chased the goat through the house again, and here comes the chicken after them. That's going to be a mess to clean up.

I appreciate the religious, political and social explanations for infrequent bathing, but as a mother and homemaker, I can see much more boring practical reasons why I'd discourage full body bathing under the technology of the day. Hands, face and genitals were indeed washed daily, with a rag dipped in water. A full bath was a full day's labor, and just not worth it all that often.
#7
Old 08-14-2007, 09:28 AM
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A Cecil column that may be of interest:

https://academicpursuits.us/columns/041217.html
#8
Old 08-14-2007, 11:20 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kanicbird
The Roman empire made Christianity it's official religion way before the medieval period.
So? What actually happened and what people think happened often bear very little similarity to each other. Also, the empire was pagan for most of its existence; Christianity was sporadically tolerated starting in (IIRC) the latter half of the 3rd century, and the empire no longer really existed in any formal sense late in the 5th century.

In any case, the early pagan emperors were notorious for their debauchery, and they are a substantial part of how the empire was remembered by many people of that time.
#9
Old 08-14-2007, 11:26 AM
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The thought of what women smelled like back then during certain days of the month (when she was on her period) makes me dizzy.
#10
Old 08-14-2007, 11:40 AM
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Back then? WhyNot nailed it but I can bring it even closer to home.


I stayed a long time with my poor family in India. They had what they called a "tanky", a tank full of water. It was covered over, and they'd fill it periodically. They didn't have to go get water regularly.

The water in the tanky was always cool. So you'd get some in a big pot. You'd have your brother lug the pot to the stove, which was about 12 inches off the ground - no oven - then you'd boil the water.

Meanwhile you'd pour some of the water from the tanky into a bucket. When the water boiled, you'd mix the two. It didn't matter if it was too hot/too cold. Remember, other people have to bathe too. So you took what was there and went in the bathroom.

In India a bathroom is a real bathroom. It's usually a small square room and the whole thing gets wet. So you'd sit on a low bench. You put the bucket in front of you. In the bucket would be a dipping pail. You use the dipping pail to pour water all over yourself. Then you scrub yourself down with soap. Then you pour water again to wash it off.

Want to wash long hair? Tip it forwards, so it's hanging over your face, and wash it between your legs. Make sure you don't use up all the water.

Have your period? What a nuisance, especially since I didn't wear tampons (and I don't know if Indian people use them much at all.) You usually made do. I am not going to get into the grisly details of how, suffice it to say it was tough.

Then you clean up the area around you with the last bit of the water, and come out. By this point you're shivering because the water has gotten cold.

And this is your daily bath, in a country where people generally do try to bathe regularly if only because it gets so hot. If this is what it was like as of 1993 (last time I went) small wonder they didn't want to bathe in the Middle Ages when it was even more trouble.
#11
Old 08-14-2007, 03:24 PM
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I kind of figured the practical difficulties were the reason people didn't take many.

I'll have to check out aldiboronti's site as well.
#12
Old 08-14-2007, 03:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WhyNot
Next time you want to take a shower, do this, instead:

Walk at least half a mile to a friend's house, with two buckets. Fill those buckets with cold water from their tap. Bring them back to your house and dump them into the tub. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat until you have enough water to fill your bathtub. Now take some of the water back out of the bathtub and put it in your biggest pot set over your barbeque grill out back. Heat until hot, and then put the water back into the tub. Repeat until the water is warm enough to bathe in, but remember that your husband gets to bathe first, then any of your sons, and then you. The smaller girl children can use the water last.

Oh, you'll need soap, too. Burn a bunch of bracken or wood until it's powdered ash. Soak the ash in water - careful, it's lye now, so it will burn your skin and cause blindness if you get it in your eyes! Now add in some melted fat. Pig's fat will work, although it's smelly. Heat and stir and heat and stir and careful not to splash, and if you get the temperature just right, your lye and your fat will emulsify and you'll end up with soap. If the proportions or the temperature isn't just perfect, it will end up greasy or just won't mix together at all. You'll have to taste it to see when it's right - the burning sharp taste of the lye will disappear when it's ready. Just don't test it too soon or often, or the lye will burn your throat and mouth.

And mind you have dinner on the table on time! And is that another soiled (cloth) diaper to change? Hey, isn't it time to get Granny her posset? You know she gets confused and belligerent if she isn't given a little milk and wine laced with poppy soaked rag to suck on. Oh, look, the children just chased the goat through the house again, and here comes the chicken after them. That's going to be a mess to clean up.

I appreciate the religious, political and social explanations for infrequent bathing, but as a mother and homemaker, I can see much more boring practical reasons why I'd discourage full body bathing under the technology of the day. Hands, face and genitals were indeed washed daily, with a rag dipped in water. A full bath was a full day's labor, and just not worth it all that often.
Great post. Works for me.
#13
Old 08-14-2007, 04:31 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Anaamika
Back then? WhyNot nailed it but I can bring it even closer to home.


I stayed a long time with my poor family in India. They had what they called a "tanky", a tank full of water. It was covered over, and they'd fill it periodically. They didn't have to go get water regularly.

The water in the tanky was always cool. So you'd get some in a big pot. You'd have your brother lug the pot to the stove, which was about 12 inches off the ground - no oven - then you'd boil the water.

Meanwhile you'd pour some of the water from the tanky into a bucket. When the water boiled, you'd mix the two. It didn't matter if it was too hot/too cold. Remember, other people have to bathe too. So you took what was there and went in the bathroom.

In India a bathroom is a real bathroom. It's usually a small square room and the whole thing gets wet. So you'd sit on a low bench. You put the bucket in front of you. In the bucket would be a dipping pail. You use the dipping pail to pour water all over yourself. Then you scrub yourself down with soap. Then you pour water again to wash it off.

Want to wash long hair? Tip it forwards, so it's hanging over your face, and wash it between your legs. Make sure you don't use up all the water.

Have your period? What a nuisance, especially since I didn't wear tampons (and I don't know if Indian people use them much at all.) You usually made do. I am not going to get into the grisly details of how, suffice it to say it was tough.

Then you clean up the area around you with the last bit of the water, and come out. By this point you're shivering because the water has gotten cold.

And this is your daily bath, in a country where people generally do try to bathe regularly if only because it gets so hot. If this is what it was like as of 1993 (last time I went) small wonder they didn't want to bathe in the Middle Ages when it was even more trouble.
This is pretty much, minus the long hair and the period bit, how I bathed everyday in Cuba. Our house had plumbing but there was never enough water pressure to reach anyhting but a faucet in our backyard about 6 inches off the ground.
#14
Old 08-14-2007, 04:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WhyNot
Repeat until the water is warm enough to bathe in, but remember that your husband gets to bathe first, then any of your sons, and then you. The smaller girl children can use the water last.
The last to bathe of course is the baby, then the water is emptied (tubs often had a pitcher-mouth shape for easy dumping). Hence the phrase "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater", and one reason for such high infant mortality rates.

Which brings another issue: since only the richest of the rich could afford clean bathwater for everybody, baths had to be recycled and thus they weren't that hygienic. Because you'd have to bathe after the master of the house and others you could easily catch diseases or sores they may have, which helped lead to another prejudice against bathing as unhealthy. (Same goes for towels- you certainly couldn't expect everybody to use a fresh clean cloth just to dry themselves off- and the Romans of course used those scythe shaped scrapers.)

I have a friend who grew up in a moderately wealthy (by their standards) extended family in rural Laos. The family home consisted of several related immediate families and their servants; one of the servants did nothing but bring water to the house for cooking/bathing/cleaning/drinking/etc. and purify it by boiling. It was a full-time job.

In ancient Rome the "common" people did not bathe in their houses but in the many public baths with water that continually circulated through pipes and was heated in parts of the bath courtesy of the world's unluckiest slaves (temperatures could reach 200 degrees F to the slaves- death by heat stroke was very common). They also only used commodes (the ceramic variety, not the flush kind) in their homes unless they had no other choice as toilets were also public and provided on each block. In medieval Europe the vast majority of people were of course rural and in the cities the leaders did not provide baths or toilets.

I was watching a show on History Channel last night about Underground Edinburgh, where in the 17th century whole neighborhoods complete with streets and houses and businesses existed underground. The biggest problem they had was water and sewage and one of the big reasons the place was abandoned was because a river of sewage began to run from people emptying their pots and their household water into the vaulted streets, which of course also wiped out thousands of people with the diseases it carried (which was blamed on everything from witches to those dang meddling Jews to airborne spirits, germs being only beginning to be theorized) and the afflicted being confined to their homes (which of course wiped out everybody in the home as often as not). Water disposal was a huge problem everywhere.

My own oldest relatives, most of them born in the last 2 decades of the 20th century, didn't bathe, nor did my father (born in the 1920s) but about once a week. By the time running water became a factor their habits were set, and there are actually hygiene books from the time that warn about the dangers of overwashing.

I love reading accounts of the southeastern Indians when they first encountered white Europeans. As usually happens when two such diverse cultures encounter each other, they each regarded the other as savages, the Indians often referring to Europeans by words that meant "rotten meat" because of their smell. OTOH, Indians used grease and fat like we would use shampoo and lotion, which the whites considered barbaric. (Not relevant but interesting: some southeastern Indians thought of whites as sexually degenerate because they seemed to think nothing of adultery but valued virginity in their wives {Southeastern Indians were the exact opposite: virginity was nice for a wife but hardly a dealbreaker, but once married she and her husband were expected to be faithful with major penalties if they weren't, and if the temptations were too much divorce was simple and available- to whites, virgin brides were valued but marriage was eternal so adultery was often tolerated with discretion}; whites viewed Indians here as sexually degenerate because Indians had no great modesty when it came to sex or masturbation, so you'd see couples and singles doing both in full view.)

Last edited by Sampiro; 08-14-2007 at 04:53 PM.
#15
Old 08-14-2007, 04:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sampiro
The last to bathe of course is the baby, then the water is emptied (tubs often had a pitcher-mouth shape for easy dumping). Hence the phrase "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater", and one reason for such high infant mortality rates.
Snopes would disagree with you there.

We can't copy/paste from snopes, and I don't really want to write the whole thing out, so I'm afraid I can't give you the direct quote.
#16
Old 08-14-2007, 05:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sampiro

I was watching a show on History Channel last night about Underground Edinburgh, where in the 17th century whole neighborhoods complete with streets and houses and businesses existed underground. )
Woah! This show was about Mary Kings Close and the like, right? When people lived there the closes weren't underground, but were more like dark canyons with very narrow streets in between seven storey tenements. The underground bit came about when the closes were abandoned, partially demolished and built on top of (using the lower parts of the tenements as a foundation) in the middle of the 18th century. Those foundations are what can be visited today. Of course, the sanitary conditions in the closes would have been just as you describe.
#17
Old 08-14-2007, 05:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zoggie
Snopes would disagree with you there.

We can't copy/paste from snopes, and I don't really want to write the whole thing out, so I'm afraid I can't give you the direct quote.
Geez, can't a guy make a leetle joke in GQ anymore? You honestly thought Sampiro thought that babies used to routinely get lost in baths?
#18
Old 08-14-2007, 05:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zoggie
Snopes would disagree with you there.

We can't copy/paste from snopes, and I don't really want to write the whole thing out, so I'm afraid I can't give you the direct quote.
I'm not implying they actually lost the babies, but the saying does come from the habit of emptying the water after the babies were washed, meaning the water was finished since kids usually bathed from oldest to youngest. Rather like "Don't put the cart before the horse" doesn't come from people actually doing that.
#19
Old 08-14-2007, 05:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WhyNot
Next time you want to take a shower, do this, instead:

Walk at least half a mile to a friend's house, with two buckets. Fill those buckets with cold water from their tap. . . .

Oh, you'll need soap, too. Burn a bunch of bracken or wood . . .

I appreciate the religious, political and social explanations for infrequent bathing, but as a mother and homemaker, I can see much more boring practical reasons why I'd discourage full body bathing under the technology of the day. Hands, face and genitals were indeed washed daily, with a rag dipped in water. A full bath was a full day's labor, and just not worth it all that often.
Under those circumstances, I'd make a lot of soap every couple of months. Bathing? Maybe a spongebath (ragbath)--all over, not just hands, face, and crotch. I might bathe in cold water as fast as possible, while screaming, "Holy Fuck, that's cold!" (That's what I did long ago for a few months when the gas company shut us off.) And there's always the ponds of summer. I can't see shunning bathing the way I gather they did back then.

It cracks me up when I hear about how hard our fast-paced modern life is, because everything was harder under the technology of the past. Just one example: ever try to bake bread? It's a pain-in-the-ass, all-day affair, and that's with powdered yeast, pre-ground flour, and a thermostatically controlled oven. I really wouldn't want to have to do it every day, but if our ancestors were as lazy as we are, they'd have run around naked eating dirt. I can't see people used to backbreaking labor for everything saying, "That's where I draw the line!" when it came to keeping clean, and other cultures with no better technology did somehow manage to bathe. Maybe not autoclave themselves every morning like we do, but why didn't medieval Christian Europe get the stink off now and then?
#20
Old 08-14-2007, 07:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Captain Carrot
So? What actually happened and what people think happened often bear very little similarity to each other. Also, the empire was pagan for most of its existence; Christianity was sporadically tolerated starting in (IIRC) the latter half of the 3rd century, and the empire no longer really existed in any formal sense late in the 5th century.

In any case, the early pagan emperors were notorious for their debauchery, and they are a substantial part of how the empire was remembered by many people of that time.
So, you now have to show that Rome was looked down upon by most people. Hmm, you have three Empires all trying to claim they are the legit successor to the mantle of Rome, so it isn't the Royalty and Nobility. The Chruch was run from Rome, so it wasn't the Church. The peasants were illiterate and knew squat about Rome.

So you have to show a large group of dudes that knew about ancient Rome, disapproved of Rome and also associated the practice of bathing with the Romans, and only the Romans, as the Greeks also bathed but were very highly regarded.

So, got a cite?

And, AFAIK the few that did disaprove of the Roman baths, disapproved of the public part of the baths.

As others have said, the Medieval Europeans did bath, anyway.

AFAIK, people didn't bath as much as they did today for the simple reason it was difficult to do so. Having been out camping for extended periods, I didn't bath either- hands & face, and maybe a dip in the creek or lake,where soap could not be used. If everyone skips bathing, the you don't really notice the smell.
#21
Old 08-14-2007, 08:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by coffeecat
Maybe not autoclave themselves every morning like we do, but why didn't medieval Christian Europe get the stink off now and then?
Again, they did. The people who are quoted as being proud of not bathing (i.e. Napoleon's letter to Josephine - "Don't bathe, I'm coming!") aren't the hovel dwellers but the really, really rich. That is, the one's who were proud of the fact that they didn't need to sweat. So asking why they didn't bathe is like asking why foot binding was popular or why long fingernails were sexy or pale skin beautiful or tanned skin beautiful - each one was, to its culture, a signal of wealth and prosperity, essentially saying, "I don't toil in the fields all day like SOME people!"

Most regular folks weren't THAT adverse to bathing, and they bathed something daily somehow. They just didn't share the notion that one would even want to immerse themselves in water everyday. Neither do a lot of people today.

Didn't we just have a thread about how disgusting Americans seem to some other cultures because we wipe our asses with dry paper after shitting instead of splashing, spraying or rubbing with water? Same difference of cultural standards.
#22
Old 08-14-2007, 09:27 PM
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You know, DrDeth, I think I was wrong.
#23
Old 08-14-2007, 10:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sampiro
My own oldest relatives, most of them born in the last 2 decades of the 20th century...
Your oldest relatives are no older than 27?
#24
Old 08-15-2007, 04:01 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sampiro
I have a friend who grew up in a moderately wealthy (by their standards) extended family in rural Laos. The family home consisted of several related immediate families and their servants; one of the servants did nothing but bring water to the house for cooking/bathing/cleaning/drinking/etc. and purify it by boiling. It was a full-time job.
They have (or had) such servants in India, too. In parts of the North, at least, they are called bishtis. Bishti is also used to designate a Moslem caste of water bearers; in some village one or more bishtis have the job of hauling water for the whole village. In Paul Scott's Raj Quartet, the bishti is frequently mentioned as preparing a bath for a British officer or upper class British family.
#25
Old 08-15-2007, 09:28 AM
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A couple weeks ago I had an unexpected water cut on my apartment, 10 minutes before I had to leave to work; I managed to completely bathe (minus washing my hair with shampoo) with a 2 litre water bottle*. You really dont really need many buckets of water to get yourself clean.

Oh yes, they restored the water 2 minutes after I bathed, the bastards.



*I got an "Honorary Bedouin" certificate as a result.
#26
Old 08-15-2007, 10:22 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by coffeecat
Under those circumstances, I'd make a lot of soap every couple of months. Bathing? Maybe a spongebath (ragbath)--all over, not just hands, face, and crotch.

[snip]

but if our ancestors were as lazy as we are, they'd have run around naked eating dirt. I can't see people used to backbreaking labor for everything saying, "That's where I draw the line!" when it came to keeping clean, and other cultures with no better technology did somehow manage to bathe. Maybe not autoclave themselves every morning like we do, but why didn't medieval Christian Europe get the stink off now and then?
First off they did do that at times. Second, you're talking about a very dangerous checmical process with no saefty goglles or anything. People routinely died making lye.

Second, while backbreaking labor was not forieng tio them, yes, they were exactly as lazy as we were. Every additional peice of work is more calories to burn and if you just plowed a field that day, you're not doing anything unneccessary if you can even walk upright.
#27
Old 08-15-2007, 08:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zoggie
We can't copy/paste from snopes, and I don't really want to write the whole thing out, so I'm afraid I can't give you the direct quote.
Actually you can, with a little work. Just select the whole page with ctl-A, paste it into Notepad or any editor, and delete the bits you don't want, then you can paste those in here.
#28
Old 08-15-2007, 10:22 PM
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Kinda makes me wonder why use of the strigil died out.
#29
Old 08-16-2007, 08:47 AM
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If the hot water does fail you right before you need to wash your hair, a tea kettle will do the job. Full with water, heat up and pour on hair when in he tub/shower or leaning over the sink. The standard kettle holds just enough to wet your hair. Then refill and heat while working in the shampoo, and use a full kettle for rinsing.
#30
Old 08-16-2007, 10:52 AM
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Many Europeans, poor included, did bathe regularly. The Viking Saturday bath was pointed out above; I'll also mention that the Finns had their sauna, and the Russians the banya. The sauna was the first building built on any new farm, and the family lived in it while the house was being built. It was kept scrupulously clean, and women went there to give birth, which makes sense, as it was a clean, warm place, with warm washing water available. Even if soap was in short supply, people would get a nice clean pine and birch scents from the wood benches and from the whisks, used to stimulate circulation. Jumping into a cold lake, or rolling in the snow in between getting good and hot in the sauna, stimulates circulation even more.

Even in modern times, the sauna is an important setting not only for getting clean (and after a good sweat in the sauna and a wash, you feel clean inside and out, not like a bath where you marinate in your dirt), but for socialization and business and political negotiations.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finnish_sauna
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banya_(sauna)

Europe is not just the UK and France and Germany.
#31
Old 08-17-2007, 12:18 PM
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Christians did disapprove of bathing because it had pagan associations, but it had nothing to do with Rome.

In pagan western europe, there were a number of related pagan religions, the best known being Druidism. The Druids practised ritual bathing, and cleanliness was an important part of their culture.

When Christianity was in the process of taking over, they did two things:

1. They took over some elements of pre-Christian religious practice. For instance, they built churches on the sites of pre-Christian temples and holy places. Yule, the winter solstice, became Christmas. And so on.

2. They discouraged practices that were identified with the old religions. Druids washed as part of their ritual, so anyone who washed too regularly was in danger of being accused of being a secret pagan.

Simple as that. Since it was literally dangerous to wash too often, it didn't take long for it to go out of fashion. Culturally, suspicion of anyone who washed too often lasted a lot longer than memories of what led to the suspicion in the first place. We only know about Druidic ritual bathing from written records of Roman era observers. Despite the people who dress up and call themselves Druids in modern times, their beliefs and practices are only known from the records of hostile observers.
#32
Old 08-17-2007, 01:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WhyNot
Again, they did. The people who are quoted as being proud of not bathing (i.e. Napoleon's letter to Josephine - "Don't bathe, I'm coming!") aren't the hovel dwellers but the really, really rich. *snip*.
I thought that letter from Napoleon to Josephine was asking her not to bathe because he was sexually excited by her natural odors, and didn't want them washed away. This would pretty much assume that she was bathing regularly. However, the Bonapartes did not live in Medieval times so perhaps the whole question is moot.

IME, hovel dwellers are rarely quoted on anything.
#33
Old 08-17-2007, 01:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by djetz
Christians did disapprove of bathing because it had pagan associations, but it had nothing to do with Rome.

In pagan western europe, there were a number of related pagan religions, the best known being Druidism. The Druids practised ritual bathing, and cleanliness was an important part of their culture.
By the time Christianity became the religion of Rome and was able to use the state to persecute anyone, let alone bathers, Druidism only survived in Ireland, so "We don't bathe because the Druids did it" might explain why the Irish in the Middle Ages didn't bathe, but not the rest of Europe.

And, of couse, as previous posters have shown, there wasn't a particular medieval antipathy towards baths; people enjoyed bathing and bathed when they could. It was just inconvenient to do it too often.
#34
Old 08-17-2007, 01:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Captain Amazing
By the time Christianity became the religion of Rome and was able to use the state to persecute anyone, let alone bathers, Druidism only survived in Ireland...
Much of Poland and the baltic states was still pagan up until the Knights Hospitaller crusaded through them long after the Roman Empire.

Last edited by Hypno-Toad; 08-17-2007 at 01:55 PM.
#35
Old 08-17-2007, 02:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Hypno-Toad
Much of Poland and the baltic states was still pagan up until the Knights Hospitaller crusaded through them long after the Roman Empire.
Right. But the other poster was talking about Druidism, and how ritual bathing was associated with it, so I was restricting my comments to just that.
#36
Old 08-17-2007, 02:40 PM
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Going back to the OP, I was under the impression that public baths were common until the Bla Plague. After that, people becaue terrified that a lot of things, and often public baths were seen as causing the menace. While incorrect, it wasn't a totally off guess, as contaminated bath water can spread some diseases.
#37
Old 08-17-2007, 04:53 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Captain Amazing
By the time Christianity became the religion of Rome and was able to use the state to persecute anyone, let alone bathers, Druidism only survived in Ireland, so "We don't bathe because the Druids did it" might explain why the Irish in the Middle Ages didn't bathe, but not the rest of Europe.

And, of couse, as previous posters have shown, there wasn't a particular medieval antipathy towards baths; people enjoyed bathing and bathed when they could. It was just inconvenient to do it too often.
I didn't mean pagan ritual washing was the only reason, I meant that it was one of the reasons. The Romans in England wiped out the Druid priesthood, true, but only those Britons that assimilated (and thought of themselves as "Romans") would have ditched their old spiritual beliefs. The Romans were pretty tolerant of other religions, despite the stories about throwing Christians to the lions.

The Romans occupied England from 54 AD till around the year 400. That's a long time, but Christianity was only significant there after around 300, and it didn't really take over as the dominant religion till long after the Romans had left.

So what did the general population worship between the suppression of the Druid priesthood before the year 100 and the takeover of Christianity around 600?

Well, after the Romans left, England was invaded by the Anglo-Saxons. Who were pagans. Who had, in fact, much the same spiritual beliefs and practices as the Druids. And it was only after the Anglo-Saxons - including their religion - took over that Christian missionaries started arriving in force.

As the Hypno-Toad points out, much of northern europe was completely pagan up until the first millennium. And those pagans practised ritual bathing, same as the Druids, right up to medieval times when Christianity became all powerful in Europe.

So, an important fact in the debate about why bathing wasn't popular in medieval times is that bathing was identified with *current* pagan practices.

I mentioned the Druids because everybody's heard of them. I was not saying that there were still "Druids" in the dark ages, I was saying that the spiritual practices of the dominant pagan religions at the time were druid-like.

Ritual bathing was a regular part of pagan practice until Christianity completely took over. It was then suppressed by the Church. This then influenced society's attitude towards regular bathing. I'm not saying it's the complete answer, I am saying it is part of the answer.

To quote the original question: "So, why did medieval Europeans hate baths? And why was not taking a bath something to be proud of?"

"Bathing was identified with pagan religions" is an important part of the answer.
#38
Old 08-17-2007, 05:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by djetz
I mentioned the Druids because everybody's heard of them. I was not saying that there were still "Druids" in the dark ages, I was saying that the spiritual practices of the dominant pagan religions at the time were druid-like.

Ritual bathing was a regular part of pagan practice until Christianity completely took over. It was then suppressed by the Church. This then influenced society's attitude towards regular bathing. I'm not saying it's the complete answer, I am saying it is part of the answer.

To quote the original question: "So, why did medieval Europeans hate baths? And why was not taking a bath something to be proud of?"

"Bathing was identified with pagan religions" is an important part of the answer.
But what I'm saying is, first of all, that the question is flawed. It's like asking, "Why don't Americans eat dairy products?" I could probably come up with all sorts of theories as to why Americans don't, some of them really plausable. The problem with all my theories is that, for the most part, Americans do eat dairy products. It's the same with "Why did medieval Europeans hate baths?" Before trying to come up with an answer to the question, you need to make sure the assumptions behind the question is true, and in that case, it's not. Medieval Europeans didn't hate baths. They liked baths. They took baths. They built public baths. They drew pictures of people bathing. They wrote about bathing.

In fact, here's a picture from the Manesse Codex of a guy being bathed:

http://manesse.de/img/020.jpg

Secondly, where's your evidence either that other pagan practices were like the Druids, or that the Church condemned bathing for that reason? Some church leaders did condemn bathing, but the reasons they gave had nothing to do with paganism. The main complaints they had about bathing were that bathing too often was indulgent, and that mixed bathing could lead to sex. Nothing about paganism.
#39
Old 08-17-2007, 07:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by djetz
In pagan western europe, there were a number of related pagan religions, the best known being Druidism. The Druids practised ritual bathing, and cleanliness was an important part of their culture.
Pretty much everything we know about Druids was written by the pagan Romans, and I don't remember anyhing about bathing.

And, even if you try to cover this with a "well it wasn't the Druids, it was other pagan religions" they were pretty damn different (from what little we know the Celts and Viking pagan faiths were very different)and in any case we know very little about their actual religious practices.


So, Cite?

Last edited by DrDeth; 08-17-2007 at 07:42 PM.
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