life on wheels
So I know nothing about The Witcher and I just started watching the show, but I would die for Yennefer and Istredd, and yes I know that they are both lying and manipulating each other but also he is soft and good to her and she deserves it and I also wanna see her come into some power so yeah
Before oven thermometers existed, one way to check the temperature of your oven was to stick your hand inside and recite an Our Father. The length of time before you snatch your hand out was timed by how far you’d gotten in the prayer. The shorter the time, the hotter the oven. So you knew that if you wanted a hot oven to bake bread, you wanted your hand out by “kingdom” (for example) but to slow cook a stew, you might want the oven cool enough to get to “trespasses”.
I would be extremely surprised if medieval people didn’t use prayers while cooking. You don’t want to roast an egg for too long, have it explode, and get hot yolk in your eye. :P
I know that church bells were definitely used as timekeepers.
I wonder if this shows up in other historical areas besides medicine?
I ask because I have a very Italian, very Catholic friend who was once describing how she makes pizzelles. They’re cooked in a specific press, similar to a waffle iron, long enough to get light and crispy but not burnt, and in her own words: “I don’t know the exact time it takes to cook them in seconds, but I usually do either two Hail Mary’s or an Our Father and a Glory Be.”
The length of time it takes to say a paternoster was a typical method of reckoning time in the Middle Ages. It’s likely that whoever wrote this remedy down was thinking of it both as a prayer and a timespan and that whoever read it would have understood it the same way.
Fun little thing about medieval medicine.
So there’s this old German remedy for getting rid of boils. A mix of eggshells, egg whites, and sulfur rubbed into the boil while reciting the incantation and saying five Paternosters. And according to my prof’s friend (a doctor), it’s all very sensible. The eggshells abrade the skin so the sulfur can sink in and fry the boil. The egg white forms a flexible protective barrier. The incantation and prayers are important because you need to rub it in for a certain amount of time.
It’s easy to take the magic words as superstition, but they’re important.
This popped up in “Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook” as well, though there the timing method wasn’t prayer but X verses of “Where Has All The Custard Gone?”
Other timing methods are “a while” (approx. 35 mins) and “a good while” (variable, up to 10 years, which the book suggests is a bit long to let batter rest before making pancakes…)
All absolutely standard, and also varied from region to region. The use of prayer was more common than most, since the Catholic church had a monopoly on… well, pretty much everything. And all the prayers were in Latin, and at a specific cadence, so the effect is similar to watching the second hand on a clock today.
it’s important to note that to the medieval people the prayers were important because of timekeeping AND god. like, i think as modern people we do tend to want it to be “just timekeeping, they weren’t just superstitious idiots, they had a good reasonable scientific reason!” but it’s also important to remember just how culturally steeped in a mystical religion they were, a relationship with christianity entirely unlike the modern relationship found in modern american culture even amongst the most religious people. i have no doubt that in the medieval mind, they were aware of the prayer being the time it took but also if there had BEEN another way to measure that time, the prayer would have been held to be preferable and important in its own right because of the importance of spiritual assistance in worldly things like bread-baking
Definitely, this is a great point! I was talking to somebody in the comments who was saying that medieval medicine was mostly bunkum because it involves spirituality, supposedly meaning it couldn’t also have logical basis behind it. But that’s a really modern way to see it. To the medieval worldview, those things aren’t contradictory. They’re part of each other. Think about how many medieval Christian scientists were monks, nuns, and priests.
M Y T I M E H A S C O M E
You guys don’t understand how excited it made me to read this post, I literally wrote my master’s thesis on this exact topic.
Sometime in the 10th century in Anglo-Saxon England (for context, this is before the Norman Conquest and near-ish to the reign of Alfred the Great), a dude named Bald asked another dude name Cild to write a book. Not just any book. A leechbook, which was essentially the medieval version of WebMD for practicing doctors. BUT NOT JUST A LEECHBOOK. This leechbook was gonna be the damn Lamborghini of leechbooks. This thing was going to be split into two parts, the first dealing with external medicine and the second dealing with internal medicine—something that was unheard of at the time. It was going to be organized(head to toe, like all the good leechbooks were). It was gonna be nice(leather and vellum). It was gonna use all the best ideas (from all over the known world). And the whole thing was going to be written in Anglo-Saxon. Now, a few medical books had been compiled in Anglo-Saxon before, but none like this. This one was going to be EPIC. And it was—and still is.
Bald’s Leechbook (also goes by the more boring but more informative MS Royal 12 D XVIII over in the British Library) contains a lotof medical remedies. A lot of them rely on things like prayers and chants and odd charms, like one for a headache, which recommends plucking the eyes off a living crab, letting the crab back into the water, and wearing the eyes about your neck in a little sack until you feel better. However, it’s worth pointing out that the really wild remedies, the stuff that makes absolutelyno freakin’ sense, is most often recommended to treat ailments that are hard to treat even today—migraines, toothaches, cancer. These things are really painful or deadly and, without modern medicine, almost impossible to treat. So are you going to make up some nonsense to make your client at least feel like they’re doing something, and hey, if it sort of works, it works? Of course you are. You want to help people. Even if it sounds crazy, what else are you going to do? You have to try something,and the people who are suffering are willing to try anything.
But there’s also things that make complete sense. To echo concepts that have been mentioned by commentators above, there is a recipe that calls for the recitation of the paternoster while boiling a honey-based salve meant to treat carbuncle. The book instructs the physician to bring it to a boil, and sing the paternoster three times, and remove it from the fire, and sing nine paternosters, and to repeat this process two more times. A century ago, historians read the use of the paternoster as a magical incantation, but today, most agree that in lieu of a stopwatch, the paternoster is just meant to make sure you don’t burn the honey.
BUT THAT ISN’T NEAR THE COOLEST THING.
Now, this book was compiled by a master physician (we don’t know if it was Cild himself or if Cild was the scribe for an unnamed author) who was compiling recipes that had been written down for some time, and had, as many things do, gone through various permutations over the years. Many came from Greece or the western Mediterranean, and had been adapted for local English horticulture and herbs. Some came from around what is now Germany, and some ideas came from farther away in the Middle East (King Alfred was a sickly king; some scholars believe that he had his physicians seek out cures from all over the world in an attempt to treat himself). But there is one recipe that has only ever been identified in England. Not only has this recipe only ever been identified in England, it’s only ever been identified in this one manuscript. When translated into modern English, it reads as follows:
Work an eyesalve for a wen [stye], take cropleek and garlic, of both equal quantities, pound them well together, take wine and bullocks gall, of both equal quantities, mix with the leek, put this then into a brazen vessel, let it stand nine days in the brass vessel, wring out through a cloth and clear it well, put it into a horn, and about night time, apply it with a feather to the eye; the best leechdom.
For those who don’t know and/or are lucky enough to have never had one, a “wen” or a stye is a bacterial infection that manifests like a boil or a cyst that on the eyelid. They hurt something awful, and can cause larger infections of the eye. They are usually caused by Staphylococcus aureus.
With me? Okay. Fast-forward to 1988. A former biologist turned historian called M.L. Cameron decides to take a look at this old medical leechbook to see what he can see. He takes a good look and says “Lads I do believe these Anglo-Saxon leeches weren’t nearly so daft as we thought they were” (he did not and probably would never actually say that, I’m paraphrasing). Cameron was particularly interested in the recipe above. As a scientist, he knew a few things:
- Garlic and cropleek (leek or onion, or another related plant) have been known to have antibacterial qualities for centuries.
- Wine (alcohol) also has antibacterial qualities.
- Bullocks gall (literally bile taken from a bull) is known to have detergent properties, and has long been used as an additive to soap for particularly tough stains.
- A brazen vessel, or a vessel made of brass, contains a good amount of copper in it. And that copper, when left to sit around for, I don’t know, about nine days, would have plenty of time to react with the acids in the onion and garlic and the tartarates in the wine to create copper salts.
- Coppers salts, as it happens, are cytotoxic, meaning they kill everything: tissue andbacteria.
What an interesting find.
Fast-forward again to 2015. A paper is published by a team from the University of Nottingham, who’ve been working on an ‘Ancientbiotics’ project to investigate ancient medical remedies and see if they actually work. They’ve turned their sights to the Anglo-Saxons, and are, as was Cameron, particularlyinterested in this recipe for an eye salve. Without boring you with the finer details of the experiment and its various trials (read it yourself!) I will spoil the ending by telling you that they discovered a few things:
- This recipe, which was over 1,000 years old when they tested it, worked.
- It worked well.
- It worked extremely well.
- So well, in fact, that (in a lab setting) they even got it to kill Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or as it’s more commonly known, MRSA. MRSA is a modern superbug that has built up a resistance to the antibiotic Methicillin. And this goddamn Anglo-Saxon witches’ brew freakin murderedit.
Now, as an advocate for modern medicine and sound scientific method, I’m not about to say that we should go throwing this salve on everything in 2019, because it is, if anything, just a starting point for modern scientists. This salve is still incredibly crude by modern standards and comes with a lot of potential problems. But as a historian… it works,you guys, it really works.
Medieval physicians were not idiots. They believed in magic, they believed in all things supernatural, they believed in all those things that are ‘unreasonable’ or unpopular today, and they practiced them too. But they also interacted with the real world with brains and intellects as sharp if not sharper than yours and mine. They were smart, they studied, they talked to each other in Latin and Greek and Arabic and Anglo Saxon. They made old recipes better and came up with brand new ones. They tried dumb stuff and they tried smart stuff. They didn’t have access to even the smallest fraction of the information we have at our fingertips today, and yet they created things like this.
To this day, no one knows who created the eyesalve recipe. And no one trulyunderstands why this is the only copy of it. If it worked so well, why isn’t it plastered to the headings of every medical textbook from Alfred to Victoria? Speaking personally, I would argue that it has to do with language. Not so long after Bald’s Leechbook was written, the French invaded England and took over. Latin and French became the language of the court, and while Anglo-Saxon lived on throughout the country, and certainly lay doctors would have used Anglo-Saxon books daily, the language of formal English medical education was Latin. Oxford and Cambridge were late to the medical ed game after Salerno, Bologna, Paris, and Montpellier, and naturally fell in step with continental schools as a result, using Latin almost exclusively, and sometimes Greek or Arabic.
Point being, by the time medical licenses and medical college degrees are a thing in England, not only does almost no one of university-eligible class speak Anglo-Saxon anymore, no one has use for those Old English texts, because they don’t get you your degree, and you can’t make a living as a doctor without a degree and doctor’s license. And no one’s going to translate an old Anglo Saxon text into Latin when Avicenna’s newest old hit, now in Latin, is fresh off the boat from France.
All that to say:
Never write something off because it’s old. 1,000 years is a long time ago, but human ingenuity and intelligence are hardly modern inventions. The science of the world hasn’t changed; only our tools and our perspective.
Thanks for coming to my TED talk
- The 2015 Ancientbiotics report: A 1,000-Year-Old Antimicrobial Remedy with Antistaphylococcal Activity
- NPR: ‘Ancientbiotics’ Researchers Look For Old Fixes To Modern Ailments
- Mental Floss: 20 Anglo-Saxon Remedies from Bald’s Leechbook
- Read a paper about how scholars are building on the work of the Ancientbiotics project to better understand how to apply ancient ideas effectively to modern medicine.
- Look through Royal 12 D XVIII for yourself! Bald’s eyesalve recipe is on f. 12v and looks like this:
What I took away from this post is Jews have no way of telling time.
Check the notes, I’m pretty sure people have added some old timey Jewish timekeeping.
THIS IS WHAT IM TALKING ABOUT WHEN I SAY THAT MAGIC AND SCIENCE FOLLOW THE SAME IMPETUS
i want to write the kind of short stories you read in english class that are on this weird level of surrealism that they still haunt you years down the road
Obi Wan: He is deceptive, using the backdoor approach, always takes them by surprise. Rarely confrontational. Prefers to mislead his targets. If plan fails and confrontation required, a robe drop is a must.
Anakin: Bold, brash and crazy. Makes lot of noise. Captain America approved front door approach always. Missions boarder on suicidal. 10/10 would not recommend. Would kill anyone else who tried.
Asohka: See Anakin’s
Kanan Jarrus: Super strategic, well thought out. Extremely adaptable to change. Often relies on precision timing.
Ezra: Super creative. Can and will use any means available. Super great when mission seems impossible. 9/10 will involve animals.
Luke: Dramatic AF. 10x more confrontational than Anakin. Probably sent in four people beforehand for no reason. Death defying escape route. Did not plan ahead for contingencies. R2 probably saves the mission.
Ah the tolerant, pro-woman, compassionate pro-choice movement.
After fertilization the child has its own unique genetic code from the mother and father, containing everything it needs to know how to develop, an organism exists after fertilization that did not exist before. This is a scientific fact. This is a unique human life. An abortion ends this life.
I had worn makeup at sixteen to my college interviews; I’d worn makeup at my gymnastic meets when I was ten. In the photos I have of myself at ballet recitals when I was six or seven, I’m wearing mascara and blush and lipstick, and I’m so happy. What did it mean, I wondered, that I have spent so much of my life attempting to perform well in circumstances where an unaltered female face is aberrant? How had I been changed by an era in which ordinary humans receive daily metrics that appear to quantify how our personalities and our physical selves are performing on the market? What was the logical end of this escalating back-and-forth between digital and physical improvement?
On Instagram, I checked up on the accounts of the plastic surgeons I had visited, watching comments roll in: “this is what I need! I need to come see you ASAP!”, “want want want,” “what is the youngest you could perform this procedure?” I looked at the Instagram account of a singer born in 1999, who had become famous as a teen-ager and had since given herself an entirely new face. I met up with a bunch of female friends for dinner in L.A. that night, two of whom had already adopted injectables as part of their cosmetic routine. They looked beautiful. The sun went down, and the hills of L.A. started to glitter. I had the sense that I was living in some inexorable future. For some days afterward, I noticed that I was avoiding looking too closely at my face.
i kno this is a #hot take but there is nothing wrong with having acne actually, and having imperfect skin in general is a normal thing that says nothing about your personal hygiene.
every person on this post giving out unprompted skincare advice owes me $300 and an essay on why it’s rude
my heart: *suddenly beats extremely irregularly and heavy in my chest for several seconds for no reason*
My teeth and jaw: *randomly twinge with pain when I’m doing something innocent like take a drink of water or exist*
tired of people sleeping on Chris Evans’ acting ability when he is consistently forced to do unbelievable tasks: (1) pretending that he couldn’t do a push up in cap one, (2) pretending that he doesn’t like dogs in knives out.
a female protagonist not being conventionally attractive isn’t a detriment to a movie just so yall know