Saturday, June 29, 2013

How to Cure a Hangover, c. 78

"Wild and cultivated violets... when made into garlands and placed on the head, relieve hangover and head colds with their scent." 
Pliny the Elder, Natural History (c. 78 AD)
Searching the meadows for wild violets is a drag the morning after a Dionysian toga party. But you will have the prettiest hangover since Roman antiquity.

Friday, June 28, 2013

How to Garden with Lobsters, 1777

"Dear Past, Bugs are eating my squash plants. How can I get rid of them? Sincerely, A Gardener"

"Procure the hollow claws of Lobsters, Crabs, &c. and hanging them in different parts of the garden, the insects creep into them, and are easily taken; but the claws must be often searched." 
The Complete Vermin-Killer (1777)
The problem with this remedy is that you'll have to eat a lot of lobsters. Organic gardening is full of hardships.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

How to Make a Dragon out of Fireworks, 1658

"How to make a Dragon, or the like, to run on the Line, spitting of fire. The body of the Dragon must be made either with Past-board, or with fine rods of wicker, being hollow, with a place in the belly to put in two Rockets... first set it at the eyes and mouth... then fire that Rocket which is placed with his mouth toward the tayl of the Dragon, which will make it seem to cast fire from thence till he come to the end of his motion; and then on a sudden (as a creature wounded with some accident) shall return with fire coming forth of his belly: This being well ordered, will give good content to the beholders of the same."
John White, "The School of Artificial Fire-Works," A Rich Cabinet (1658)
If this spectacle goes according to plan, a creature who appears to have been wounded in some accident will hurtle around spewing fire. If it goes awry, the fireworks technician will do the same. Either way the beholders will be amazed.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How to Party Like a Scholar, 1558

"It is not fitting to be melancholy or distracted in the company of others. This may be accepted of people who have long pursued studies in the arts which, as I have heard, are called 'liberal arts,' but it should not, under any condition, be allowed of other people."  
Giovanni della Casa, Il Galateo overo de' costumi (1558)
They’re called liberal arts because they liberate you from the duty to socialize without weeping.

Domenico Fetti, Malinconia (c. 1620), Louvre

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How to Swim Like a Man, 1855

"Every swimmer should use short drawers, and might, in particular places, use canvass slippers. It is even of great importance to be able to swim in jacket and trousers."  
Donald Walker, Walker's Manly Exercises (1855)

You have to get to a job interview, and the bridge is out. Do you miss the appointment, or arrive in your short drawers? Neither. You wear your suit. Like a man. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

How to Sniggle, 1653

"And because you that are but a young angler, know not what snigling is, I will now teach it to you: ... you observing your time in a warm day, when the water is lowest, may take a hook tied to a strong line, or to a string about a yard long, and then into... any place where you think an Eele may hide or shelter her selfe, there with the help of a short stick put in your bait, but leisurely, and as far as you may conveniently; and it is scarce to be doubted, but that if there be an Eel within the sight of it, the Eele will bite instantly, and as certainly gorge it... but pull him out by degrees, for he lying folded double in his hole, will, with the help of his taile, break all, unless you give him time to be wearied with pulling."
          Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler (1653)

Also, young angler, do not confuse sniggling with snuggling. Sniggling is a recommended technique for catching eels; snuggling with eels is strictly discretionary.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

How to Choose Your Seat on a Ship, 1458

Noah's Ark: probably smoldering hot and stinking.
BnF Fr. 28 f. 66v (Rouen, s. XV)

"Furste, yf ye goo in a galey... chese yow a place in the seyd galey in the overest stage; for in the lawyst vnder hyt ys ryght smolderyng hote and stynkyng." 
("First, if you go in a galley... choose yourself a place in the said galley in the top deck; for in the lowest underneath it is right smoldering hot and stinking.")
The Itineraries of William Wey (1458)

William Wey gives the galley two stars on TripAdvisor. It gets you to sondry londes, but you have to deal with the stynk. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

How to Impress Girls at a Dance, 1530

Fabritio Caroso, Il Ballarino (1581)
"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 (1530)

That Antonius Arena. He really understands the enigmatic desires of womankind not to dance with a leeky, slobbering fart-monster. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

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 (c. 13th century)

When you can't brush, fumigate! Recommended by nine out of ten medieval dentists.

Ask your dentist about a commemorative tooth-necklace.
BL, MS Royal 6 (c. 1360-75)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How to Adorn Yourself, 1899

But what's below the furbelow?

"Dear Past, Should I adorn myself with furbelows?  How much is too much? Sincerely, Plainly in the Present"

"Friends, never follow the far-fetched, fleeting, fantastic freaks; the frivolous, farcical follies of Fashion... fancying you are fascinating, when you really are frumps, funny fools at finest functions, for all your furbelows and Frenchified fixings." 
Kate Sanborn, "Fashion, and How Far to Follow It" (1899)

Furbelows are like alliteration: best when used sparingly. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How to Detect Makeup, 1677

Artemisia Gentileschi,
Susanna and the Elders (1610)
"So that we may recognize made-up faces, do thus. Chew a bit of saffron in your teeth, and bring your mouth close to her face while speaking, so that your breath will cause the makeup to lose color, and make it yellowish, but if she is not wearing makeup, there will be no harm."   
Pompeo Sarnelli, Della magia naturale      (1677)
After you have executed this clever maneuver, you'll want to return to your library in search of advice regarding "what to do when your lady friend asks why you are creeping around breathing on her face and dear God what is that yellow stuff on your mouth."

Monday, June 17, 2013

How to Run, 1836

"The tread is neither with the mere balls of the toes, nor with the whole sole of the foot; and the spring is made rapidly from one foot to the other, so that they pass each other with great velocity... A mile in five minutes is good running. Two miles in ten minutes is oftener failed than accomplished. Four miles in twenty is said to puzzle the cleverest." 
Donald Walker, British Manly Exercises (1836)
It's hard to focus on division problems when you're dashing around in a top hat, but take it from The Past: if you can run four miles in twenty minutes, you are a genius

Sunday, June 16, 2013

How to Succeed at University, c. 1316

Cantigas de Santa Maria, 13th century
"I have recently discovered that you live dissolutely and slothfully, preferring license to restraint and play to work and strumming a guitar while the others are at their studies, whence it happens that you have read but one volume of law while your more industrious companions have read several. Wherefore I have decided to exhort you herewith to repent utterly of your dissolute and careless ways, that you may no longer be called a waster and your shame may be turned to good repute." 
Letter from a father to his son in Orléans (c. 1316)
For Father's Day, some advice from a medieval dad who thinks his son should not major in Guitar Hero. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

How to Cure Laryngitis, 1579

"Laye a thynne peece of rawe Beefe, to the forehead of them that have lost theyr voyce, and let it lye thereto all nyght unremoved: and it wyll helpe them presently, or at the least within three or fowre severall applications."
Thomas Lupton, A Thousand Notable Things (1579)

After three or four applications the patient will not only be speaking, but also screaming at you to stop plastering him with raw beef. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

How to Predict Rain, c. 300 BC

"Nonaquatic birds bathing themselves are a sign of rain or storm. And a toad washing itself and frogs croaking more than usual signal rain. Likewise the appearance of the lizard which they call "salamander"; and furthermore a green frog singing in a tree signals rain... Likewise, if a tame duck makes its way under the cornice of a house and flaps its wings, this signals rain... If a cooking vessel filled to the brim emits sparks all over it is a sign of rain. Centipedes in large numbers creeping towards the wall are a sign of rain." 
Theophrastus of Eresus, On Weather Signs (c. 300 BC)

Just face it: it's going to rain. (Also, centipedes in large numbers creeping towards the wall are a sign that you should call an exterminator.)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

How to Make Coffee, 1685

"We must now particularize the preparation of this Drink made with Coffee... The Grain... is put into an Iron Instrument firmly shut together with the coverlid; through this Instrument they thrust a Spit, by the means whereof they turn it before the Fire, till it shall be well rosted; after which having beaten it into very fine Powder, you may make use thereof... and put it into a glass of boyling Water, putting a little Sugar thereto: And after having let it boyl a small time, you must pour it into little dishes of porcelain or any other sort, and so let it be drunk by little and little, as hot as it can possibly be indur'd."

John Chamberlayn, The Manner of Making Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate (1685)

The barista will be charmed when you outline the requirements for your morning order of seventeenth-century spit-roasted coffee. For clarity, bring along a diagram of The Instrument.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

How to Dress for Dancing, 1530

In case of dance emergency, pull cord.
Cesare Negri, Nuove inventioni di balli, 1604

"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 (1530)

Oh, that anxiety dream: you're getting your basse dance on with a shapely demoiselle when suddenly you realize that the codpiece on the floor is yours! Don't let it happen to you.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How to Pack for a Journey, 1480

Martellus world map, c. 1490

"[A traveler] should carry with him two bags: one very full of patience, the other containing two hundred Venetian ducats, or at least one hundred and fifty... furthermore, he should provision himself with good Lombard cheese, sausages, tongue, and other cured meats of every sort; white biscuits, some cakes of sugar, and various confections, but not a great quantity because they spoil quickly. Above all he should take plenty of fruit syrup, because that is what keeps a man alive in extreme heat; and also ginger syrup to settle his stomach if it is upset by too much vomiting." 
Santo Brasca, Viaggio in Terrasanta (1480)
Airport security may take your fruit syrups, and customs may confiscate your cured meats, but no one can take away your suitcase full of patience. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

How to Wash Your Hair, 12th century

"Dear Past, How often should I wash my hair and what should I wash it with? Sincerely, Hair Befuddled in the Present"

Mary Magdalene
14th century, Les Enluminures
"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 (12th century)

How frequently you should do this is not explained, but if you are going the lizard-conditioner route, my recommendation is: use sparingly.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

How to Trim Your Toenails Underwater, 1789

"To cut the Nails of the Toes in the Water... You must hold your knife in your right hand (if you are right handed) and take up your left leg, and lay the foot on the right knee; there you may take it from the left hand, and with the right cut your Nails without any danger. Thus you may also pick your Toes; and if this has no other use or advantage yet the dexterity of the management may serve to recommend it." 
Melchisédech Thévenot, The Art of Swimming (1789)
Want to take your backstroke to the next level? Tired of spending valuable exercise time on grooming and vice versa? Here is the lifehack for you! 

Friday, June 7, 2013

How to Walk on Water, 1649

"How to walke on the Water. For to doe this, take two little Timbrels, and binde them under the soles of thy feete, and at a staves end fasten another; and with these you may walke on the water, unto the wonder of all such as shall see the same: if so be you often exercise the same with a certaine boldnesse and lightnesse of the body." 
Thomas Hill, Naturall and Artificiall Conclusions (1649)
Good news: all it takes to walk on water is a couple of tambourines and a quick step! I'm off to practice this unto the wonder of all such as shall be swimming laps at the gym. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

How to Kill Bedbugs, 1777

"Spread Gun-powder, beaten small, about the crevices of your bedstead; fire it with a match, and keep the smoak in; do this for an  hour or more; and keep the room close several hours."
The Complete Vermin-Killer: A Valuable and Useful Companion for Families, in Town and Country (1777)
Oh, you want to kill the bedbugs without exploding your bed and reducing your neighborhood to a smoking pile of debris? Then you have never had bedbugs.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

How to See the Future, c. 1450

"Dear Past, What will the future be like? Regards, The Present"

BL Royal 6 E IX, f. 24 (s. XIV)

Perhaps this divination method will help: 

"'Bismille araathe mem lismissa [etc.]' When he has recited this conjuration, the master should look in the mirror, and he will see an armed knight seated on a horse, and his squire accompanying him. The knight will dismount from the horse... and then the master may ask him about past, present, and future things, and he will at once give full response in writing."

          Anonymous Necromancer's Manual (15th century)

A clairvoyant knight in shining armor who specializes in essay questions? Sign me up.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

How to Test Water Quality, c. 15 BC

"Springs should be tried and tested like this: if they flow freely in the open, one should take a good look at the physiques of the people who live in their vicinity before one starts to take water from them: if the locals have robust bodies, fresh complexions, sound legs and eyes without inflammation, then the springs will have passed the test with flying colours."
Vitruvius, On Architecture (c. 15 BC)

When the locals tell you to stop ogling their limbs, tell them you're just testing the water. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

How to Make Pink Pancakes, 1786

"To make a pink-coloured Pancake. Boil a large beet root tender, and beat it fine in a marble mortar, then add the yolks of four eggs, two spoonfuls of flour, and three spoonfuls of good cream, sweeten it to your taste, and grate in half a nutmeg, and put in a glass of brandy; beat them all together half an hour, fry them in butter, and garnish them with green sweetmeats, preserved apricots, or green sprigs of myrtle."

Elizabeth Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper, For the Use and Ease of Ladies, Housekeepers, Cooks, &c. (1786)

If your pancakes aren't pink, you are no lady. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

How to Sober Up, 1628

"That one shall not be drunke. Drink the iuyce of Yerrow fasting, and ye shall not be drunke, for no drinke; and if you were drunke it will make you sober: or else take the marrow of porke fasting, and ye shall not be drunke; and if you be drunke annoint your privie members in vineger, and ye shall waxe sober." 
The Booke of Pretty Conceits (1628)
It's best when remedies for drunkenness double as hilarious party tricks. Dousing your naughty bits in vinegar will definitely amuse your drinking companions.