Monday, March 31, 2014

How to Make Snail Bread, 1685

Joachim Camerarius, Symbolorum et Emblematum 4 (1604)
"A sort of Bread, of which a Mouthful can maintain a Man eight daies, without eating any thing else. Take a quantity of Snails, and make them void their sliminess; then dry and reduce them to fine Powder, of which make a Loaf, with a Mouthful of which a Man may be eight days without eating." 
Nicolas Lémery, Modern Curiosities of Art & Nature (1685)
One bite of this special bread and the idea of eating anything at all will nauseate you for eight days! The only problem: to learn how to make snails void their sliminess, you'll have to consult a different manual.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How to Wear Platform Shoes, 1600

Vecellio, Habiti antichi e moderni (1598)
"Now in order to walk nicely, and to wear chopines properly on one's feet, so that they do not twist or go awry (for if one is ignorant of how to wear them, one may splinter them, or fall frequently, as has been and still is observed at parties and in church), it is better for [the lady] to raise the toe of the foot she moves first when she takes a step, for by raising it thus, she straightens the knee of that foot, and this extension keeps her body attractive and erect, besides which her chopine will not fall off that foot. Also by thus raising it she avoids sliding it along [the ground], nor does she make any unpleasant noise. Then she should put it down, and repeat the same thing with the other foot (which follows)... By walking this way, therefore, even if the lady's chopines are more than a handbreadth-and-a-half high, she will seem to be on chopines only three fingerbreadths high, and will be able to dance flourishes and galliard variations at a ball, as I have just shown the world this day." 
Fabritio Caroso, Nobilità di dame (1600)
Have you ever fallen on your face at a party in your six-inch platforms? Awkward! And it's even worse when it happens in church. Just practice this technique and you'll be strutting like a Venetian courtesan in no time.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

How to Cure Gas, 1685

The Tench
Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler (1653)
"Against the Wind in the Belly. Apply a living Tench to the Patients Navel, the Head being upwards towards the Stomach; and tye it fast on with a Napkin; and there leave it twenty four hours, till it be dead; then bury it in the Dung, and you will see the Wind will vanish." 
Nicolas Lémery, Modern Curiosities of Art & Nature (1685)
If anyone asks why you have a dying fish strapped to your abdomen, just explain that it's for your wind problem. I promise they'll leave you alone.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How to Walk With Ladies, 1891

"Always keep to the right of the sidewalk, and never pass in front of a lady coming at right angles at a street corner, unless a distance of six feet intervene between said lady and the crossing-point when you reach it... When walking with a lady keep either a military step, or if her step is too short for your comfort, then take a Newport drag pace, taking care that the body does not rise much, thus preventing a see-saw appearance... A distance of half a foot should be kept between the lady and yourself at all times when the walk is not crowded; this is necessary always in the daytime, and also in the evening unless the acquaintance is such as permits taking arms. Never lock arms in the daytime." 
Mortimer Delano de Lannoy, Simplex Munditiis. Gentlemen (1891) 
Walking: perhaps you think you have mastered this art. You are wrong. Until you can perform instinctive calculus operations on street corners and execute a smooth Newport drag pace, you should not walk in public.

Friday, March 14, 2014

How to Break Up a Party, 1659

Jan Steen, A Merry Party (c. 1660)
"A fine Conceit, to clear a Room of drunken, or rude company. Take a Chafingdish of clear Charcoals, or live Wood-coals; throw Giney Pepper on it, and put it under the table, and they will both cough, sneez, fart, and spew, if they have drunk hard. You may do the like with Assa-fœtida, and Euforbium. The same put into a hollow Tooth, easeth the pain." 
Richard Amyas, An Antidote Against Melancholy (1659)
House filled with drunken merrymakers? This 17th-century smoke bomb will send them out the door with a fanfare of explosive convulsions. (Also note that, like any good Early Modern remedy, it doubles as a cure for toothache. Hopefully without the above-mentioned side effects.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

How to Choose Honey, 4th century

1655 engraving of Childeric I's golden bees (5th c.)

"We recall that in all treatments the honey which is most effective is that in which there are dead bees. If you happen to use it, it will be worth seeking out."

Plinii Secundi qui feruntur de medicina libri tres (4th century)

There's no better sweetener for your therapeutic cup of tea than honey studded with embalmed bees. Drink up!

Friday, March 7, 2014

How to Make Cheese Glue, c. 1300

Tacuinum sanitatis, ÖNB Cod. Vindob. s. n. 2644, f. 30r (14th c.) 

"Take old cheese, and cut it into little pieces, then put them in water for two full days or more. Then grind them well on a marble stone. Then add to them almost as much good quicklime, and grind them well together, and it is the best glue; use it immediately while it is moist. This glue joins wood very well and when it is dry it is dissolved by neither fire nor water." 
Secretum philosophorum (c. 1300)
State-of-the-art adhesive technology circa 1300! Behold its excellence, its durability, its beguiling cheesy aroma.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Past Asks You: An Enchanted Ecosystem, 1494

It's time for another installment of The Past Asks You. Post your answer in the comments!

Universitätsbibliothek Graz MS 1, f. 409v (1481)
"A mouse is at the top of a tree 60 braccia*  high, and a cat is on the ground at its foot. The mouse descends 1/2 of a braccio a day and at night it turns back 1/6 of a braccio. The cat climbs one braccio a day and goes back 1/4 of a braccio each night. The tree grows 1/4 of a braccio between the cat and the mouse each day and it shrinks 1/8 of a braccio every night. In how many days will the cat reach the mouse?" 
Luca Pacioli, Summa de arithmetica geometria proportioni et proportionalita (1494)
Do you ever feel like this cat? All you want is to catch the mouse, but for some reason you always seem to take four steps forward and one step back, and the mouse keeps scurrying around incoherently, and maybe you're crazy but you're starting to think that even the height of the tree is inconsistent?

*The Early Modern Italian braccio is the length of an arm, roughly 23 inches. Unless you have weird arms that grow during the day and shrink at night.