Monday, August 09, 2010

Virginia Smith, Clean; A History of Personal Hygiene and Purity

Virginia Smith, Clean; A History of Personal Hygiene and Purity, Oxford University Press, 2007

The sense organs are the brain’s external antennae, connecting the body to the outside world, and it is they that detect all foreign bodies approaching or entering the organism, and ruthlessly guide our responses. The brain supports one particularly formidable physiological safety net: the nervous reflex of disgust and repulsion. Disgust is certainly a primary reaction. (12)

There is not even any universal agreement on the physical existence of the five senses: some population groups have always thought there are more, or fewer; the Tzotzil of Mexico judge things by heat quality; other peoples prioritize the sense of smell, or hearing, or touch; the famous five-sense European classification was laid down by the ancient Greeks. Cultural anthropologists and psychologists now detect different degrees of sensual tolerance in all sorts of different social situations. It has become obvious, for example, that the tolerance of strong smells and tastes has declined among the world’s wealthier populations, for whatever reason; (15)

This is really the story of ‘ellu’, an ancient Mesopotamian word meaning a type of glitterings, strikingly luminescent, or beautiful cleanliness—a powerful, non-ascetic, pre-Christian image of beauty that was entirely guilt-free. The cosmetic routine now called ‘pampering’—baths, aromas, facials, manicures, pedicures, hairstyling, and costuming, conducted in sensuous surrounds with or without groups of friends—emerged at both ends of Eurasia during the Bronze Age from c.4000 BCE, along with most of the necessary tools and raw materials. Cosmetics is the underbelly of personal hygiene, usually ignored, often much reviled, but even now forming an essential part of personal health care and self-identity. (45)

Over the course of several millennia Egypt emerged as the main hub of the western Eurasian cosmetics trades. The Egyptian upper classes alone consumed the products of thousands of villages, thousands of miles away. To meet the demand and serve their perfumed unguent industry, the Egyptians invaded and developed the ‘Land of Magun’ (ancient Oman) as a spice region. In c.3000 BCE the coastal village of Ras al-Junayz in Oman was apparently connected not only with the Old Kingdom Egypt, but with Mesopotamia and the Indus valley: (49)

Deep religious reverence was attributed to beauty. It had a strong metaphysical role. In ancient Greece the word kosmos originally meant ‘to order, to arrange, or to adorn’; kosmetikos meant ‘having the power to beautify’; and the high priestess-goddess Kommo was the beautifier and arranger of the temple. The Mesopotamian definition of ellu was ‘free from physical impurities’; anything could be beautifully ellu—a jewel, clean linen, a person, or a sacred place. The sacred books of the Veda laid down kama (the appreciation of beauty) as a religion commandment for the right conduct of life; described in Vatsyayana’s classical version of the Kama Sutra as ‘the enjoyment of appropriate objects by the five senses of hearing, feeling, seeing, tasting, and smelling, assisting by the mind together with the soul’. In temples everywhere, the sacred ellu, kosmeticos, kama, or divine cleanliness came from the daily labours and skills of temple servants charged with keeping good order within the precinct. (55)

The Egyptian population’s strict adherence to purity rules, and the strength of the religious belief, were considered especially remarkable by that indefatigable traveler and folklore collector Herodotus. It was not just, he said, that they abided by the normal purity rules that any Greek might follow—such as purification at birth, after sexual intercourse, during the menses and sickness, and after childbirth (in a birth-house, or ‘House of Purification’), with minor attentions on minor occasions of possible impurity (before meals, after evacuation, after journeys)—but that he felt they were ‘religious to excess, beyond any nation in the world, and here are some of the customs which illustrate the fact: they drink form brazen cups which they scour every day—everyone, without exception. They wear linen clothes that they make a particular point of continually washing. They circumcise themselves for cleanliness’s sake, preferring to be clean rather than comely…’ /
The highest degree of personal cleanliness was reserved for direct contact with the deity. In addition Egyptian priests were required to ‘shave their bodies all over every other day to guard against the presence of lice, or anything equally unpleasant, while they are about their religious duties…They bathe in cold water twice a day and twice every night—and observe innumerable other ceremonies besides.’ They shaved their heads, oiled their bodies, kept their feet, hands, and nails clean (with nails kept short), rinses their mouths, and fumigated all their orifices. The Egyptian priest-pharaohs were excused the more onerous priestly requirements, and enjoyed considerably higher standards of decorative cosmetic care, but had other unique obligations: they were purified at birth, at coronation, before any temple rite, and even, while still alive, and as a precaution, given a purification ritual for the afterlife. (58)

For Egyptian aristocrats, the first rising was followed by ‘the hour of i’w’, the hour of the bath, the (unspecified) breakfast-grooming hour which forever afterwards was the mark of the well-to-do; after which they would emerge perfectly fresh, trim, and ready to meet, greet—and administer—the world. Courtly afternoons were usually reserved for outings, games, and sports; but as the sun went down, preparations in the private suite would begin for the full evening toilette, le grande tenue, which would outshine everything else. (64)

Because of all the different perfumes and odoriferous application, the ordinary morning toilette of an ‘affluent citizen’ in India, ‘desirous of keeping good health’, might consist of a dozen or more different operations: /
‘A man as soon as he got up cleaned his teeth with the toothbrush, washed his mouth and eyes…applied collyrium [kohl] to his eyes and chewed a few betel leaves. At the time of his bath he anointed his hair with oil…and his body, thoroughly massaged and rubbed it, took physical exercises and finally took his bath, after which he combed his hair…shaving and pairing his nails. [He anointed] the body with scented paste and then he put on gems, flowers, and clean clothes after which he put scent on his face. (66)

Shaving and depilation was a social insignia in the ancient world. Some societies shaved more than others, or in different ways; according to one Roman author the Celts ‘was their hair constantly in lime-water, and they scrape in back from the forehead to the crown of the head…The nobles keep their cheeks smooth but let their moustaches grow.’ From anciently being fully bearded and braided (like the Mesopotamians) the Egyptian male became clean-shaven, kept his hair short or shaven, shaved, plucked, or used depilatory unguents on his entire body, as did Egyptian women. Egyptian and Indian tastes and habits in this respect were very similar. The ten-day cleansing and deodorizing regime for Vatsyayana’s ‘affluent citizen’ (undoubtedly a Brahman) included the full depilatory ordeal: … ‘get his head (including face) shaved every four days, and the other parts of his body every five or ten days [ten days are allowed when the hair is taken out with a pair of pincers]. All of these things should be done without fail, and the sweat of the armpits should also be removed.’ (67)

Greek…This was not a centralized imperial courtly society like those of Babylonia, Persia, or Egypt, but one ruled by loose oligarchies of merchant and farming families. We have no evidence of a wealthy theocracy; instead there was a lively cultic revival of deities who lived in various wild holy places scattered patriotically throughout Greater Greece. (75)

By c.400 BCE such evidence as we have suggests that the health of the Greeks had been in a ‘rarely attained state of equilibrium’ for about 200 years, and that longevity was an average 38.1 years at death—or more precisely, 42.6 years for men, 33.7 yeas for women—from an average Neolithic figure of 32.1 years. (76)

The tyrants of Samos, Athens, and Piraeus all built water conduits to supply their towns; and the same hydraulic knowledge was going into harnessing the source at new water sanctuaries and temples. Most long-distance conduits were sanctuaries and temples. Most long-distance conduits were underground, but from at least the fifth century there were some above-ground aqueducts. (76)

According to Greek mythology, Apollo and Artemis were the gods most frequently associated with sacred cold springs. The virile and fiery superhero Hercules supposedly created the first hot springs by being thrown into the pool at Thermopylae, and it was his name that was usually associated with all thermal springs, neatly slotting in alongside his reputation for the pleasure of the bed. But it is the trophy-vase water scenes appearing on the earliest Greek pottery that gives us much more specific detail, and incidentally demonstrate what the Greeks saw as the three most popular reasons for bathings (and thus for buying the vase)—beauty, religious ritual, and athletic training. /
Greek water technology was probably of Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and/or Mycenaean origin, but with a typically Greek social twist. One classic historical survey of Greek balaneutike (balneology) starts with the popular Mycenaean-style seated or hip bath, but moves swiftly on to the significance of the early Greek public fountains. Public fountains may seem a small step in the uphill struggle for demographic survival, but they were significant because they were essentially democratic. They mutually aided and bonded the community around them. In this early Greeks differed greatly from their later rivals the Carthaginians, who provided large water tanks under the floor of every middle-class street tenement in Carthage, with wells at the threshold, and had individual stone baths built inside on the ground floor, near to the heat source—but few public facilities. The new public fountains, or public wells, provided by the Greek tyrants brought free water, running day and night available to everyone, without distinction, in nobly built surroundings. (77)

Some of the earliest and most sophisticated hydraulic projects were not in the towns but in the religious sanctuaries, specifically the healing sanctuaries of Apollo, the god who brought—or warded off-disease. In the sixth century a new healing cult of the god Asclepius, deemed to be the son of Apollo, took over many of these old sanctuaries, and he became the god of the Hippocratic healers. … It was his daughter Hygieia who was supposedly handmaiden to Athene the goddess of wisdom, together with her sister Panacea (‘Cure-all’), and the two therapeutic goddesses supervised the healing process that the prayers to Asclepius had started, like two nurses round a doctor. Hygieia represented intelligent wholesomeness, purity, and well-being and must have been entirely virtuous, since so little is known of her; … (81)

At temple healing sites the common noun katharsis (meaning purifying, cleansing) could be used to describe the cleansing of blood, or disease form the body, or emotions from the mind, or the stain of ritual pollution. (83)

This hypothetical superstitious man was certainly caught up in Orphism, a fifth-century Greek sect known for its onerous ascetic requirements. The followers of Orpheus formed what is known as a ‘mantic’ cult, deriving from the prophetic traditions of seers and shamans, and their wandering seers or healing priests (telestai) would sing beautiful hymns and incantations over the sufferer, prescribing herbs, charms, and a pure new way of life through chastity, vegetarianism, white garments, and the ecstatic worship of Dionysus-Bacchus. Theophrastus meant to imply that the purifications of the superstitious man were excessive, or at least extremely scrupulous by average standards—sufficient even for a sanctified priest. Presumably they lacked the intellectual rigour of Greek Pythagoreanism, which also had ascetic dietary regulations and dress codes but performed no miracle cures over unbelievers. (86)

The first Olympic Games was originally a military thanksgiving and purification ceremony dedicated to Zeus, and became a site of mass catharsis. In fact this festival was an event of such importance to the ruling elites of Hellas that formal political truces were declared throughout its duration. No person could go armed or unclean to the Games. (87)

A convincing case has been made that these Games may originally have had something to do with hunting skills and hunting rituals: the running training, the wrestling, the deodorizing, and other purificatory preparations made before the hunt. … But the purity law forbidding the wearing of weapons at the Games fundamentally underlined their serious, peaceful, and civilized purpose: (88)

Athens had three early and venerated gymnasiums (and later acquired several others) each of which became the home of a philosophical school. (89)

Gymnos was the Greek word for ‘naked’: gymnazo was the word for ‘exercise’. Naked exercise was the ethos of all Greek games and gymnastic training, and led naturally to the aesthetic veneration of the naked human physique. Unique and strange to Eurasia at the time (the neighbouring Persians, for example, disapproved), pure nakedness became symbolic of European hygienic culture and embedded in European art. This purist approach to sports performance supposedly came about by accident, when the Olympian runner Orsippus of Megara (724-652 BCE) supposedly shed his loincloth and won the race naked. (90)

In the fifth century BCE the gymnast Herodicus had gained a wide reputation. Herodicus was famed for his command of the training regimen, especially his heroic methods (as practiced on himself) of prescribing 40-mile walks, long runs, deep massage, and hot baths. He seemingly tried most things, but what he was most notorius for (according to Plato) was his carefully crafted approach to long-term health care. He was accused by Plato of inventing a longevity health regime for the older male called ‘valetudinarianism’, or the ‘lingering death’—an idea to which Plato was scornfully opposed. Plato thought that an honorable life should be quick and natural, rather than slow and artificially prolonged. Hard training was considered necessary for the defence of the state, but unsuitable for the normal, moderate, or temperate life. (91)

The Greeks invented words for the swimming pool (kolymbetha) and pool (piscine), and they prided themselves on their swimming and diving abilities, but swimming was not strictly considered a sport—it was merely a form of therapeutic exercise. There were no swimming races in the Greek games, nor were there subsequently in Roman athletics, though the Romans too were expert swimmers, skilled at breast-stroke and crawl. (92)

…much of scientific Greek medicine was essentially a health discourse for the wealthy—for the top 10 per cent who already lived longer, and better, than the rest. (93)

Greek opinions on the cosmetic beauty toilette in the fifth century had changed significantly since Homer’s day. The revelation of the pure naked gymnastic physique must have made older cosmetic customs appear outmoded, and foreign ones unpatriotic; they were certainly not considered hygienic. It was from around this time that the word ‘cosmetic’ ceased to mean simply the care bestowed on dress and adornment, and became a term of abuse and inferiority, literally a dirty word, to Greek male rationalists. It became normal, in later fifth-or fourth-century Greek philosophical prose, to use the word ‘cosmetic’ to describe something superficial—or feminine. In plays, flamboyantly dressed and carefully painted cosmetic beauty had become the mark of a disreputable woman, (99)

The only viable conclusion from Roman baths is that cleanliness was an integral part of the Roman ‘civilizing process’, and that was an integral part of the Roman ‘civilizing process’, and that an ultra-clean, well-groomed body was their badge and symbol of citizenship. But bathing was only one part of a whole regime of grooming and hygienic self-care (102)

In first-century Rome the aqueduct flowed into three central tanks that distributed the water strictly according to public priority: 10 per cent to the emperor, 50 per cent to private customers paying water tax, 40 per cent for tax-free public use, including four military camps, fifteen sets of baths and latrines, twelve public fountains, and 133 public troughs, basins, and ‘springers’—small taps running day and night. (104)

There was another sanitary engineering glory in ancient Rome—though not when they backed up after storms and high tides. The cloacae were the underground sewers flowing down to the Tiber, a black-water drainage system begun in the sixth century BC, but replaced in the first century BC by Agrippa. The cloacae also served the monumental public latrines (forica) that were one of the sights of Rome, often heated in winter by a hypocause, and always good for a gossip: /
‘The roman forica was public in the full sense of the term, like soldiers’ latrines in wartime. People met there, conversed, and exchanged invitations to dinner without embarrassment…[it was] decorated with a lavishness we are not wont to spend on such a spot. All round the semicircle or rectangle which it formed, water flowed continuously in little channels, in front of which a score of seats were fixed. The seats were of marble, and the opening was framed with sculpted brackets in the form of dolphins… above the seats it was not unusual to see niches containing statues of gods or heroes…and not infrequently the room was cheered by the gay sound of a playing fountain.’ /
Roman latrines evidently met a communal need—or a need for communality—in the same way as the Greek fountains. (105)

The public baths mainly existed for reasons of pleasure, politics, and propaganda, not disease preventions. In the long term, the hygienic impact of the public bath system was probably marginal—though even that tiny margin may perhaps have tipped the balance towards health for many people. (106)

It is obvious that there was a pre-existing baths culture on their Italic peninsula that predisposed the Romans to a certain type of balneology. The Romans were much more lavish with their hot water. Like the earlier Etruscans, they enjoyed using the volcanic hot springs (thermae) (107)

Pliny mentions a hot sea-bathing establishment run by a mineral baths owner, M. Crassus Frugi of Pompeii, that was apparently built in the sea (like an offshore oil platform) around or over a natural hot spring which came from the seabed and forced itself up in spectacular clouds of steam. In summer the beaches would have been crowded with swimmers, since Romans enjoyed swimming, and believed seawater to be healthful. The Stoic Seneca visited and fled the place, speaking of ‘drunk men wandering along the beach, banquets in boats, the lakes echoing with the voices of singers, and other acts of debauchery displayed as though the laws had ceased to bind them.’ (108)

The Carcalla Baths provided full sports facilities (with marble seats for 1,600 spectators), a large tree-lined courtyard, an exedraw arena for philosophical debating, and places for 2,000 bathers, and were encrusted with mosaics and marble. Women, children, servants, and slave-girls poured in and out of the portals during the woman’s hours in the morning until noon, the first shift after the baths had got up their heat. The men’s hours were from midday to the ‘second hour of night’, which allowed plenty of time for a little light exercise before bathing and the subsequent grooming-robing session, before hitting the streets, bars, and dinner parties later on. /
The discerning Roman, or curious Roman traveler, could also have used one of the many smaller private bathing establishments, almost everywhere, that were a little more discreet, but equally luxurious, and very similar to the modern health club. (110)

The difference between these light, glittering interiors and the original cavelike conditions was described by Seneca while staying in the former home of the old warrior Scipio Africanus (d. 182 BC), where he observed the primitive, hardy routines of a much older system, with /
‘a tank beneath the house and garden, big enough to water an army; and a narrow bath, dark as they usually were in ancient times—our fathers did not think a bath was warm unless it was dark…He the terror of Carthage…stood beneath this mean roof, this cheap pavement felt his footsteps. Nowadays who could bear to take a bath in such a place? Every man thinks himself poor and miserly unless his walls glitter with great costly plaques… we will not walk on pavements that are not bejeweled… Nowadays we call a bath a cockroach-covert, unless it is arranged to let in sunlight all day by extensive windows, unless we can sunbathe while we are still in the water, unless the country and the sea can be seen from the pool. (111)

Fully costumed Roman women were particularly splendid and ornate compared to their Greek or Egyptian counterparts, wearing more colour in their clothing, more paint, and far more elaborate jewellery and hairdressing. (114)

Ovid is too discreet to mention the cleaning of that other part or orifice the anus, though archaeology has shown that the Roman were evidently quite fastidious in this respect, using the little sponges, wedged into the short sticks, which have been found in debris of their latrines. Sponges and rag clothes were used during female menstruation, with basin-washing, and baths where available. (116)

Roman men were weaned from their original beards by the arrival of the clean-cut Greek fashion around the first century BCE, and the Roman barber (tonsor) was a man with a respected skill. From then on, says the historian Jerome Carcopino, ‘nothing but the gravest and most painful crisis would have induced the great men of the day to omit a formality which for them had become a state duty’. Most of the emperors were clean-shaven, and used simple warrior haircuts suitable for a quick, manly ‘stroke of the comb’. Perfumes were allowed, and simple rings or other tokens, but the main beauty was muscular, gained in the gymnasium—with ‘the swift ball, the hoop, the lance’, or by swimming in ‘Calm Tiber’s steams or Maiden’s icy flow’. Training and regimen were not exactly high on Ovid’s agenda—they merely helped to produce a pleasing effect. Cosmetics existed to give a final civilized polish to the appearance, smartening up bodies that had already been prepared by all possible means. (117)

Roman baths have appeared as an extraordinary exercise in communal sensuality on a grand and public scale, and then—like the dinosaurs—they suddenly disappeared. At least it was thought they did: but the cataclysmic decline, it seems, only occurred in the western parts of the Empire, … The aqueducts were the most obvious casualties during the war. … The real crunch came later, with the general failure of the aqueducts from the ninth century: ‘it is not likely that any of them continued to be used in anything like their original form later that sometime between 900 and 1000.’ (123)

Asceticism itself was an ancient phenomenon. … Among the earliest of these ‘religious virtuosi’ was Pythagoras (581-497 BCE); another was the young aristocratic ascetic Sakyamuni, later known as Buddha (c.560-480 BCE) (127)

When Jesus washed the leper’s feet, or embraced other untouchables, such as the poor, the sick, or the prostitute Mary Magdalene, he was not thereby rendered unclean. On the contrary, his holiness, his cleanness, healed them and made them whole. For Christians, full purity was only achievable through the act of baptism… (129)

Nothing could have been more different from the shaven heads of Egyptian priests than the wild, flowing, uncut beards and hair of the Jewish prophets; they had clearly set themselves against this aspect of Egyptian purification ritual. Their particular type of asceticism rejected the worldly vanity of close body care. In this regard we should note especially the lesser-known grooming prohibitions of Leviticus: ‘ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard. (131)

Instead of perfumes, a holy virgin gave off the true odour of sanctity: ‘Thy first odour is above all spices, which were used in the burying of the Saviour, and the fragrance arises from the mortified motions of the body, and the perishing of the delights of the members. Thy second odour, like the odour of Lebanon, exhales the incorruption of the Lord’s body, the flower of virginal chastity.’ The pungent fragrance of bodily perishing and mortification was not only a sign of genuine hermeticism but was all the more likely when that body was heavily clothed (closely covered) but rarely washed. In the early days of the virginity movement desperate times had clearly called for desperate measures, and washing—or rather not washing—became a symbolic act of public defiance. When the virgin Melania began her long campaign to persuade her reluctant husband, Pinian, to make a joint vow of chastity, her first act was to stop bathing (she eventually succeeded). Rather less amusing, and less common, was the fate of the early virgin martyr Thecla, condemned to death for defending herself against a noble suitor, who claimed Christian baptism as she leapt into a tank full of sharks in the Antioch arena, crying out ‘now is the time for me to wash!’ (138)

St. Augustine thought that holy dirt was ‘ostentatious’ and washed daily; St Anthony never washed at all. … Many people covered themselves in the baths, St Ambrose continued, so ‘that part of it at least may be covered’, and recommended loincloths or breeches … St Jerome regarded daily bathing as an ‘over-niceness’ and a refinement, (139)

From the unique Christian perspective, baths and cosmetic care were dangerous, if not an abomination. It was therefore quite impossible for them to adopt any religious code of washing or cosmetic practices, such as those laid down later (and further south) by the prophet Muhammad in the Qur’an from c.AD 625, in which clenliness was commended as ‘one half of the faith’. As in ancient Egypt, and in Persian Zoroastrianism, Islamic washing practices were no light undertaking. (140)

…courtly romantic lais (lays) from the poets of southern Provence spread northwards and became part of the ideology of chivalry; including the court poets who blossomed in fourteenth-century Middle English. The Middle English poem Cleanness conjured up a courtly vision of the Lord of Heaven with his perfectly groomed heavenly hosts, in the form of a long sermon on sexual purity, the ‘pearl’ of virginity, and keeping the Sabbath clean:
So clean in his court is that king who rules all,
So upright a householder, so hounourably served
By angels of utter purity without and within,
Beautifully bright, in brilliant mantles…
But watch, if you will, that you wear clean clothes
To honour the holy day, lest harm come to you
When you approach the Prince of precious lineage,
He hates not even hell more hotly than the unclean…
They shall see in those shimmering mansions,
Who are burnished as beryl, bound to be pure,
Sound on every side, with no seams anywhere,
Immaculate and moteless like the margery-pearl…
(The Owl and the Nightingale: Cleanness. St. Erkenwald, trans. Brian Stone (London: Penguin, 1977), 77-8, 84, 100.)

In 1327 King Edward III was knighted, crowned, and bathed at the same time (150)

Underlinen was now standard. During the Roman Empire, Tacitus had noted that the ‘wild tribes’ of Germania thought it ‘a mark of great wealth to wear undergarments’; only a few centuries later linen garments were worn more or less regardless of social rank—linen shirts, gowns (cottes), leggings, trousers (braises), caps (coifs), and veils—even if there was no expensive outer cloth to go over them. The only times linen was not worn was at night. If the grooming was good, and the underlinen regularly ‘shifted’, the vermin and dirt load would be significantly reduced, and could be controlled. /
‘Shifting’ linen was obviously not a problem for anyone of high rank: Edward IV’s court accounts show regular money given for the ‘lavender-man’ … But shifting his shirt and picking out vermin from the seams of his cloths was a major chore for the poor student Thomas Platter, in Germany in 1499… (158)

A single fifteenth-century manuscript shows a well-dressed older women brushing the downturned head of a young man outside in a garden with a large hand-brush, with the lice flying into a bowl he is holding. In one medieval romance a nobleman enters the damsel’s chamber and removes his shirt so that they can scratch him with combs made of wood, bone, and ivory ‘with two rows of teeth’, and brush his hair with their ‘small brooms’. (159)

We can view the medieval baths culture of northern Europe as being similar to the bathhouse culture of Japan or Finland: it was innocent of any shame. No one blushes for their nakedness in the communal baths and saunas of Japan or Finland. No one blushed in ancient Germany, where, as Julius Caesar noted, ‘both sexes bathe communally in rivers, and display the body mostly naked under small covers of animal hides’. Nor in medieval Europe, where communal naked bathing, and the segregation of the sexes, was only suppressed with difficulty, if at all. Some purity rules in Church law were apparently widely observed, but it evidently failed to change earlier tribal, or customary, laws concerning sexual rights over the body. Regular puritanical attacks on traditional spring carnivals, town brothel-keeping, and communal bathing—in other words against fornication, nakedness, lewd clothing, and baths—seem to have been largely ignored until the sixteenth century. (168)

Virtually all commentators, approving or disapproving, agreed on the essential innocence of the free manners of the public baths. (169)

This customary Saturday bath that was so widespread in various regions of Europe cleaned off the sweat and grim once a week. It was something any respectable Christian citizen might care to do prior to a holy day, and also fitted the religious calendar of Jewish communities. (171)

The lying-in bath (like the American ‘baby shower’) would have been hosted by the woman herself, for her female friends, her ‘gossips’: in fact her bath companions, since (judging from stories and woodcuts) women apparently did a great deal of socializing in the baths, and often held impromptu parties there, bringing their food and drink with them. (173)

The Stews, the salacious bath… places for sexual seduction, sanctioned by the elders of the community. The medieval municipal bathhouse shared this job with the medieval municipal brothel (in Germany the Frauenhaus, in France the maison des fillettes), where the public women based their trade. The town authorities seemed to have regarded both the baths and the brothels as a necessary outlet for the energies of the town’s young men, and simply tried to control them. (178)

In England, Henry VIII closed the stews of Southwark and Bankside in 1546; the brothels and stews of Chester were closed in 1542. In France the four steam baths at Dijon were suppressed in 1556; … In Paris there were ‘only a handful by the end of the seventeenth century’. /
No single cause is sufficient to account for the disappearance of such deep-rooted customs. … economic, citing syphilis and the rising cost of fuel as the two main factors that put bathhouses out of business in Germany. … fear of the plague, poisonously infiltrating steamed-open bodies, and this certainly fits with the reappearance of severe epidemic plague in the sixteenth century; but then why did the baths not disappear earlier, after the Black Death? Rudeck probably underestimated the effect of the general decline of rurally based peasant culture; and the popular urban roots of the moral Reformation, especially in certain areas of growing population. There were changes in the political climate that earlier put puritanical religious reformers, or activists of the Catholic Counter-Reformation into power, many of whom were ascetics who were likely to view the bathhouses as hotbeds of sexual uncleanness and political dissents. … But arguably it was the arrival of acute epidemic syphilis in 1493 which achieved what endemic plague, rising costs, religion, or lawlessness had failed to do: it closed them immediately and perermptorily, and when or if they reopened, they were never the same again. The innocence was gone. (179-180)

Syphilis hit at the heart of the body culture that feature so strongly in the baths and festivals. Grossly disfiguring to the face and private parts, and highly contagious, it created an unprecedented fear of sexuality, and also polluted the act. You had to check, now, that the vessel was ‘clean’. Rottenness could be hidden beneath superficial beauty. (180-181)

The offspring of an ‘ancestral spirochete’ (treponematosis) that is now thought to have been endemic worldwide from ancient times, syphilis suddenly mutated into a far more virulent form in the Spanish Atlantic ports in 1492 and reached central Europe by 1502, before traveling on to India, the East Indies, Japan, and all colonial trading islands. Eventually it retreated, and over the succeeding five centuries became endemic, dwindling into a curiosity, then into ‘silence and contempt’, leaving a huge legacy of syphilitic wives and children throughout the world, before finally dropping off the list of scourges in the mid-twentieth century. In the worst cases, the syphilitic tubercles were followed by a tumour that bored into bone tissue and then liquefied, exposing the bones and eating away at the nose, the lips, the palate, the larynx, and the genitals. (182)

Syphilis (unlike the plague) was not a disease of poverty, but raged equally among the nobility, royalty, and clergy, partly due to the wide sexual license given to aristocratic youth who visited brothels… (182)

But the Catholic Church, which as a whole had fought so hard to impose intellectual refinement, physical cleanliness, and sexual cleanness over the centuries, adapting itself to various strategies to win over unwilling populations, suddenly found itself under a bruising attacks for its own moral laxities. The Church had unwisely persecuted extreme ascetic Church reformers such as the Albigensian Cathars … asceticism split the Church once more. A renewed programme of ascetic austerity (and celibacy) was reimposed successfully on all Catholic clergy after the Counter-Reformation Council of Trent in 1562-3, but by then the damage had been done. The tend towards decentralized Christianity was irreversible in northern Europe at least, … (184)

At Whitehall, Elizabeth also had a hot room with a ceramic tiled stove, as well as a large bath and grooming suite, both inherited from her father, in which to spend time with her intimate companions. This suite was effectively her Cabinet of the Morning. It contained her bedroom, and next to it ‘a fine bathroom… [where] the water pours from oyster shells and different kinds of rock’. Next to the bathroom was a room with an organ ‘on which two people can play duets, also a large chest completely covered in silk, and a clock which plays times by striking a bell.’ Next to this was a room ‘where the Queen keeps her books’. Indeed royal baths were so a la mode that a bathhouse was specially built for Mary, Queen of Scots, at Holyrood Palace in the late 1560s; so there is no reason to think that Queen Elizabeth I did not thoroughly enjoy her monthly bath ‘whether she needed it or no’ (probably at the time of the menses) and was certainly likely to have taken them more often than that, when returning to Richmond or Whitehall after a long cold journey or a dusty ride on a hot afternoon. (190)

The symbolic division between long periods of work and short periods of play was marked by the now near-universal habit of having (whenever possible, and certainly among the godly) two sets of clothing: dirty work clothing, and Sunday or festive best. (191)

At the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign in 1558, the Venetian ambassador noted the court ladies’ ‘fresh’ complexions and general lack of paint, at a time when Venetian beauty boxes were large and elaborate affairs, with waters, paints, patches, and ‘even preparations for tinting the teeth and eyelids’. Fifty years later the whole of the English court and aristocracy were ‘very Italianate’ and cosmetics-mad, with paints, beauty patches, wigs (blonde and henna-auburn), and bejeweled hair. (191)

According to this historian Georges Vigarello, a daily change of shirt had become normal for men in French court circles by the late sixteenth century, while French probate inventories show a steep rise in numbers of gentlemen’s shirts (up to an average of thirty) by the end of the seventeenth century. French court correspondence from women in the seventeenth century show an almost nunlike attention to clean linen, and the word ‘clean’ (prope) became a significant term of praise: (193)

The doctors were unswerving in their recommendation of hygienic temperance and moderation during plague outbreaks—the body should not be pushed to any extremes whatsoever: ‘[neither] all manner of excess and outrage of meat and drink… no hot foods… no lechery… Also use no baths or stoves; nor swet not too much, for all openeth the pores of a manne’s body and maketh the venomous ayre to enter and for to infecte the bloude…’ Covering up and keeping clean in every other way but that was considered safer. The plague regimens were insistent of clean streets and clean rooms, fresh air and sweet odours, a sober diet, good grooming and clean skin, and well-kept clothing. (200)

Elyot’s exercise regimen was taken directly from the Greek texts… In the morning there should if possible be vigorous rubbing of the limbs and loud ‘vociferous’ singing; and in the afternoon, outdoor games and sport. The popular sporting revival of the sixteenth century was only temporarily crushed by Commonwealth decree in the mid-seventeenth century, and was enthusiastically revived after the Restoration. (201)

Protestant housewifery reached its culmination in Geneva, and particularly in the Netherlands, where even the streets were swept and washed, and domestic manuals were proudly decorated with symbolic brooms and mops; Dutch artists also painted tender scenes of domestic nitpicking, unequalled before or since. The English Protestant housewifery genre, by comparison, was discreetly vague and ladylike, composed mainly of recipes, and largely untouched by Calvinist household cleansing propaganda. (201)

The low-cut medieval gown disappeared very early in some European Protestant areas; in some northern German towns it was ordered that no female citizen could go around with a neckline any lower than the width of one finger below the collarbone. Plainer and purer Protestant sectarians had real moral objections to colour and pattern: ‘Washing our garments to keep them sweet is cleanly, but it is the opposite to real cleanliness to hide dirt in them… Real cleanliness becometh a holy people; but hiding that which is not clean by colouring our garments seems contrary to the sweetness of sincerity.’ Black and white became the dress code of Reformed asceticism; but where buttoning up was required, fine linen compensated. Sober black cloth had long been favoured by the clerically minded Catholic Spanish court; and the wealthy Dutch Protestant bourgeoisie who favoured the clerical style have since become famous though their portraiture—all rustling black silk, dark velvet, and covered-up modesty, strikingly set off by magnificient lace and linen cuffs, collars, and caps. (208)

The zealous Philip Stubbes urged washing because ‘as the filthinesse and pollution of my bodie is washed and made clean by the element of water; so is my bodie and soul purified and washed from the spots and blemishes of sin, by the precious blood of Jesus Christ…This washing putteth me in remembrance of my baptism.’ The metaphysical Protestant poet George Herbert wrote that on Sunday especially:
Affect in all things about three cleanliness,
Let thy minde’s sweetness have his operation
Upon thy body, clothes and habitation…
That all may gladly boarde thee, as a flower… (209)

The English Puritans were no ragged dusty ascetic hermits, nor were they sleek priests. They often kept their beards, in imitation of the Jewish prophets; but they despised ornamental (long) hairstyles and were ostentatiously short-haired (or round-headed) (210)

It might seem as if Puritans had abandoned the sensuous body altogether … Many had a surprisingly primitive passion for the God of nature, and his natural works. The European Protestant sects who did not accept the spiritual and theological authority of Lutheran Calvinism (notably the Anabaptists, Baptists, Diggers, Seekers, Ranters, Quakers, Pietists, Adamites, the Family of Love, and many others) were idealists who refused to accept the doctrine that the Christian soul was predestined to be sinful at birth: … If he or she wanted, a pure-spirited Adam or Even could even go naked, testifying their innocence, ‘and live above sin and shame’. According to the historian Christopher Hill, there were many recorded occasions ‘on which very respectable Quakers “went naked for a sign”, with only a loin-cloth about their middles for decency (211)

It was a scientifically inclined prince, Charles II, who established a neo-Baconian research institute, the Royal Society, in 1662. One of the key experimental sites of the seventeenth-century European science was the observation and testing of the qualities of the ‘Element of Air’. Ordinary, simple, clean cool Air—the breath of heaven—is where English ascetic physiology finally made its mark. (216)

Sydenham’s methods meant that the sickroom, or bedroom, became a very different place to the traditional sealed and heated chamber. We can imagine that many ‘modern’ householders threw open their windows with relief to let the fumes escape, especially in the summer. (218)

In Some Thoughts concerning Education (1693) John Locke commented: ‘Everyone is now full of the miracles done by cold Baths on decayed and weak constitutions, for the recovery of heatlh and strength; and therefore they cannot be impracticable or intolerable for the improving and hardening the bodies of those who are in better circumstances.’ It was Locke (1632-1704) who gave final weight and gravitas to the Cold Regimen, and prepared the ground for its general dispersal. … His educational programme was designed to turn their sons into Stoic young warriors with ‘strong constitutions, able to endure hardships and fatigue’… The boys should mostly play in the open air, ‘and as little as may be by the fire… thus the body may be brought to bear almost anything’. … The girls, too, were included in this regime: ‘The nearer they come to the hardship of their brothers in their education, the greater advantage they will receive form it.’ He was particularly disapproving of girls’ strait-lacing and stays, stopping the circulation and compressing the stomach: ‘That way of making slender wastes, and fine shapes, serves but the more effectually to spoil them.’ /
The change in English children’s fashion towards looser cotton clothing, for boys and for girls, dates form this period. Boy’s clothing should be thin and light, with no cap, and open shoes—‘with holes in his shoes so that they leak’—in other words, sandals. … Locke’s Roman hardiness, his Greek athleticism, and his Protestant naturalism clearly appealed to large numbers of the English upper classes; it was a fitness regime that many English public schoolboys endued until quite recently, including daily morning plunge into cold water (even the sea), deep winter only excluded. (222)

There was an obvious transformation in the idea of cleanness in English in the seventeenth century. The association of coolness, cleanness, and innocence appears to have emerged directly from Protestant sectarianism, blended into a formal, neoclassical framework that had reincorporated the Greek regimen… But the sheer numbers of references to the actual words ‘Cleanliness’ or ‘Cleanness’ had grown extraordinarily and were much more portentous than before, certainly when highlighted (as they so often were) with a capital letter. In the following century Cleanliness was to become far more Rational. Religious mysticism gave way to a strong presumption in favour of its usefulness in disease prevention as many further scientific ‘proofs’ of the utility of hygiene were presented (223)


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