History from
the Bottom Up

Firm and Tone—the Medieval Way!

512px Paulus Hector Mair Tjost fig2 450x187 Firm and Tone—the Medieval Way!Want to train like a troubador? Crush it like a crusader? Become lean as Lancelot? Here’s how!

(Note: this workout is reserved for members of the nobility, males only of course. Before embarking on any physical exercise program, check with your governing feudal overlord to be sure this regimen is right for you.)

Your physical education begins at age fourteen, while you’re employed as a squire to a knight, and consists of vigorous sports such as hawking with a falcon, hurling stones, wielding a battle-axe, and casting a spear.

408px Medieval Warrior 306x450 Firm and Tone—the Medieval Way!Most important of all, though, is getting on and off your horse. You’ll need to be able to leap into the saddle without using stirrups. Go ahead! Try it!

Duerer   Studie Reiter 1495 350x450 Firm and Tone—the Medieval Way!Still alive? Great! Now that you’ve mastered that, you’ll need to be able to leap down from the horse, while in mid-gallop, to pick up an “object” with agility. If this happens during a battle, the “object” may or may not be a part of your master’s anatomy.

Medieval Jousting Tournaments Firm and Tone—the Medieval Way!From this point on, most of your aerobic training will consist of games that prepare you for combat: hunting, wrestling, fencing, horse-racing, javelin throwing, and, the toughest workout of all, jousting. This consists of galloping full-speed toward your opponent (who will be galloping full speed toward you), while wielding a heavy lance aimed at his heart, and while wearing a cuirass, leg armor, and helmet with the visor down.

Caution: fatalities on the course occur frequently, due to suffocation, heat stroke, or getting pierced through by a long, metal, pointed object.

Codex Manesse 052r Walther von Klingen detail 2 433x450 Firm and Tone—the Medieval Way!
Source: Dr. Ludwig H. Joseph, Gymnastics from the Middle Ages to the 18th Century, 1949

Enlightened Thinker

Edward Jenner

Most people are familiar with the name Edward Jenner (1749 – 1823), a country doctor whose smallpox inoculation led to that dreaded disease’s eventual eradication. Jenner became intrigued by the fact that milkmaids who had contracted coxpox, similar to smallpox but much less serious, seemed immune to smallpox. He experimented with inoculating people with cowpox particles taken from the hand of a milkmaid, and found that they developed a mild case of the disease but were left immune to smallpox. In 1798 he published his findings, … Read more

Five Tips to A Healthy Pregnancy—the Renaissance Way

For some reason, I’ve been going to a lot of baby showers recently–I have another one Monday night. It’s fascinating to see all the new-fangled baby contraptions available these days, and to learn what has gone in and out and in again in the way of advice to pregnant women and new mothers. Doctors still advise pregnant women against pretty obvious things—don’t smoke, don’t drink alcohol, and try not to eat an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s every night. I did a little research, and found that pregnant women have been given … Read more

What’s My Line?

By Richwales (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0], via Wikimedia CommonsWhen I was in New York last week, walking along Third Avenue, I noticed two twenty-something women in front of me. It was immediately evident what they did for a living. As I passed them I turned and said, “You’re both ballerinas, right? You walk in second position.” They both laughed and nodded.

Nowadays you don’t generally know what someone does for a living based on how she walks or dresses, unless it’s a firefighter … Read more

WNPR This Thursday!

I think today’s interview went pretty well. Rose George is awesome. I started out super duper nervous, and my first few utterances didn’t make a ton of grammatical sense, but after a few minutes it wasn’t quite so terrifying  and ended up being a really fun conversation. Here’s a link to the podcast, and a couple of pictures I didn’t know they were going to take. (Someone snapped that shot of me thirteen seconds before we went on the air and I hadn’t even put my headphones on yet.)


 … Read more

Death By Apple

I stumbled across a strange, sad little anecdote the other day as I was researching something on another topic. It was a picture of a little girl in a fashionable dress, and the author casually mentioned that the child died a few days after the picture was taken. The cause of her death was a stomach ache after eating green apples.

That struck me as so odd that I did a quick search. I was astonished—a search of death from green apples in the historic newspapers database from 1790 to the present database yielded 800 stories.

Here are just a few:

From 1817:

 … Read more

Garden of Deadly Delights

Yesterday I drove to Ithaca, New York, where I met up with Mary Smith, Professor of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University. Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine maintains a poisonous plants garden, which makes sense, if you think about it. Veterinary students need to learn to recognize plants that poison livestock. Professor Smith took a couple of hours out of her Sunday afternoon to give me a personal tour of the Poisonous Plants garden, and then as an added bonus, walked me around the Weeds garden and then the “Crops of the World” garden. She is hugely knowledgeable about plants and poisons.

 … Read more

Let Them Eat Jiggly Soup

Back in the early nineteenth century, with populations in cities swelling, feeding the poor cheaply in poorhouses and public hospitals became a growing concern.

In her fascinating book, Gulp, Mary Roach describes the efforts of a French chemist named Jean d’Arcet, Jr., who in 1817 came up with a method for extracting gelatin from bones. I’m not sure why this was such a complicated undertaking—anyone who has ever boiled up a turkey carcass after the Thanksgiving meal would see that the resulting broth, if allowed to cool, gets … Read more

Fetching Names

In case you’ve recently acquired a new dog, and are wondering what to name it, look no further than the early fifteenth-century manuscript called The Master of Game. Appended at the end is a list of suitable names for your hunting dog. Here are some suggestions:
Another medieval manuscript suggests Huiiau, which doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, and Blessiau, which would invite the inevitable snide rejoinder “But I didn’t sneeze.” … Read more

Links and Connections

For today’s post, I’m punting you to two different websites. The first is Melissa Stewart’s, where yesterday she posted a lovely review of Bugged. Here’s the link.

Having Melissa put her stamp of approval on one’s book is (practically) tantamount to getting on Oprah. She is a fantastic writer, and she knows children’s nonfiction books like no one else. Here’s the cover of her recent book, Feathers: Not Just for Flying:

And here’s Melissa’s latest  book, Perfect Pairs, glowingly reviewed by Elizabeth Bird of the NYPL. It’ s about pairing fiction and nonfiction books … Read more

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