…There is hardly a single mundane human activity, including thinking, that health seekers of one sort or another have not tried to reform, reconstruct, or abjure in the pursuit of physical well-being. They may do so on the basis of essentially private convictions; for the pursuit of good health is also an expression of individualism, which is doubtless why it has had its ripest expression in America. “Golden Rule” Jones, for example, the turn of the twentieth-century mayor of Toledo, deemed it essential to his mayoral health to sleep in all weather on the roof of his porch.
Far more often, health seekers have shaped their regimes by the findings and suggestions, often faint, of science. In the seventeenth-century, the great, if hypochondriacal, chemist Robert Boyle and an amazing number of his colleagues at the Royal Society of London anxiously swapped diets in order to determine which foods contained the least “tartar,” a mysteious insoluble muck that, according to Paracelsus, caused ill-health. In fact, the pursuit of good health can be a decidedly scholarly activity. The contemporary health seeker, trying to devise a diet on the basis of often conflicting medical reports on salt, cholesterol, protein, and vitamins, has their mental work cut out for them.
What is less obvious about the pursuit of good health is its moral and spiritual dimension. Since it is beyond all rational dispute that good health is preferable to ill-health, the pursuit of good health constitutes one of the few human activities that is inarguably rational and justified. Even the feckless give health its moral due. After all, in every bar, topers drowning in whiskey drink to each other’s good health. In every seaside resort, sunbathers lie about in vacuous idleness suffused with the righteous conviction that whatever else in life they have failed to achieve, at least they are tending to their health.
In the great spas of nineteenth-century Europe, habitues engaged in every sort of vice and indulgence, serene in the moral assurance that “taking the waters” in the morning excused the sins of the night. ( to be continued)…
(see link at end)…Like the nonsensical idea that spices were used to disguise the taste of rotten meat, the idea that bathing was forbidden and/or wiped out between the fall of Rome and the Enlightenment has been touted by many gullible writers, including Smithsonian magazine. However, even the Smithsonian in the person of Jay Stuller has to admit that “Gregory the Great, the first monk to become pope, allowed Sunday baths and even commended them, so long as they didn’t become a ‘time-wasting luxury’ . . . medieval nobility routinely washed their hands before and after meals. Etiquette guides of the age insisted that teeth, face and hands be cleaned each morning. Shallow basins and water jugs for washing hair were found in most manor houses, as was the occasional communal tub…”
Bernard Rudofsky, in a speech reprinted in Interior Design, gives a more cheerful picture:
“In the Middle Ages, an epoch generally dismissed as dark and dirty, men and women bathed together and took their time about it. They often remained in the water for a meal, served on floating tables, and in time the bath became the favorite place for banquets, accompanied by song and music, with the musicians seated in the water. Men kept their hats on, women were impeccably groomed for the occasion–from the navel upwards, wearing chokers and necklaces, turbans and towering headdresses. A veil marked the status of a married woman. A part from the usual quota of zealots, the Church remained on the whole tolerant of these hedonistic pastimes. Some monastic orders made bathing in hot air and steam part of their regimen, while others forbade bathing except at Christmas and Easter. Moreover, instead of tearing down the thermae of old, the clergy converted them into chapels and churches. Many a marble tub was thus promoted to a baptismal font, bathing chairse turned into pulpits, and the flow of pagan, springs was metamorphosed into holy water.
Bathing scenes woven into Gothic tapestries leave no doubt that bathing was indulged with equal gusto by prince and pauper. In the morning, the opening of the public baths was announced by the sound of trumpets and drums, whereupon the good burghers proceeded to them naked–a precaution against theft. For the stay-at-home a wooden tub was brought to the bed-chamber and filled with hot water. If the chronicles are to be believed, the wealthy had elaborate installations with pipes made of gold and silver, and one Heinrich von Veldecke, an epic poet, sang the praises of a golden tub. In the spring, bathing parties would move to outdoor pools and ornate basins, amid statuary and flowering trees. Dark ages indeed! “…
…While mixed bathing was discouraged by the Church, records exist that baths were used as social affairs, with banquets and wedding feasts being joined with the baths. Certainly, the depictions of couples using the baths suggests that it was a social as well as sexual activity. Durer’s 1497 woodcut of men at a public bathhouse, contrasted with his drawing of ‘Women’s Bath’ of the same year, shows sex-segregated bathing.Read More:http://www.gallowglass.org/jadwiga/herbs/baths.html