Monday, May 9, 2011

Life in the 1400's - where? (Introducing Melissa Snell)

I was just reading some funny stuff: here.

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The combination would sometimes knock them out for several days. When found lying on the side of the road they would be taken for dead and prepared for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a "wake."

Whisky in the 1400's? Let us hear the wikipedians:

In the Irish Annals of Clonmacnoise in 1405, the first written record of whiskey appears describing the death of a chieftain at Christmas from "taking a surfeit of aqua vitae".

OK, it existed. But the custom of a wake is way older, and has to do with praying for a soul.

Even when preventing false burials, it need not be due to whisky very often. There are other kinds of clinically close to dead with recoveries, so it makes sense anyway, even without ethylic coma. Finegan's wake was exceptional as wakes go, that is why a song was made of it.

England is old and small, and they started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and re-use the graves.

They still do that in Italy. Bones from old graves are often collected in columbaries.

In reopening these coffins, about one in 25 were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive.

When could that have been?

Never, actually. Thanks to Melissa Snell I find these fables countered one by one on her

The Hoax: The Bad Old Days.

The coffin one I found that the waning of bone houses and columbaria in the 19th C (due to Protestant disgust with this Catholic custom, no doubt) introduced thrown away corpses/skeletons. But these were not in any wooden coffins one could find skratch marks in, since coffins rot as fast as people.

Here are, by the way her ressources about what life in the Middle Ages really was like: LINK.

Another ressource HERE.

In fact, one of the hoaxes, he believes too much:

It's really quite impossible that anyone would know this about 1500. We don't have those kind of records. Even for two centuries later we have only the most fragmentary information. There's no particular reason to think peasants had a big kettle or that this was the only pot they used to cook with. The earliest illustrations we have shows multiple pots. Also, as early as we know, women washed their cookware. This account seems highly unlikely. One thing is correct, though: peasants didn't eat meat very often. Once a week was not uncommon (though this information comes from the 18th, not the 16th century).

We do know, thanks to Régine Pernoud (RIP) that in Carpentras, back in 14th C citizens ate meat more often than that. That, however, was city folk, now back to peasants: Eating meat once a week (like sundays) is not unhealthy. Still, Henri IV in the 16th C wanted every peasant to have a coq au vin for sunday, at least. Does this mean they were up to his reign still too poor to do so, or had they become so because renaissance lords and wars had impoverished them in the meantime? I find the second alternative quite as likely.

But he has a very interesting point about why people believe this kind of stuff:

"The past must be less than the present. That's one of its vital social roles."

At least since people became believers in so-called progress.

"In truth, however, says this message, history is strange and weird and exotic; that is to say, the past is strange and weird and exotic."

The piece about 1 out of 25 "re-use coffins" being found with scratch marks is likely to come from a Gothic Novel - a genre that started during Enlightenment era, with this belief in progress.

Hans-Georg Lundahl

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