10 Great Tips from the Middle Ages

How to Sleep, How to take care of your cat, how to tell if someone is not dead! Medieval people give their advice on just about anything!


From the new book ‘Ask the Past: Pertinent and Impertinent Advice from Yesteryear‘ by Elizabeth P. Archibald.


How to Tell If Someone Is or Is Not Dead

“Moreover, if there is any doubt as to whether a person is or is not dead, apply lightly roasted onion to his nostrils, and if he be alive, he will immediately scratch his nose.” ~ Johannes de Mirfield, Breviarium Bartholomei (c.1380)

How to Chat with a Woman

“After greeting the lady, the man should allow a moment or two to elapse to permit the woman to speak first, should she so desire. If the woman herself starts the conversation, you will have good cause for satisfaction, assuming that you are not a fluent conversationalist, because her comment will give you plenty of topics for discussion… But if the woman delays too long before beginning to speak, you must after a short pause cleverly break into conversation. First, make some casual observation with an amusing point, or praise her native region or her family or her person.” ~ Andreas Capallanus, De amore (c.1180)


How to Care for Your Cat

“This animal loves to be lightly stroked by human hands and is playful, especially when it is young. When it sees his own image in a mirror it plays with that and if, perchance, it should see itself from above in the water of a well, it wants to play, falls in, and drowns since it is harmed by being made very wet and dies unless it is dried out quickly. It especially likes warm places and can be kept home more easily if its ears are clipped since it cannot tolerate the night dew dripping into its ears.” ~ Albertus Magnus, De animalibus (c.1260)

How to Pack for a Journey

“[A traveler] should carry with him two bags: one very full of patience, the other containing two hundred Venetian ducats, or a least one hundred and fifty… furthermore, he should provision himself with good Lombard cheese, sausages, tongue, and other cured meats of every sort; white biscuits, some cakes of sugar, and various confections, but not a great quantity because they spoil quickly. Above all he should take plenty of fruit syrup, because that is what keeps a man alive in extreme heat; and also ginger syrup to settle his stomach if it is upset by too much vomiting.” ~ Santo Brasca, Viaggio in Terrasanta (1480)

How to Cure a Headache

“Headaches you will enchant: take some earth, touch your breast three times and say: My head hurts, why does it hurt? It does not hurt.” ~ Pseudo-Pliny (9th century)

How to Dress Your Child

“Only cheap clothes should be give to little children. They smudge them with ashes, they stain them, they drool on them with their mouths, they wipe noses dripping with slime on their sleeves.” ~ Daniel of Beccles, Urbanus magnus (c.1200)


How to Prevent Back Pain

“If you avoid wiping your rear end with grass or any other foliage which has grown in the earth, you will never suffer from back pain.” ~ Les Evangiles des Quernouilles (c.1470)

How to Give Birth

“I advise you to scream loudly, so that everyone will believe that you are in great pain, and your husband and the other members of the household will have compassion, and they will try to put out the great fire of your pain by serving you capons, candied almonds, and fine wines.” ~ Michele Savonarola, Ad mulieres ferrarienses (c.1450)

How to Get Rid of Mosquitoes

“If a house or some other place where there are mosquitos is fumigated with elephant dung, they are put to flight and die.” ~ Albertus Magnus, De animalibus (c.1260)


How to Sleep

“It is very good to sleep first on the right side, then on the left. No sane person should sleep on his back, for many serious illnesses result, since liquid humour, when turned from its proper course by such a position in bed, may infect brain and nerves and kidneys…At night we must avoid the moon, especially when sleeping, for it stirs cold humors and generates many kinds of catarrhs, especially if the moon’s rays, which are cold and damp, fall on the head of the sleeper.” ~ Bartolomeo Platina, De honesta voluptate in valetudine (1474)

Want to know how to garden with lobsters? How to sober up? Grow a beard? Or simply how to make a perfect omelet? Look no further. Rather, look backward.

Based on the popular blog, Ask the Past is full of the wisdom of the ages–as well as the fad diets, zany pickup lines, and bacon Band-Aids of the ages. Drawn from centuries of antique texts by historian and bibliophile Elizabeth P. Archibald, Ask the Past offers a delightful array of advice both wise and weird.

Whether it’s eighteenth-century bedbug advice (sprinkle bed with gunpowder and let smolder), budget fashion tips of the Middle Ages (save on the clothes, splurge on the purse) or a sixteenth-century primer on seduction (hint: do no pass gas), Ask the Past is a wildly entertaining guide to life from the people who lived it first.


You can learn more about the book Ask the Past: Pertinent and Impertinent Advice from Yesteryear from Hachette BooksClick here to visit their website

Elizabeth Archibald runs the popular blog Ask the Past – you can also follow her on Twitter @AskthePast or on her Facebook page.

Top Image: British Library Royal 16 G VI f. 23