Posts Tagged ‘Medieval hygiene’

Leif Ericson Day

Posted in General, On This Day on October 9th, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

October 9, 1003:  Leif Ericson Lands in North America and Earns a Holiday in Minnesota

The Vikings are notorious for their vices, but they apparently possessed one fatal virtue: hygiene. Whether it was their fondness for saunas or the antiseptic cold of Greenland, the Vikings’ cleanliness ruined their chance to colonize North America. Starting with Leif Ericson in 1000, the Norse attempted to settle “Vinland.” Of course, the original inhabitants objected but the Vikings were never shy about other people’s property. Beyond their extrovert personalities, the Norse also had the tactical advantages of iron and steel armaments. The native American arsenal was still in the stone age. Nonetheless, the sheer number of the natives (Skraeling was the Viking name for them) made the prospect of slaughtering them rather demoralizing. And the Vikings’ damn hygiene eliminated the most effective weapon for depopulation: disease.

The Norse had nothing to infect their opponents, not a single small pox to share. Even their livestock was healthy. The “Skraelings” would have had no resistance to European germs; measles would have been a fatal plague. The Vikings then could have had Vinland to themselves. Just imagine how history would have changed: North America could have been one vast Minnesota. But the Vikings were too clean to succeed.

The Skraelings had a 500-year reprieve before they were introduced to the Spanish, French, English and small pox.

Today’s Patron Saint

Posted in General, On This Day on April 15th, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

April 15th is both the income tax deadline and the feast day for the patron saint of laundresses. Either way, you get taken to the cleaners. Since you probably know the IRS more than you wish, let me introduce you to St. Hunna. She was a German noble of the seventh century who turned her fetish into a sainthood. Hunna liked to wash the poor.

Everyone in 7th century Western Europe was filthy.  Hunna’s fellow nobles were just as feces-encrusted as the peasants, but at least they could not be bullied by a shrew with a wash rag. The poor, however, were in no position to refuse Lady Hunna. Let’s hope that she coaxed them rather than terrorized them. “I’ll give you a slice of bread if you let me bathe you.” (Footnote for our younger or unattached readers: this is a lousy pickup line. At least offer a whole pizza.)

Soap had yet to be introduced into Europe; those decadent Moslems were inventing it at this time. So Hunna’s method of washing would have been limited to soaking and scraping. She would have washed a body the way that we would clean a pan. The miserable but clean poor: I don’t know if any of them became saints, but they all were martyrs.

Considering how many psychopaths and pyromaniacs have been canonized, Hunna’s fetish does seem comparatively holy. Happy Saint Hunna’s Day to you all.