It came as no surprise that when I embarked on my new online course, Health and Wellbeing in the Ancient World, that I would learn some pretty interesting stuff. However, what I didn’t expect was how much some of it would make me spit out my tea in hysterics – it’s so ridiculous! Honestly, some of the things we believed in all of those years ago was so bonkers that it makes the Leprechauns and UFO’s seem pretty legit. But yes, I digress. As a tribute to the Ancient World, I ask you to raise your deer antler drink (read on and you’ll get this) and make a toast: to the most intriguing, bizarre and utterly hilarious subject you’ll ever encounter, cheers!
Damn, this drink is rank.
From 1 – 11, here are some of my favourites.
- Unrequited love was treated by getting some action! – And not just any action, but getting down and dirty with your chosen crush kind of action! Things could get messy. In 7th century BC, Sappho described symptoms of said lovesickness as becoming pale, sweating, shivering, speechless, seeing blank and experiencing buzzing in the ears, but most importantly, a notable disturbance of the pulse when seeing the object of your affection. These experiences were shared within the story of the 3rd century BC Prince Antiochus, son of King Seleucus, who fell for his stepmother, Queen Stratonice, who following Dr Erasistratus’ diagnosis of lovesickness, Antiochus’ Father actually allowed him to marry the Queen! Crazy.
- Wearing a penis necklace could protect you from the ‘Evil-Eye’ – So the belief goes that one could harm another by simply looking at them for a little bit too long. The Evil-Eye supposedly drew envy from the soul and could be sent out to others around you, or even to oneself through your own reflection! (Also, check out rock-legend, Dio, for a cool piece of Italian history linked to the infamous Evil-Eye and the Devil Horn hand sign) Therefore, it became pretty imperative to know how to protect yourself from such mystical mishaps. To help avoid effects of the Evil-Eye, people would call upon the Roman God, Fascinus, who as you may already have guessed, was represented as a phallus. The phallus image was carved into doors, floors and walls, hung from wind-chimes and worn as a necklace or ring. Both young and old would be seen wearing it, but the young were seen as needing more protection. Penis pendant, anyone?
- Old school hexing – Aside from the magic of a Dick God, other magic was used not just to protect people from bad health, but also to inflict illness on enemies too. In the case of the lead curse tablet, people would inscribe the name of the targeted person onto the tablet and allow the supernatural curse to cause those chosen to wrestle with a variety of ailments, such as fevers or malaria. Lead was distinctly used because it’s cold, grey and poisonous, which in a magical sense, matches well to the dark action of the curse itself.
- Bloodshot eyes were cured with breast milk – Sorry Optrex! Pass me some titty juice mixed with frankincense and I’ll be on my way! (Dioscorides, 1st century CE)
- Women were not seen until they’d done some housework – It seems apparent in the Ancient texts that women were seen as particularly unattractive first thing in the morning (what’s changed? I look like shit every morning) and thus, should crack on with kneading dough, shaking and folding clothing etc. to ensure a more rosy complexion that would appeal to their other half’s. However, the use of makeup was frowned upon and its use reserved for prostitutes, as women who wore it were perceived as more likely to cheat! Outrageous! Now, where did I put my lippie?
- Honey, I turned the baby into a rabbit! – This hilarious concept was known as, ‘Maternal impression’, the idea that an object seen, or even just imagined, by a woman as she conceived, somehow imprinted itself on the unborn child. (See Mary Toft’s rather extraordinary tale from many years later, about how she convinced those around her that based on this same idea, she gave birth to rabbits! Weirdo)
- Bottoms up! If you want to get pregnant, grab a glass of powdered deer horn – That’s right. As described in the Hippocratic text Diseases of Women (1.13), If a woman wanted to increase her chances of conception, drinking powdered deer horn (antlers) in wine for 4 days should do the trick! The choice of this ingredient was far from gratuitous: the deer had a reputation for its sexual prowess, and the capacity for its antlers to regenerate was well noted. Women also had to endure long fumigations (treatments in which vapour was directed into the vagina) to further aid the possibility of pregnancy. Oh, to be a woman! Such liberation…
- Open wide! Powder my eye and read my tongue – This Ancient lot sure loved their powders, and that adoration remained even when it came to checking women’s fertility. To ascertain this, they would start by rubbing a coloured powder into her eye, and if this caused her saliva to become coloured too, then she was fertile. Simples.
- Women were believed to be “deformed males” – Apparently, this was down to our ‘inability’ to turn our blood into semen (LOL!) However, females were also less susceptible to diseases because of this “deformity” too, so it wasn’t always such a bad thing! Still, would suck balls to not be able to wear makeup though.
- Who needs IVF when you can eat yourself pregnant? – In ancient Greek mythology, it is told that the Goddess, Hera, conceived her son after eating lettuce (apparently its water-like texture worked just like semen) and that the Goddess, Athena, was born from her father’s (Zeus) head, after he ate his lover, Metis. Because that is totally feasible. Was that a flying pig I just saw? Oh…nope…
- If you tie up your balls, you can dictate the gender of your unborn child… – According to Hippocratic text, “When a man wants to produce a male child, he should have sexual intercourse towards the end of the woman’s period or when they have just ended, and he should thrust as hard as possible until he ejaculates; when he wants to produce a girl, he should have intercourse when the woman’s periods are the strongest, or at least when they are still flowing, and tie his right testicle as much as he can bear. If he wants to produce a male, he should tie the left testicle“ (On Superfetation, 31). Tying up your nads?! I’m surprised you can ejaculate at all.
I wonder what gender that would make?
So, there you have it! 11 rib-tickling facts to tell all your friends! Aren’t Ancient humans a gullible bunch? Anyway, I’m going to put My Haunted House on. Seriously, it’s like, so scary to think there’s stuff out there that could turn all my lights off and make my furniture move. It’s okay though, ’cause if I ever get a haunting then all I have to do is burn sage around my house.
What. Why are you looking at me like that?