Sunday, March 09, 2008


One of my book buys on a recent binge was a translation of The Trotula by Monica H. Green/University of Pennysylvania Press ISBN 978 0 8122 1808 4. Basically it's an ensemble of three works on women's medicine from 12th Century Italy and reflects some of the new theories, practices and medicines coming out of the Arabic world at that time.
As well as dealing with ailments specific to women, The Trotula also gives advice on child care and various interesting recipes for cosmetic beautification - one of which has found its way into a scene in The Time of Singing.
'But when she combs her hair, let her have this powder. Take some dried roses, clove, nutmeg, watercress and galangal. Let all these, powdered, be mixed with rose water. With this water let her sprinkle her hair and comb it with a comb dipped in this same water so that her hair will smell better. And let her make furrows in her hair and sprinkle on the above mentioned powder, and it will smell marvelously.'

I also mention this one in passing: If the woman wishes to have long and black hair, take a green lizard and, having removed its head and tail, cook it in common oil. Anoint the head with this oil. It makes the hair long and black.' I am quite tempted to try out the first one at a re-enactment event, but I'll leave the second one for more adventurous souls. This next one too is on my 'give it a miss for now' list. 'For whitening the hair. Catch as many bees as possible in a new pot and set it to burn, and grind with oil, and then anoint the head.'
Want white teeth? The teeth are whitened thus. Take burnt white marble and burnt date pits and white natron, a red tile, salt, and pumice. From all of these make a powder in which damp wool has been wrapped in a fine linen cloth. Rub the teeth inside and out. Hmm, must show this my dentist!
As a complexion aid: 'For whitening the face and clarifying it. Take the juice of pignut and mix steer or cow marrow with it, and let them be ground, and in these ground things add powder of aloe, cuttlefish bone, white natron, and dove dung. Let all these be ground, and let there be made an ointment. With this ointment the woman should anoint her face.'
One might think Yeeeukkk, until one starts to ponder on the ingredients for modern cosmetics.
I've just looked up the ingredients on my anti-frizz serum (see decent hair day photo!). I've chosen this because it has the least list of ingredients to type out I could find. I have no intention of copying the mile-long list from a body lotion bottle! the frizz-ease contains Cyclopentasiloxane, dimethiconol, ethylhexyl, methoxycinnamate, liquid paraffin (I've anglicised it!) hydrolized silk and algae extract. Who knows, the chemical compounds involved in lizard extremities could well be hidden in there! I guess that sometimes nothing really changes that much.

Much of The Trotula is concerned with discussions of women's ailments in relation to conception and childbirth. The treatments are often very different to today being based on different medical beliefs - although basic common sense is often spoken too. I'll save them for another post. However, to say that for any woman reading this who is thinking of taking a break from the Pill, it is probably not a good idea as an alternative to 'take a male weasel and let its testicles be removed and let it be released alive. Let the woman carry these testicles with her in her bosom and let her tie them in goose skin or in another skin, and she will not conceive.'


Anne Gilbert said...

I just had to link this piece to my blog! Sorry, I just couldn't help myself! :-)
Anne G

Anonymous said...

"'take a male weasel and let its testicles be removed and let it be released alive. Let the woman carry these testicles with her in her bosom and let her tie them in goose skin or in another skin, and she will not conceive.'"

Maybe the reason this worked was because the husband wouldn't get anywhere near her with this tied
to her bosom!! ;)

Jan Jones said...

First hair tip - yes.

Everything else - noooooooooooooooooooo!

Amanda said...

Re: weasel testicles

Yes I think men would be turned off a bit by the smell of rotting meat wafting out of even the most lovely bosom.

"What is the strange smell, my lovely?"

"Oh thats just the rotting testicles of a weasel".

I think he would be pondering the safety of his own equipment, and the sanity of the damsel!