Sunday, December 16, 2007

"Ashenburg focuses on Western Europe and the United States, covering everything from fear of hot water (the Visigoths believed it was emasculating, while the French later saw it as a disease spreader) to British suspicion of bidets (which they thought would encourage oral sex)...Cleanliness certainly had its dark side: the soap-averse Inquisition used the fact that Jews and Moors were “known to bathe” as evidence against them, while at least one 18th-century British doctor dismissed warm baths as a “luxury borrowed from the effeminate Asiatics.”...The Romans spent hours at their elaborate bathhouse complexes, but not everyone equated cleanliness with virtue: Seneca rebuked shvitz lovers for not smelling “of the army, of farm work and of manliness,” while early Christian ascetics embraced filth as a sign of godliness. In the Middle Ages, the struggle between Christians and Muslims sometimes resembled a battle of the bathhouses. “One of the Spaniards’ first actions during the Reconquest,” Ashenburg writes, was to destroy the baths that had made Arab Spain “the cleanest corner of early medieval Europe.” The Crusaders brought bathhouse customs back from the Middle East, but the plague soon put an end to their resurgent popularity...(Even now, Ashenburg reports, 40 percent of Frenchmen and 25 percent of Frenchwomen do not change their underwear daily.)"