Asking 'Ask the Past'

Tracy Wilson

Image: Walters Art Museum W.106, f. 15r. © Walters Art Museum, used under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 license.

You may have already stumbled across this gem of a blog: Ask the Past. If you haven't, take a look. It's the work of Dr. Elizabeth P. Archibald, who teaches humanities and musicology at the Peabody Institute, the conservatory of music at Johns Hopkins University. (She's also one of the editors of "Learning Latin and Greek from Antiquity to the Present," if that's your thing.)

Ask the Past gleans tips for living and tidbits of advice from a huge array of historical manuscripts. Some of it's inherently odd - as in how to make snail bread, circa 1685. Other entries start in the realm of reason before veering hard toward nonsense - such as soothing teething babies by gently massaging their gums and then ... anointing them with the brains of a hare. That's from 1450.

Today, Ask the Past made its debut in book form: "Ask the Past: Pertinent and Impertinent Advice from Yesteryear." Here's a snippet to go with the image at the top of this post:

How to Turn Down Your Lord's Wife, c. 1200 "If your lord's wife frequently turns her eyes toward you, and aims shameful sparks at you, letting you know that she'd like to sleep with you; if she says, 'the whole house, and my husband the lord will serve you forever, you alone will be my love, you will rule everything, all of the lord's things will lie open to you' ... Listen to me, my son, keep in your heart what I advise you. Between two evils choose the lesser, son: the best plan is to pretend you are ill, fake some pains, and leave wisely and prudently." --Daniel of Beccles, Urbanus magnus Take it from the Middle Ages: you can always pretend you ate some tainted pottage or hurt your back in a boar hunt.

Next week, I'll be interviewing Dr. Archibald for an episode of the show that will come out later this spring. So if you have questions for Dr. Archibald (or for the past) let us know in the comments or by dropping us a note at historypodcast at howstuffworks dot com.