Tag Archives: Medieval History

April Fool’s Days Throughout History

I am actually quite relieved that today I do not have to teach. Not because I don’t love my students and spending time with them, but because spending April 1st in a classroom can be a test of the most patient individual. April 1, colloquially referred to as April Fool’s Day, has historically been a day replete with pranks (harmless, annoying, and in some cases threatening). Pranking, however, has a long history. The Romans celebrated feasts to the goddess Cybele called Hilariae at the end of March. These festivals included pranking, telling jokes, revering rolls, etc. A common Medieval festival in April was the “Feast of Fools” (or other similar names). These were days of pranks, jokes, and hoaxes.  Many cultures have a celebration of pranking and joking. Humor is a universal human experience.

“Aristotle’s Sex Manual” Going to Auction

courtesy of Lyon & Turnbull

courtesy of Lyon & Turnbull

A manuscript dated to the 17th century and inaccurately attributed to the Greek philosopher Aristotle is going up for auction at Lyon and Turnbull.

“Images in this “master-piece” show a woman’s torso and drawings of hairy children with extra limbs, and according to the Guardian, an image showing a woman’s torso opened up to reveal a baby in her womb. But there are no actual explicit images…” – Cathy Marsden

The book was likely written as an ‘information’ manual for the newly married, providing “medical information” on human sexuality and reproduction. The information, often grossly inaccurate, provides great insight into the minds of medical science. The “medical tidbits” state that a woman could give birth to a Black child if she was thinking of Black men during the conception or that a child conceived out of wedlock would be hairy or otherwise deformed. It also provides instruction for conceiving a child of a specified gender, by planning conception by the phases of the moon. The book even includes an instructional section for midwives (although modern midwives would be best to ignore his advice).

To learn more about the text, see the article in LiveScience, The Telegraph, or the Huffington Post.


Suffering for Faith: The History of Stigmata

This month, Smithsonian Magazine looks at the history of stigmata – when a faithful follower receives and suffers wounds or pain similar to those experienced by Christ on the cross (most commonly seen in the hands). The religious experience has been controversial amongst believers and non-believers alike, and science has been unable to pinpoint its cause or event agree on its existence.

In addition to claiming that the marks are divine gifts to the holy, skeptics have argued that cases of stigmata were hoaxes, symptoms of other diseases (including plague), or a form of hysteria. Even the Catholic Church is hesitant to discuss the issue (nearly all stigmatics are Catholic).

To learn more about the history of Stigmata, see the article on Smithsonian’s Blog: “The Mystery of the Five Wounds.”