vrijdag 26 februari 2016

Bread of Dreams - Digest: '5. 'They Rotted in Their Own Dung''

Giulio Cesare Luigi Canali (1690-1765), parish piest of Sant' Isaia (Bologna), "knew from close range the drama of the 'stomach of the poor': of their flesh, pierced by the chill and hollowed out by ringworm and lice [...]"
"This curate, who lived in such painfully close contact with mendicity, also serves as a precious guide [...], shining the ray of his lantern's light on the most secret aspects of the beggars' lives. He also illuminates the insomnia of the poor, the recurrent and almost obsessive theme of stench, fetor, rags and lurid scarred flesh ('with foul sores, seething throughout the body') [...] and the subject of dirty underpants: [...] who could exaggerate the discomforts of the rubbish, the stench, the emaciation and the squalor whilst these paupers are forced to wear the same underpants for months and months? What Capuchin's most hirsute sackcloth, what penitent's roughest hairshirt, in comparison to these underpants, should not rather be considered the finest linen and delicate sea-silk, particularly given the insufferable troubles that this causes, sordidness which, so to speak, generates rotten flesh. [...] The images which the implacable eye of the Bolognese curate forces us to smell more than observe, are those of the hell of the poor: a putrefied inferno, foul with bodily waste, stagnant faeces and decomposing urine. [...]

Whether in the gloomy interiors of their tumble-down hovels ('the shacks, hay-lofts, caves, dungeons, muddy pools, the semi-infernos of the paupers. Oh, spectacles of compassion and horror!' exclaims Canali, 'How many times I nearly fainted for the intolerable stench and fetor! '), or in the total inferno of the prisons, perceived, carnally and viscerally, as the 'universal punishment of all the senses', where the nauseating perception of stench and fetor which impregnates everything dominated obsessively, yet again.
That filth and those faeces, in which it is their need to swim and remain immersed, so that the prison nearly becomes a sewer! What tongue and what ink would suffice to describe the pain that they bear above all, that they would sooner lie on thorns or burning coals than on that rubbish? And yet they are seen reduced to such intolerable extremes of misery, that they could fit almost to the
letter the words of Joel: 'the beasts of burden rotted in their own dung'.
The descent into the depths could not fail to pass through the 'dismal, frightening spectacle' of the hospital: 'theatre of horror', 'residence of tears', 'home of spasms', 'dark region of death: in regione umbrae mortis'. They stagnate in gloomy corridors, where the 'miserable diseased incurables
... the helpless poor', lie amidst the 'stench and horror of their own disgusting sores'.

Stench and fetors assault the sense of smell, screams and laments the hearing, squalid and deformed faces under one's eyes. Some, because of burning fevers, rave and throw whatever is handy; others, also because of fevers, but of opposite type, shiver and clatter their teeth. Some have their heads split by unbearable headaches, others have their ribs broken and guts pierced by acute pleurisy. One who is about to be suffocated by excessive catarrh, and another who thinks a thousand times he is about to die from the incessant attacks of bad asthma, but never dies. There, as a result of a most bitter thirst, one suffering from dropsy struggles impatiently, and here, because of intestinal inflammation, a consumptive is heard to come to his end [...] There are the convulsions and the contractions of the nerves, [...]; there are aqueous hernias, false catarrhs, fistulated sores, tumours of such large size that there is no medicine other than iron and fire (...) so that, doing the necessary both with iron and with fire, in a metamorphosis that is too difficult but otherwise inevitable, the infirmaries become Calvaries, the beds gallows, the doctors ... executioners."
(Camporesi 1996, '5. 'They Rotted in Their Own Dung'', pp. 68 - 70)

"Strange priests wandered among the pallets of the dying, the attendant fathers of the sick, called fathers 'of Good Death': '[...] Sinister. black as crows, disliked by the sick, they tried to convince them that since diseases were none other than 'a royal road to show us the way to heaven so as to rejoice
in the Divine Essence, they should not decline our attention nor regret it, but should accept and endure with holy will. Better dead but saved than vagabond and sinner, was their logic. In many the 'holy will' was late in showing itself, and this was a shame, because in fact the diseases could
'take away the opportunity of falling into some very grave sin' [Marcello Mansi in the Consigli per aiutare al ben morire (1625)]."
(Camporesi 1996, '5. 'They Rotted in Their Own Dung'', p. 70)

"The 'poveretti' emerge from the silence of nothingness thanks to the mediation of story-tellers such as Giulio Cesare Croce, Vincenzo Citaredo of Urbino, author, among other works, of the Speranza de' poveri (1588), and Giacomo Cieco Veronese [Lamento nuovo sopra la andata di Tofalo zafo Sbirro de poveri mendichi casa bella e ridicolosa (1593)], and many others, often anonymous.Among the latter there is the author of the Opera nuova. Dove si contiene il lamento della Poverta, sopra la carestia dell'anno 1592, in which the anxiety about bread that 'is in size / like a bird's egg', the feeling of being 'poor creatures' in the hands of monopolizers and usurers, powerless and wretched [...], is moderated by the acceptance of the unavoidable fatality of famine sent to those with 'evil phalluses', and in homage to the established powers. [...] The entire poem is punctuated by this obsessive call to patience and forbearance, the exhortation to be suspicious of false prophets and professional troublemakers, the shuddering call to the great journey to Kingdom of Shadows, the appearance of old late-medieval motifs and the re-emergence of death's lugubrious triumphs."
(Camporesi 1996, '5. 'They Rotted in Their Own Dung'', p. 71)

"The opinion that famine and plague were signs of divine wrath, caused by the corrupt and wicked habits of men was widespread. Many held that famine was brought  about by natural causes like the 'irregularity of the weather and the altered seasons' , but most, uninfluenced even by the political side of the unequal distribution of resources, believed that it was divine anger which punished excesses, 'debauchery, discord and lust'.A good portion of the population swore that it was not the 'corruption' of the air, 'the putrefied inferior elements', the eating of 'rotten fish', the action of 'wicked ministers' in the service of the Turk, or the coming and going of 'merchandise', but the angel of the angered God which generated the scourge.

The Bolognese druggist Pastarino was firmly convinced of of this. In his Preparamento ... per medicarsi in questi sospettosi tempi di peste [1577], while he noted the frequent outbreak of the plague in the 'two most mercantile cities of Italy', he swore that the 'many iniquities ... that are performed in transactions, dealings and trading moves God to send some of his terrible scourges and, in particular, pestilence'.
Both herb vendor and preacher, he exhorted his fellow-citizens to dry out 'this our body full of grease and humidity'. This is in accordance with Galen's precept, 'It is proper to dry up the body in this way, and keep it dry', and reinforced by the authority of Avicenna, according to whom 'The best treatment of them [those ill with... pestilential fevers] is desiccation, and it is best that their foods be dried.' Preacher of sobriety and abstinence ('one lives better with little), this singular and ambiguous spice merchant - citing Galen ('it is proper to open up the blocked pores') - called for the opening up of the soul before the body.
'And what are these blocked pores if not our own ears, deaf to sermons, and our mouths, closed to confessions? These should be opened, because by doing so the infirmities are discovered, the bad
humours are revealed, we recognize our worst qualities and, better, they are more easily restored to health ... Having done this, it is necessary to conclude with a good evacuation and make every effort
to evacuate all the superfluities that are within us. Thus we have the rule given to us by Galen that 'convenit corpus superfluitatibus plenum evacuare'. And Avicenna as well ... used these words: 'Purging and loosening is very useful as is the evacuation of the stomach in treating the plague'.
Let us now accept as a principle, my fellow-citizens, to evacuate from this our body every superfluity that is found here. Superfluous are the evil thoughts, dishonest reasoning and wicked designs that
occupy the mind. Superfluous are the lascivious glances, malicious signs and curiosities that dominate the eyes. Superfluous are vain things ... superfluous swearing . . . Superfluous are the things of others that we wrongly keep. And superfluous is still all that with which we could help the poor but do not ... Let us therefore protect ourselves from divine anger, and with this complete evacuation of the body . . . let us prepare to treat ourselves. '
It is not easy to say how much the voice of this Bolognese druggist was heard, seemingly bizarre in the play of extravagant comparisons between apothecary culture and pastoral ideology."
(Camporesi 1996, '5. 'They Rotted in Their Own Dung'', pp. 72-73)

"The elettuario de sanguinibus ('blood electuary') was a speciality of Pastarino's shop, to which the Senate of Bologna had conceded the privilege of publicly preparing, on the second day of August, the antidotes with which the city,[...] prepared for the 'defence' of its citizens as if for soldiers 'enclosed in a strong and well-fortified castle', in order to resist the attack of diseases.
Osvaldus Crollius, Basilica Chymica, Chemical Heritage Foundation, Public Domain

Ludovico Locatelli, Theatro d'Arcani, 1644 edition

The turnover of cash around the druggists' shops was considerable. It is known that two pharmacopoeias existed, one for the rich - full of expensive rarities like 'ambergris', 'bezoar-stone', 'unicorn stone', rubies and gold - and one for the poor, much more modest, almost entirely vegetable. The Fabrica de gli spetiali by Prospero Borgarucci (1566), Valerio Cordo's Dispensarium (1554), Johann Schroeder [1600-1664]'s Thesaurus pharmacologicus, Osvaldus Crollius [1563 - 1609]' Basilica chymica and Ludovico Locatelli's Theatro d'arcani [1644], presupposed buyers with unlimited available finances."
(Camporesi 1996, '5. 'They Rotted in Their Own Dung'', p. 73)


[Ambergris: "a solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull grey or blackish colour produced in the digestive system of sperm whales. [...] Ambergris has been mostly known for its use in creating perfume and fragrance much like musk. Perfumes can still be found with ambergris around the world. It is collected from remains found at sea and on beaches [...] During the Black Death in Europe, people believed that carrying a ball of ambergris could help prevent them from getting the plague. This was because the fragrance covered the smell of the air which was believed to be a cause of plague. This substance has also been used historically as a flavoring for food and is considered an aphrodisiac in some cultures. During the Middle Ages, Europeans used ambergris as a medication for headaches, colds, epilepsy, and other ailments." (Wikipedia, dd. 26/02/2016)]

Elephant bezoar

Unknown, Goat bezoar, 16th century, Wien, Kunsthistoriches Museum (Kunstkammer)

[Bezoar: " a mass found trapped in the gastrointestinal system (usually in the stomach); Bezoars were sought because they were believed to have the power of a universal antidote against any poison. [...] In 1575, the surgeon Ambroise Paré described an experiment to test the properties of the bezoar stone. At the time, the bezoar stone was deemed to be able to cure the effects of any poison, but Paré believed this was impossible. It happened that a cook at King's court was caught stealing fine silver cutlery and was sentenced to death by hanging. The cook agreed to be poisoned instead. Ambroise Paré then used the bezoar stone to no great avail, as the cook died in agony seven hours later. Paré had proved that the bezoar stone could not cure all poisons as was commonly believed at the time. 
Modern examinations of the properties of bezoars by Gustaf Arrhenius and Andrew A. Benson of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have shown that they could, when immersed in an arsenic-laced solution, remove the poison. The toxic compounds in arsenic are arsenate and arsenite. Each is acted upon differently, but effectively, by bezoar stones. Arsenate is removed by being exchanged for phosphate in the mineral brushite, a crystalline structure found in the stones. Arsenite is found to bond to sulfur compounds in the protein of degraded hair, which is a key component in bezoars." (Wikipedia, dd. 26/02/2016)]

Unicorn Horn / Narwhal tooth
[Unicorn stone: probably "'unicorn horn' [also known as an alicorn], is a legendary object, [...] many healing powers and antidote's virtues were attributed to the horn of the unicorn. These properties, assumed real since the 13th century, made it one of the most expensive and most reputable remedies during the Renaissance, and justified its use in royal courts. Beliefs related to the "unicorn horn" influenced alchemy through spagyric medicine. The horn's purification properties were eventually put to the test in, for example, the book of Ambroise Paré, Discourse on unicorn [...] Seen as one of the most valuable assets that a king could possess, unicorn horns were exchanged and could be purchased at apothecaries as universal antidotes until the 18th century. [...] The legendary unicorn was never captured, but its symbolic association with virginity made it the symbol of the incarnation of God's Word, innocence and divine power. Belief in the power of the unicorn's horn and its origins persisted from the Middle Ages to the 18th century, when the true source, the narwhal, was discovered. This marine mammal is the true bearer of the "unicorn horn", actually an extended tooth found in the mouth of males and some females." (Wikipedia, dd. 26/02/2016)]

woensdag 24 februari 2016

Bread of Dreams - Digest: '4. 'They Set Out into the World of the Vagabond''

"When the crises of existence became more acute, during the tense moments of food shortage [...], the threat of hunger's Grim Reaper, the divine punishment of which ranting preachers warned, lacerated the most deprived, the least protected and least secure, making their terrified faces turn pale. The 'famine of living' - as it was described at the time - upset the price curve, forcing the price of foodstuffs to a level inaccessible to urban artisans and labourers, while the withered countryside saw its cultivators (generally too numerous in relation to the low yield of the land) fleeing towards the heaven of the cities in order to beg - new mendicants - for bread from public charity." [...]
It is not really surprising then that the 'question of language', [...] should perform a mystifying role in this great national deceit, re-invented periodically in order to alienate [...] together with the language of the poor [...], the reality of a world which found difficulty in facing its harsh existence, what with 'storms' in the food supply, hygienic marasmus, servile conditions and precarious trades verging on beggary (costermongers, spinners, spirit-vendors, street-talkers, porters, latrine-emptiers,
tricksters ..., always on the point of sliding into the social temptation of vagrancy or beggary, when work - often unrewarding, always hard - did not guarantee even the necessary minimum, or when
hit by unemployment and the cost of living. [...]
(Camporesi 1996, '4 'They Set Out into the World of the Vagabond'', pp. 56-57)

"In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the rogue was experiencing his golden age, with his repertory of 'miserable frauds', his loitering and the 'fiction of broken limbs'. It was said in Bologna around the middle of the sixteenth century that 'the better one knows how to deceive, thebetter one succeeds.' In Genoa, begging, minor crime and roguery constituted a negative social model that worried the civil powers: the garzonastri ('young toughs') joined in with 'some of the vilest criminals, who - not having any trade and being sent on the hunt, it could be said, by fathers who cannot feed them, from around the age of ten to twentytwo, wandering through the streets of the city day and night - support themselves with thefts and vile deeds'. Rogues, on the other hand, represented
'a certain type of scrounger who, as enemies of work and resolved to live at the expense of others, go about asking for alms under various forms and pretences'. The business of living the life of a swindler was day by day becoming an ever more subtle 'art': beggar-philosophers and wandering sages discoursed on their privileged condition and perceptive, disenchanted experts speculated on the penetration of fraud to all levels [...], recognizing the primacy of the 'industry' of deception and theorizing on the universality of the 'imposture', its cosmic expanse, its infinite beauty and ubiquitous metamorphoses. Its indispensable pre-eminence in the formation of man and its unrivalled role in the techniques of expanding the intelligence were vigorously supported.

'And thanks to this variation the world becomes beautiful, the brain of one person is made more acute in the search for new ways of defrauding, and that of another becomes sharper in order to guard himself against it. And in effect, all the world is imposture; and it begins with the men of religion, and continues with the lawyers, the doctors, the astrologists, the worldly princes, those who participate at any time in all arts and trades; and day by day everything gets sharper and more refined. '

Giacomo Franco, Charlatans in St Marks square in Venice, 1610, engraving [Getty Images]
"The public square 'is none other than the Theatre of worldly events', a much vaster stage than the ambiguous space which constituted the inn (the shrine of meetings, pranks and deceptions). But even certain hospitals, at night, were transformed into gambling dens and card rooms by unreliable types, as can be observed in a few pages of the 'Speculum cerretanorum' [Teseo Pini], where a group of vagrants - wandering pedlars of sacred images - are caught playing dice on the reverse side of a panel depicting the Virgin Mary; or in the 'Serenata di Gian Pitocco' by Giulio Cesare Croce, in which the hospital becomes a safe refuge for wandering lovers.
The furtive shadows of dubious faces moved about on the stages of itinerant actors, sign of the  uncontrollable osmosis between fiction and its representation."
(Camporesi 1996, '4 'They Set Out into the World of the Vagabond'', pp. 58-59)

Hawthorn / Meidoorn (Crataegus Monogyna)

Hawthorn / Meidoorn (Crataegus Monogyna): fruit

[Hawthorn / Meidoorn (Crataegus Monogyna): "The fruit of hawthorn, called haws, are edible raw but are commonly made into jellies, jams, and syrups, used to make wine, or to add flavour to brandy. A haw is small and oblong, similar in size and shape to a small olive or grape, and red when ripe. Petals are also edible, as are the leaves, which if picked in spring when still young are tender enough to be used in salads."
(Wikipedia, dd. 23/02/2016)]

European Hornbeam / Haagbeuk (Carpinus Betulus): fruit
European Hornbeam / Haagbeuk (Carpinus Betulus)

[European Hornbeam / Haagbeuk (Carpinus Betulus): "An important constituent of hornbeam is tannin, which gives it effective antibiotic, astringent, and healing properties. [...] Hornbeam is well known for its ability to relieve mental fatigue and physical tiredness. Its medicinal properties help in boosting energy levels and increase vitality. Hornbeam flower essence is commonly used for treating problems like stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other related disorders. Hornbeam also helps in keeping the mind active so that one can perform routine tasks without getting tired easily." 
(Home Remedies for you, dd. 23/02/2016)  (Wikipedia, dd. 23/02/2016)]

"When bread became scarce or absent in the great houses, if not in the courts themselves, it was easily remedied by accompanying meat with more meat, but when severer than usual hunger entered into peasant houses, they attempted to survive by resorting to surrogates for flour and by devoting themselves to the tiresome search for the herbs and roots necessary for survival. As Tomasino de' Bianchi, a chronicler of Modena in the second half of the fifteenth century, writes: 'they take hawthorn fruit, then chaga [the fruit of the hornbeam (...)]; they dry and grind them and they take three parts of this flour and one of wheat flour and they make bread ... many children are sent to the woods to look for this fruit.'"

Patience Dock / Spinaziezuring (Rumex patientia)
Patience Dock / Spinaziezuring (Rumex patientia)

[Patience Dock / Spinaziezuring (Rumex patientia): "These plants are edible. The leaves of most species contain oxalic acid and tannin, and many have astringent and slightly purgative qualities. Some species with particularly high levels of oxalic acid are called sorrels, and some of these are grown as leaf vegetables or garden herbs for their acidic taste." 
(Wikipedia, dd. 23/02/2016) 
"De jonge bladeren worden als bladgroente gegeten in Oost-Europa met name in Bulgarije, Macedonië en Servië. In Roemenië wordt het ook gebruikt in soepen." 
(Wikipedia, dd. 23/02/2016)]

Persicaria / Adderwortel (Persicaria Bistorta)
Persicaria / Adderwortel (Persicaria Bistorta)

[Persicaria / Adderwortel (Persicaria Bistorta): "Reeds in de 15e eeuw werd de plant gebruikt in de geneeskunde. Het kruid was al eerder beschreven maar dan onder andere namen. De plant werd gebruikt tegen scheurbuik en als wondkruid of bloedstelpend middel. Door de vorm van de wortel kon het volgens de signatuurleer toegepast worden bij slangenbeten en ander gif. Een oude naam voor het kruid was dan ook Serpentaria. Het is nog steeds één van de beste samentrekkende kruiden. In het verleden werd de plant veel als groente gegeten, met name de spruiten en het jonge blad. Ze werd ook gebruikt bij het leerlooien." 
(Wikipedia, dd. 23/02/2016)]

Field Thistle / Akkerdistel (Cirsium Arvense)
taproot thistle

[Field Thistle (alternative name 'lettuce from hell thistle') / Akkerdistel (Cirsium Arvense): "Like other Cirsium species, the roots are edible, though rarely used, not least because of their propensity to induce flatulence in some people. The taproot is considered the most nutritious. The leaves are also edible, though the spines make their preparation for food too tedious to be worthwhile. The stalks, however, are also edible and more easily de-spined." 
(Wikipedia, dd. 23/02/2016)]

Rapeseed / Koolzaad (Brassica napus)

Rapeseed leaves

[Rapeseed / Koolzaad (Brassica napus): "Historically, rapeseed was mainly produced as a source of lubricant for machinery due to its high levels of glucosinolate, a bittering agent which made the oil unpalatable, and erucic acid, a toxic substance associated with cardiac lesions. However, in 1973, Canadian agricultural scientists bred strains of rapeseed sufficiently low in these substances to make the crop palatable and safe for both human and livestock consumption." (Wikipedia, dd. 23/02/2016)]

"On a day in 1484 this same chronicler noted that a group of thirty women and children had entered one of his fields, 'gathering roses, patience-dockspersicariafield thistle, poppy, rape leaves ... and they mixed everything together with a bit of oil or fat and with vinegar, water and salt in the pot, and they ate it."
(Camporesi 1996, '4 'They Set Out into the World of the Vagabond'', pp. 61-62)

Bread of Dreams - Digest: '3. Sacred and Profane Cannibalism'

"Marsilio Ficino, son of a doctor, prescribed the drinking of blood drawn from the veins of
adolescents as a remedy for the exhaustion of old age, following a universally adopted usage, in his De sanitate tuenda: 'Thus the good doctors, using blood distilled and refined by fire, are
able to recreate and restore those who are eaten away and consumed, little by little, by the consumptive fever of old age. Now why can we not also, with the same liquid, occasionally restore and almost bring back to vital strength those people who are half dead simply because of old age?
There is a certain ancient and popular opinion that certain old women, whom we call witches, suck the blood of babies to rejuvenate themselves as much as possible; why should our elderly, who find themselves bereft of any other assistance, not likewise suck the blood of a yound boy, of robust strength I mean, who is healthy, cheerful, even-tempered and who has - perfect blood and, by chance, in abundance. Then suck it as would a leach or bloodsucker, from the open vein of the left arm ... and during the waxing of the moon. "
(Camporesi 1996, '3 Sacred and Profane Cannibalism', pp. 44-45)

"In terms of therapeutical characteristics "not all skulls were considered of equal value: Those which are stolen from cemeteries, from people naturally dead, are not valued at all [by druggists and doctors]. But they take singular care to choose those skulls belonging to men who suffered violent deaths, and that, purified and cleansed of all filth, have been in the open air for a few years, like those which justice, for the public infamy of great bandits, exposes in iron cages on the gates of the city to the view of others. The reason why this choice is best, according to them, is that the skull of whoever has passed to the other life by means of a natural death is believed to have none of its innate spirit which has been dissipated in the disease; whereas those which met violent deaths still preserve a part of this spirit and because of such a death this powerful spirit, they say, lies concentrated and nearly hidden inside. This is confirmed by the usnea of the human skull, which (according to Olmonte) is a small plant which, by a seed fallen from the sky, grows in the skull on the nourishing sauce of its alcoholic liquid." [...]"Aqua divina was the name of a distillation from corpses, and not a few doctors 'proclaimed its supreme magnetic virtue'. It was prepared by following this recipe: 'The whole corpse (killed, of course, by a violent death), with bones, flesh and intestines, is separated into tiny pieces, and this done well, every part of the body is ground up, so that nothing remains unmixed. Then it is distilled with favourable results." [...]

Jacopo Berengario da Carpi, De Fractura Cranii, 1651

"The flesh of the mummy mixed with mother's milk was the main ingredient in the preparation of a 'human plaster' manufactured in Carpi by the Barigazzi family, a clan of barber-surgeons from which Berengario emerged, a famous anatomist at the University of Bologna and author of De fractura calvae sive cranei (1518):
'Among the medicines for external use, I have never known the equal of my head plaster, known also as the human plaster, because a notable part of human, or rather mummy, substance enters into its composition. I have always heard from the oldest of my family that the mummy which enters into this plaster must be part of a man 's head, and the mummy is dried human flesh. In Venice I saw nearly intact bodies of such a mummy. From what I learned from my father and also from what I have seen, the old people of our family kept one or more such mummified heads in the house, from which they took certain parts for the preparation of the plaster." [...]

[about the 17th century writings of Alessandro Venturini]: "With a preventive prophylactic aim in mind, or else in curative procedures, hair, menstruum and mother's milk and butter were all utilized. Even more numerous were the 'virtues' to be extracted from the body, starting from the 'marrow of dead bone', to 'human fat', blood, the dried flesh of mummies, the excrement and urine of men and
boys, sweat, the 'filth of the ears', the 'mucus of the nostrils', the dirt to be found around the neck of a man's penis' (to be spread on a scorpion sting), and 'testicles given in powder to the woman after menstruation' to make her conceive, according to the recipe attributed to Trotula da Salerno (eleventh century). From the druggists' and herbalists' workshops came ointments, pomades, elixirs, syrups, pills and electuaries: products not dissimilar, in their 'repugnant' composition, from the philtres and ointments attributed to witches."
(Camporesi 1996, '3 Sacred and Profane Cannibalism', pp. 45-48)

Bread of Dreams - Digest: '2. Elusive Bread'

"The distress of the few in the face of the crazed surging in the streets, of the innumerable devourers of refuse - the 'grub-men' and 'insectmen' - and the anxiety of the groups in power regarding the great, threatening numbers, the uncontrolled proliferation of the wretched and the spectre of a negative society that, reluctant to be integrated, waves the banner of a society in opposition, all stimulate the obsessive image in Bonifacio's sonnets of the rising tide; water that rises irresistibly in order
to bring about the final suffocation. The tension between the castes is transformed into this metaphorical series of verses from which seeps the fearful contempt of the eaters of white bread towards the eaters of dark bread or those who went without bread altogether: the picchia-porte
('door-knockers') or matta-panes' ('bread-crazy') who expanded the great cloud of scoundrels and rogues',  as threatening as a raging storm of locusts.
In reality, beyond the literary effect and ritual dramatization of tumult and fear, the turbulence of the very poor, while capable of causing anxiety and dread, never went beyond a bit of unorganized looting, incapable of being transformed into anything more than a furious but short-lived rebellion."
(Camporesi 1996, '2 Elusive Bread', p. 35)

"Liberation from the male di vivere ('sickness of living') was not pursued politically, but by means of direct-release techniques, such as the great use of alcoholic beverages, sexual practices ('wild' and unrestrained) and ritual feasts (the private or group transgression of the civil or religious norm}.Dreams stimulated not revolutionary ferments but voyages into fantastic evasions. The utopias, even the most radical, dissolve into doctrinal and sapiential story-telling. Even the great myth of the Land of Cockaigne - whether in its general desire for fair community ownership of material goods and property, or in the dream of eternal youth and love, not socially controlled, of non-institutionalized eros - never remotely entails authentic political and social renewal. [...]"

Angelo Beolco, Due dialoghi di Ruzzante, 1556
"The bread of the poor, of those dressed in rags, the unemployed, and especially of those who produced it, the peasants, victims of a paradoxical social and economic logic, was a bread forever fleeting, as elusive as a slow-motion nightmare of interminable length. In lean years, the time of
the next harvest was dreamed of, in longing expectation, beginning in late autumn: of summer and its fruits, the season in which one could re-experience the taste of the pan novelo ('new bread').
The character of Menego in Ruzante [Angelo Beolco (1502 – March 17, 1542)]'s Dialogo facetissimo, performed during the famine of 1528, counts on his fingers the months that separate him from 'the fleeting bread': 'January, February, March, April, May and half of June as well, until wheat. (Sigh!) Oh, we shall never make it!
Blast, but it's a good long year, this one. I know the bread flees from us, indeed it does, more than sparrows from the falcon.' [...] The comic stamp of the dialogue [...] also serves to dispel the terrible adversary, hunger, by exorcizing it with laughter. [...] tragic buffoonery invented by those whose flesh is tortured by the wedges of hunger. This cruel image, borrowed from the torture chambers, was
then quickly transferred and rendered innocuous by the absurdity of the expedients devised to try to avoid, or at least mitigate, the hard laws of necessary consumption and physiological fate, proposing the use of astringents like the sorb-apple, or the surreal strategem of plugging 'la busa de soto' ('the hole underneath'). In that way the excrement, not being able to leave the body, could keep the bowel full thus neutralizing hunger. [...]
Ruzante reaches the most powerful effects of macabre humour when Menego, outraged in heart and flesh by his rival in love, imagines his own destruction, by self-devourment: 'But nevertheless I shall kill myself ... And i will be even better, because I myself shall eat me, and so I shall die well-nourished, in defiance of the famine'.  The grotesque effect is surprisingly successful and of an irresistible humour (at least for us); except that the weighing and the interpretation could be modified,
keeping in mind that episodes of this sort - here only imagined for the amusement of the noble listeners - were actually taking place outside the theatre. The accounts by the missionaries of St Vincent bear witness to the tragic reality of autophagy in France during the seventeenth century.
The shortage in the food supply from which Ruzante departs in order to construct his Dialogo facetissimo et ridiculosissimo, 'performed at Fosson in the year of the famine, 1528', corresponds dramatically to the notarial acts of the time [...], which furnish a vivid counterpoint to the theatrical game created in order to delight the powerful patron and master, intent on expanding this vast landed patrimony, taking advantage of the misery which forced small landholders and lease holders already afflicted by heavy debts, to sell him their lands at a low price.
It remains an enigma how an audience could enjoy this theatrical action which caused the starving poor (even in the fiction of the stage) to become the means of entertainment and amusement for those who, if not actually the causers of hunger, took generous advantage of the calamities which fell heavily on the people. "
(Camporesi 1996, '2 Elusive Bread', pp. 36-38)

Bread of Dreams - Digest: '1. The 'Disease of Wretchedness''

"'One was really tired of being in the world,' noted a French rural curate in his diary during the seventeenth century, interpreting the desperation of the most wretched parishioners who died of hunger in his village. At the beginning of the same century a Bolognese canon, Giovan Battista Segni, recalled that 'in Padua in 1528, every morning throughout the city twenty-five or thirty dead from hunger were found on dungheaps in the streets. These paupers did not even resemble men.'
A terrible passage, coming from one of the most learned cities in Europe, that ominously illuminates the last stage in a troubled metamorphosis: the long miserable voyage towards the destruction of what is human and the passing birth of the man/animal in daily contact with dung, attracted by the mirage of its soothing, fermenting heat. A nauseating refuge for whoever was forced to sleep naked on excrement, like a second Job. [...]
The urban scene then came to resemble terrifying concourse - to use an image dear to a classical writer on hunger, St Basil - traversed by spidermen, skin dried out and ashen, eyes sunken in hollowed-out bony sockets like the kernels of dried nuts. St Basil's 'Homilia dicta tempore famis et siccitatis' painted a masterly portrait of these starving men which would remain an inimitable model until the time when famine stopped tormenting the West."
(Camporesi 1996, '1 The 'Disease of Wretchedness', pp. 26-27)

"In representing the hell of the poor one constant motif is used: the physical degradation of the starving pauper and his bestial metamorphosis. The pages written by doctors and priests often give us passages describing the collective reality with strong and biting dramatic force. Those who daily moved among the hungry and the dying were - more efficaciously than the men of letters (involved in totally different excercises) - the best interpreters and witnesses of the dismal marasmus of wretched individuals and crowds. Their voices agree in underlining the intolerable filth of the beggars, the nauseous and disagreeable stink of poverty, inescapable companion of the 'canine' condition: They did not have the appearance of humans, writes a south Italian doctor during the eighteenth century, 'so haggard and thin were they, and, furthermore, they stank so badly that when approaching citizens or wandering through the streets or churches or public spaces, they caused instantaneous giddinessand dizziness'."
(Camporesi 1996, '1 The 'Disease of Wretchedness', pp. 33)

Bread of Dreams - Digest: 'Introduction'

"meanwhile, at the lower level of 'civil' society - in the subordinate world of instrumental and 'mechanical' beings, tyrannized by their daily use of 'vulgar breads', in which the mixture of inferior grains, often contaminated and spoiled by poor storage, or, as happened not infrequently, mixed (sometimes deliberately) with toxic and narcotic vegetables and cereals - the troubled rhythm of an existence verging on the bestial contributed to the formation of deviant models and delirious visions. [...]
Among the most common and popular foodstuffs that permitted the transition from a human condition on the verge of the unliveable to a drugged and paranoid dimension was poppyseed bread (the poppy was cultivated in vast areas of Europe with what today would be called industrial methods). It was a bread disguised and flavoured, and in addition spiced with coriander seeds, anise, cumin, sesame-seed oil, [...] In areas where it was cultivated, even the flour of hemp-seeds was used in the kitchen to prepare doughs and breads which 'cause the loss of reason' and 'generate domestic drunkeness and a certain stupidity'. One could doubtless regard this as having been directed not so much from above (as is somtimes supposed), as desired and sought by the masses themselves, consumed as they were by disease, hunger, nocturnal fears and daytime obessions.
The collective journey into illusion, [...] helps to explain the manifestation of collective mental delirium, of mass trances, of entire communities and villages exploding into choreal dancing. But it could also be the path which allows us to catch a glimpse of a two-sided mental model of the world [...] where the layers are overturned, the universals reversed, the world ending up head-over-heels, with head on the ground and feet in the air. The result of an altered measuring of space and time, based on a non-Euclidic geometry and a magical, dreamlike perspective [...].
The spectre of this vampirish society of people possessed becomes visible, fleeing the painful recognition of the brevitas vitae and the fear of death, while trying desperately and cruelly to prolong life by sucking young blood, opening and closing the veins of its own and other's bodies. This society is possessed by a corporeal culture neurotically sensitive to the internal circulation of the humours and convinced of the absolute primacy of good human blood [...]
The purging of the blood and the ridding of impurity [...] were the decisive moments of every therapeutic activity based upon the expulsion of corruption and evil [...] if the blood is not purged, it causes lycantthropy and fears and ugly thoughts, such that one sees men rave and become spellbound in foul and filthy places, among graves and corpses, becouse the infected spirit desires things similar to itself.'"

heks met incubus

"Seen from this perspective, the image of a febrile and sleepless society comes into view, attempting to resist the nocturnal visitations, the presence of the night-dwellers (incubi [demons in male form who lie upon women in order to engage in sexual activity with them, what may result in the deterioration of health, or even death], goblins [evil grotesque dwarf-like daemons], vampires, witches and werewolves), and to protect itself from the painful aggression of the dreadful and horrible dreams by means of a whole magical pharmacology that induced forgetfulness and serenity [...]."

Wormwood / Absintalsem (Artemisia Absinthium)
Wormwood / Absintalsem (Artemisia Absinthium) 

["Wormwood / Absintalsem (Artemisia Absinthium): Aan de knoppen van Absintalsem wordt vanouds een geneeskrachtige werking toegeschreven. Het bittere aftreksel van deze knoppen vormt een belangrijk bestanddeel van de dranken vermout en (klassieke) absint. De smaakstoffen die daarbij een rol spelen zijn absinthine en het naar menthol ruikende terpeen thujon. Zoals alle alcoholhoudende dranken, kan absint bij langdurig en frequent gebruik leiden tot verslaving en zenuw- en hersenbeschadiging." 
(Wikipedia, dd. 22/02/2016)]

"Wormwood for example (Artemisia Absinthium)[...] was considered the mother of all herbs [...] from which all others descended as offspring. 'A medicinal herb', of entirely feminine virtue, many call it the matricaria, especially women, for whom it is itself a treasure. They use it with cheese, eggs, etc., to make tortelli during the feasts for Holy Mary [... ] [a] regulator of the female cycle (and because it was governed by the moon), protector of the reproductive organs and feminine fertility, the matricaria [...] was associated [...] with the supernatural power of the mother of the Omnipotent, and then reconsecrated in the Christian baptism of herbs with the Virgin's name. It was ritually eaten as a food filled with enigmatic powers (in their form, too, these stuffed tortelli resembled a half-moon), on the day when it emanated the greatest therapeutic energy. [...]"


"The cuisine of the imaginary, dream-inducing diet, sacrilegious gastronomy (cannibalistic, vampirical and dung-eating), human ointments and plasters, profane oils and sacred unctions, 'mummy' fragments and cranial dust, medicinal powers de sanguinibus, breads filled with seeds and powders bestowing oblivion, expansive and euphoria-producing herbs, narcotic cakes, stimulating roots and aphrodisiacal flours, aromas and effluvia of devil-chasing plants and anti-dotes for melancholy (balneum diaboli), and 'seasoned' and 'fostered' spells created a network of dreams, hallucinations and permanent visions. [...] It was observed how real massacres and imaginary battles, wild warriors and avenging angels were 'depicted in the air', because [...] 'nature is wise and devilish' and 'future things are foreseen in the air'. An aerial theatre that prefigured to men 'signs' of things to come: a symbolic reading of the future conducted with eyes raised upwards. [...]"

Jheronimus Bosch, Hooiwagen-triptiek, zijpaneel links, ca. 1515, 136 x 45 cm, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, cat. 13

Pieter Bruegel, De aartsengel Michaël in gevecht met de apocalyptische draak, 1562, 117 x 162 cm, Brussel, KMSK, inv. 584

"The people of the town and city as well; lived immersed in a world of expectation, in a suspended and bewitched condition, where portent, miracle and the unusual belonged to the realm of the possible and the everyday: the saint and the witch (in her own way, a saint of a different type) reflected the two ambiguous faces, the face side and reverse of the same neurotic tendency towards the separation from reality, the voyage into the imaginary and the leap into the fantastic. [...] The saint - eccentric wizard of ecstasy in a body consumed by penance and privation, his mind altered by fasts, like certain hermits kept alive by roots and herbs (but which ones?) - was equipped with shamanistic powers (trance, levitation, knowledge of the language of animals...). The 'immeasurable treasure of most holy poverty' possessed by the father of the Fraticelli produced the same effects of an upsetting withdrawal from reality, and in the process stimulated the same sense of the real and the impossible, as experienced by those who, suffering and subdued by an involuntary poverty, victims of an alienating indolence, fell into shocking hallucinations and stupefied contemplations of unreal worlds. [...]
In Florence during November l509, a wandering charlatan known as 'the Spaniard' - who often climbed up on to a bench to sell his prayers following his text with an example, like a good preacher - began his market-performance of the supernatural in this way:
'In order that you will believe that this comes from a saint who performs miracles, and that what I tell you is true, come and lead me to a hot baker's oven, which I will enter with this prayer.' And so he was led to this oven, at the Holy Trinity, with the people behind and many of the leading citizens ... On arrival at the baker's he said: 'Give me some uncooked bread' and threw it in the oven to show that it was hot, and then he stripped down to his shirt and dropped his trousers to his knees, and in this way he entered till high up, and stayed there awhile, and picked up the bread and turned around inside. And note, the oven was hot, he brought out the bread, and he didn't harm himself at all. When he had got out of the oven, he was given a torch and he lit it, and lighted as it was, he put it in his mouth and kept it there until it was extinguished. And many other times on the bench, over the course of several days, he took a handful of lighted tapers, and held up his hand for a length of time, and then he put them burning into his mouth, so that they went out. And he was seen to do many other things with fire: raising his hands into a pot of oil that was boiling on the fire, was seen many times by all the people. And thus he sold as many of the prayers as he could make; and I say that among all the things I have ever seen [the observer is Luca Landucci, a Florentine spice merchant] I have not seen a greater miracle than this, if it is a miracle. [...]
The boundaries between the real and unreal, possible and impossible, sacred and profane, abstract and concrete, holy and cursed, purity and filth, and idecency and sublimity are extremely fleeting and uncertain. [...]"

"Western Europe, at least until the seventeenth century, has the appearance of an enormous house of dreams where the diurnal regime becomes confused with the nocturnal, and which is master of surrealistic mythologies [...]. The Europe that, as Jacques Le Goff has splendidly perceived, turned repeatedly to 'agents of oblivion' more than to the professional witch, domina herbarum et ferarum, and that had the first innovators of the artificial delights and narcotic sweetness accompanying a concocted and directed diet of dreams in the women of the home: the mothers, grandmothers, aunts, godmothers, the wet-nurses who nursed the infants, and the domestic casters of charms.
At least until the end of the eighteenth century the habit of administering an infusion of poppies steeped in water to slightly restless children survived in the Italian countryside. This custom was widespread in France as well, since Josephe Raulin, towards the middle of the eighteenth
century, described as 'always suspect the narcotics which ... all too commonly are given to children to calm them', and the celebrated author of the 'Avis au peuple sur sa sante' (1760), the Lausanne doctor Samuel André Tissot, recognized that 'les remèdes tirés de l'opium ... sont d'une absolute necéssite [aux enfants].' [...]"

Black Nightshade / Zwarte Nachtschade (Solanum Nigrum/Hortense)
Black Nightshade / Zwarte Nachtschade (Solanum Nigrum / Hortense)), Leonhart Fuchs, De historia stirpium commentarii [...], Basileae (In officina Isingriniana), 1542, Renaissance Herbals /Smithsonian Libraries

["Solanum Hortense [nachtschadefamilie cfr tomaat, aubergine, aardappel etc] was a traditional European medicine used as a strong sudorific, analgesic and sedative with powerful narcotic properties, but was considered a "somewhat dangerous remedy." 
(Wikipedia, dd. 22/02/2016) 
"De niet meer in gebruik zijnde naam Hofnachtschade - bij Dodonaeus [Rembert Dodoens (1518 - 1585)]Hofnascaye - behoeft wel enige nadere toelichting: uit de naam Hofnascaye is op te maken dat de plant in de tuin of het hof gekweekt wordt. We laten hier Dodonaeus aan het woord: ‘Onder de geslachten van Nascaye oft Solanum is het eerste en gemeynste Tam, dat wij in dit Capittel beschrijven sullen: de andere zijn wilt.’ Boven de [...] afbeelding staat als benaming ‘Tamme oft Hof-Nascaye.’ Hij noemt haar dan ook Solanum hortense. Hortense beduidt in de tuinen gekweekt. De woorden Tam en Hof duiden erop dat zij gekweekt werd, maar merkwaardigerwijs vermeldt hij dit niet. Ook niet dat zij vroeger gegeten werd, hoewel hij de geschriften van Dioscorides [ca. 40 - 90 na Christus] wel degelijk kende. Deze laatste noemde de plant Strychnos en schreef dat zij als salade gegeten werd. In de tijd van Dodonaeus was de plant reeds uit de hoven ontsnapt en wijd verspreid want, deelt hij mede, ‘Nascaye wast op veel verscheyden gewesten, niet alleen in de hoven, daer het den naem Tamme oft Hof-nascaye voert, en daer het dicwijls onder ander cruyden vermengt pleegt te groeyen, maer oock wel neffens de wegen, aen de canten van de velden ende bouwlanden, bij de hagen ende heggen, omtrent oude muren ende weegen, vervallen huysen ende puynachtige steenachtige oft rouwe gruysachtige plaetsen.’ Volgens Valerius Cordus en K. Gesner (zestiende eeuw) werd zij in die tijd nog aangeplant en als groente genuttigd. Hierbij valt op te merken dat, volgens ons, niet de giftige bessen werden gegeten maar alleen de bladeren." (H. Kleijn , Planten en hun naam, 1970) "Solanum: is afgeleid van het Latijnse solari = pijnstillen, kalmeren of tot bedaren brengen, vanwege de pijnstillende werking van enkele soorten van het geslacht. Nigrum: duidt op de zwarte kleur van de bessen. Zwarte nachtschade: de bes is zwart, daaraan heeft ze het eerste deel van haar naam te danken. Het woord nachtschade komt van het middeleeuwse woord nachtschaduwe. Vroeger dacht men dat de plant toverkracht had en nachtmerries verdreef." 
(F. Kok, Waarom brandnetel?, 2007) (Etymologiebank, dd. 23/02/2016)]

"In the seventeenth century the botanist to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Paolo Boccone, a tireless traveller, noted that the women of Moravia 'in order to induce sleep in babies who cry in the cradle or in bed, place beside the baby a bunch of solanum hortense, upon which the baby quickly quiets down and falls asleep. The cause of this effect must be attributed to the narcotic effluvia, and also because the pores of the babies are susceptible and they are more capable of receiving the effect of these plant effluvia than adults. The belief that the emanations and effluvia of the volatile aromas and essences passed rapidly through the pores of the skin and were absorbed almost instantaneouslywas one of the commonplaces where learned knowledge and peasant doctrine coincided perfectly. From Albertus Magnus, who believed that the effluvia of opium, thorn-apple and crocus could be absorbed even at a distance, it passed to Ambroise Paré, who none the less took a critical position on this matter in De vulneribus sclopetorum, and to FallopioFioravantiCardano (of the De subtilitate), and Robert Boyle, author of a singular Tentamen porologicum, who (as in another of his works, the Specificorum remediorum concordia cum corpuscolari philosophia) not only upheld the therapeutic benefit of wearing medical substances hung from the neck, but solemnly declared to have been cured
of a haemorrhage simply by holding in his hand moss taken from a human skull.
In this general faith in the simultaneous absorption through the skin's pores, the greases, oils, ointments, plasters and poultices occupied a privileged position in the transmission of pharmacological messages, both harmful and beneficial. [...]
Society of old was made up of a swarm of people, oiled, smeared, anointed and spiced, violently odorous and unbearably smelly, where everyone was in turn anointed and anointer, and where the sense of smell dominated heavily[...]."

"In this regard at least, Campanella's City of the Sun is not at all utopian, resembling rather a normal report on the customs of an ordinary European city:
'They eat what is most beneficial and suitable according to season ... The Solarians make great use of fragrances ... [they] chew some marjoram, parsley, or mint and rub it on their hands. The folk use incense ... they often wash their bodies with wine and aromatic oils ... they observe the stars, inspect herbs ... they use prayers, fragrances, head comforters, sour things, gaiety, and fatty broths sprinkled with flour. In preparing tasty dishes that are a delight they have no equals. They make great use of mace, honey, butter, and many aromatic herbs ... they know a secret, marvellous art by which they can renew their bodies painlessly every seven years.'"

Mandrake/Alruin (Mandragora Officinalis)
Mandrake/Alruin (Mandragora Officinalis)

(nachtschadefamilie): De alruinwortel bevat giftige alkaloïden (scopolamine, atropine, apoatropine, hyoscyamine, cuskhydrine, solandrine, mandragorine en andere hallucinogene tropaanalkaloïden). De plant werd vroeger als narcoticum en pijnstiller, en deels ook als hallucinogeen middel gebruikt, onder meer in heksenzalf." 

Henbane/Bilzekruid (Hyoscyamus Niger)

["Henbane/Bilzekruid (Hyoscyamus Niger) (nachtschadefamilie): De gehele plant is zeer giftig. De belangrijkste gifstoffen zijn de zogenaamde tropane alkaloïden scopolamine, hyoscyamine, atropine. De vergiftigingsverschijnselen zijn een opgezwollen buik en hevige krampen. Hierop volgt eerst verlamming en ten slotte de dood.In de volksgeneeskunde werd deze narcotische (pijnverdovende) en hallucinaties opwekkende plant als krampoplossend middel en bij astma ingezet. De bladeren, en ook de gemakkelijker doseerbare zaden, werden voor hun roesopwekkend effect gerookt. Tot in de 17e eeuw werd bilzekruid gebruikt als smaakstof voor bier." 
(Wikipedia dd. 22/02/2016)]

(Black) Poppy (Papaver Somniferum)
(Black) Poppy (Papaver Somniferum)

["(Black) Poppy / Papaver (Papaver Somniferum) produces edible seeds and is also the source of the crude drug opium which contains powerful medicinal alkaloids such as morphine and has been used since ancient times as an analgesic and a source of narcotic, medicinal and recreational drugs." 
(Wikipedia, dd. 22/02/2016)

Poplar / Populier (Populus) 

["Poplar / Populier (Populus): De binnenbast van de (zwarte) populier kan gegeten worden. De bast kan gedroogd en verpoederd worden zodat het een meel wordt. Van dit meel kan een brood worden gebakken. Het is noodvoedsel. Galen of Galenos von Pergamon, een arts uit het oude Griekenland meldde reeds een medicinaal gebruik van de knoppen van de bloemen van de zwarte populier. Deze worden gebruikt ter pijnbestrijding. Ook vandaag de dag kunnen we de knoppen van de zwarte populier tegen komen in een pijnstillende balsem." 
(Mens en gezondheid, dd. 22/02/2016)] 

"In this aromatic world of sensitive skin and magnetic pores, in order to prevent nursing infants from falling victim to 'terrifying dreams', 'hideous dreams', and 'fantasies' that 'by inciting dreams disturb the sleep', the wet-nurse, for her part, had to maintain a strict diet, eating 'lettuce in broth or in boiled salad and poppyseeds: sedative substances that were transmitted to the infant along with the milk. And furthermore, every night the anointing ritual took place beside the cradle: the infant was smeared from one temple to the other with a poplar ointment [in which poplar buds were mixed with black poppymandrake and henbane], rancid oil and a little opium, and a bit of vinegar, spreading this on the nostrils as well. A more effective remedy', advised the Roman doctor Scipione Mercuri, who died in 1615, 'is to boil lettuce seed and white poppyseed, with a little saffron and vinegar, in the rancid oil, spreading this over the temples with a cloth. A small amount of white poppy syrup taken through the mouth will also help. '
Thus prepared and 'seasoned', the infant was entrusted to the dark arms of the night. The initiation into controlled dreaming and the artificial ease of opium-induced sleep began with swaddling clothes. From infancy to old age narcosis ruled supreme."
(Piero Camporesi, 'Introduction', Camporesi 1996, pp. 17-25)

Bread of Dreams - Digest: 'Preface'

cover van Camporesi 1996, met Pieter Bruegels Het Land van Kokanje (Luilekkerland), 1567, olieverf op paneel, 52 x 78 cm, Münich, Alte Pinakothek, inv. 8940

"We must deal in an even-handed way with what to us seems sensible and what seems bizarre, what seems progressive and archaic, or sophisticated and naive. And we must grasp how such varied elements typically fitted together into what was for earlier societies [...] a coherent world view. [...] How did the people at large make sense of the world if they did not fully accept at face value the universe of meanings stipulated by authority - by Church or state? [...] Magic, the supernatural, disguise, surprise events, coincidences - all these loomed large in the hopes and fears of those who made poor and precarious livings off the land, overshadowed by the unpredictable fortunes of birth, life and death, the social exactions and exploitations of the strong and the malign. [...] For one of the cardinal assumptions pervading Camporesi's historical vision is that the tales of the unusual and the cosmology of the weird and wonderful with which he deals were not simply the mind-fodder of the mere peasantry, the opium of the illiterate, the daydreams of the dregs. Rather these beliefs were current throughout the society, accepted [...] by representatives of all social classes[...] these 'irrational' ideas were supported and generated so powerfully, and for so long, precisely by the most educated and authoritative members of the society. [...]
Not only were popular and 'vulgar' views - about the normality-defying powers of the flesh - supported by the intelligentsia, but the beliefs of Medieval and early modern Christian culture turn out to have been different from, or at least far more complex than, what historians have traditionally suggested. We have always been told that Christianity inculcated a contempt for the flesh, seeing it as mere worm-food, a mass of corruption, a prison house of the soul. That is indeed true, and Camporesi cites abundant instances of ascetics and flagellants. But his point is that the contempt of the flesh, taken to such levels, becomes and endorses its opposite. It expresses a profound fascination for the flesh as an emblem of life in a world of the inanimate, of change and becoming. It suggests almost a reverence for it, not least because the flesh of those self-scourgers, the great ascetics, became no less an object of veneration, almost adoration, than the bodies beautiful of pin-ups and movie stars
nowadays. [...] Using sources as varied as ecclesiastical records and official reports, proverbs, scurrilous verse and popular drama, Camporesi explores the diverse features of a way of life in which, for the vast majority of a society of small-scale peasants, labourers, wanderers, paupers and vagabonds, Lenten living was a cruel and perpetual necessity as much as an act of Christian holiness, and in which a public feast could be the apogee of a lifetime's aspirations. [...] Camporesi shows the enormous symbolic significance attached to having enough to eat. [...] The fat man was - as in so many third world cultures these days - the visible embodiment of the successful man, the man who had literally incorporated his success, become his own corporation. [...] Camporesi thus explores how the acts of eating, digestion, and defecation formed the core of a popular cosmology concerned with
explaining living and dying, change and process, the tendency to decay and the capacity to resist it.
lt was a culture in which all dreamed of eating flesh (meat was nourishment, taste and status) but in which eating the flesh of certain animals was taboo, and above all, the notion of eating human flesh was utterly charged with feelings of abomination, yet fascination. Tales of anthropophages, and of tribes which practised cannibalism, proliferated. How could it have been different within a religion whose most sacred ritual was the ceremonial repetition of an act of cannibalism? Popular culture, in its orgiastic drunken feasts, mocked the sacred cannibalism of the eucharist. [...]
Bread marked the divide between life and death. Bread stood for the body within Christian symbolism. Making, breaking, and distributing bread earned profound connotations of friendship, communion, giving, sharing, justice - indeed, literally, 'com-pan'ionship. [... Camporesi's] powerful imagination enables him to recreate the central importance of hunger as a moving force in history - both as what we might call a real 'gut' drive, and as the stimulus to fantasy, to rebellion, to utopias - the idea of a land of Cockayne... where none will any longer be hungry. [...]
One of the most startling claims in this book is Camporesi's view that much of the population of earlier Europe was living in some sort of drugged condition. This, he suggests, was sometimes the effect of mere hunger, producing dazed or stupefied states. Sometimes it was the result of eating tainted bread, made from mouldy, verminous flour, or stale food whose condition had deteriorated. Sometimes it was through accidental or deliberate adulteration - mixing flour with mash, bran, potatoes, vegetable leaves or chemicals to make it go further or to transform the taste. It was also thanks to consuming all manner of fermented drinks, mushrooms, distillations and the like, and applying or sniffing lotions, oils, essences, etc. Such intoxication - the equivalent perhaps of betel-chewing in Asia or the use of coca leaves in South America - perhaps inured populations to lives of toil, tedium and general hopelessness; perhaps also provided hallucinatory experiences which stimulated that vision of the tangibility of the supernatural which is so central to early modern religious experiences; and perhaps accounts for bizarre phenomena such as witchcraft possession and religious convulsionism."
(Roy Porter, 'Preface', pp. 3-15)