Hunter S. Thompson Talks with Keith Richards in a Very Memorable and Mumble-Filled Interview (1993)

Here’s a variation on the parlor game question, “what famous person would you most like to have dinner with, and why?” What two famous people would you like to stick in a room together for ten minutes, and why? I imagine a fair number of readers might think of Hunter S. Thompson and Keith Richards, and the why is pretty obvious. Both impress us, writes Flavorwire, for “having remained alive” for oh so many years “after all those drugs” and crazed exploits. If Thompson was gonzo, Thompson plus Richards equals “double gonzo.”




Well, your wish is granted, in the almost ten-minute video above, in which Thompson and Richards have a mumble-off, discussing such subjects as J. Edgar Hoover’s reincarnation (he would return as “a fart,” Keith says), the Hell’s Angels, The Beatles, drugs, blood transfusions, and that Altamont incident.

In the first minute of tape, we have a rambling solo introduction from Thompson, and he assures us that he and Keith “have a sense of history you don’t.” Having put the viewer in their place (or the cameraman—more on that anon), Thompson promptly segues to the interview, which took place at the Ritz Carleton in Aspen.

Unfortunately, no one has thought to add subtitles to this bizarre exchange, which has circulated on Youtube for some time now. That was where the man who shot the interview, Wayne Ewing, first saw the grainy video of footage he shot for a 1993 ABC series called “In Concert.” The project was fraught from the beginning. The original plan was to have the two meet in New York, then have MTV shoot the interview and Ewing shoot the whole scene with a third camera “while Keith and Hunter emptied the mini-bar and chatted.” Instead, Thompson “came down with a virulent flu,” and the producers had to later lure Richards to Colorado.

So remembers Ewing in a 2009 introduction to notes he took down the day after the March 15th shoot. The journal reveals Thompson’s agitated state of mind in the week leading up to the shoot, as he lashed out at his staff, at Ewing, and at “college sophomores on ski vacations demanding autographs… holding out soiled napkins with pens for a record of their momentary brush with fame.” He’s clearly nervous about Richards’ arrival, obsessing over the state of the local shooting range, and when Ewing suggested “goofy ideas for the video with Keith,” Thompson growled, “it’s not your movie! It’s Keith’s!” Ewing’s notes are both amusing and a little distressing, given the position of Thompson’s beleaguered assistants.

Both of these figures represent the epitome of our tendency to romanticize writer/musician-addicts, but the effects on those around them don’t generally make for great stories (just ask their kids). And in Thompson’s case especially here, we can see the toll his drinking had taken on him at this stage in his life. But Richards is surprisingly lucid, as he continues to oftentimes be, remembering specific dates and details, and the whole interview is an interesting exercise in following the free-associative logic of two addled, but still brilliant and always entertaining personalities. No need to say more. Watch the tape.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Gandhi Writes Letters to Hitler: “We Have Found in Non-Violence a Force Which Can Match the Most Violent Forces in the World” (1939/40)

Gandhi Hitler

It must come up in every single argument, from sophisticated to sophomoric, about the practicability of non-violent pacifism. “Look what Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. were able to achieve!” “Yes, but what about Hitler? What do you do about the Nazis?” The rebuttal implies future Nazi-like entities looming on the horizon, and though this reductio ad Hitlerum generally has the effect of nullifying any continued rational discussion, it’s difficult to imagine a satisfying pacifist answer to the problem of naked, implacable hatred and aggression on such a scale as that of the Third Reich. Even Gandhi’s own proposal sounds like a joke: in 1940, Adolph Hitler abandons his plans to claim Lebensraum for the German people and to displace, enslave, or eradicate Germany’s neighbors and undesirable citizens. He adopts a posture of non-violence and “universal friendship,” and German forces withdraw from Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, France, agreeing to resolve differences through international conference and committee.

Hitler may have been a vegetarian, but that’s likely where any sympathy between him and Gandhi began and ended.  And yet, the above is precisely what Mahatma Gandhi asked of the Fuhrer, in a letter dated December 24, 1940. Engaged fully in the struggle for Indian independence, Gandhi found himself torn by the entry of Britain into the war against Germany. On the one hand, Gandhi initially pledged “nonviolent moral support” for the war, sensing an enemy–Germany–even more threatening to world peace and stability. (That stance would change in short order as the Indian National Congress revolted and resigned en masse rather than participate in the war). On the other hand, Gandhi did not see the British Empire as categorically different from the Nazis. As he put it in his letter to Hitler, whom he addresses as “Friend” (this is “no formality,” he writes, “I own no foes”): “If there is a difference, it is in degree. One-fifth of the human race has been brought under the British heel by means that will not bear scrutiny.”

Gandhi acknowledges the absurdity of his request: “I am aware,” he writes, “that your view of life regards such spoliations as virtuous acts.” And yet, he marshals a formidable argument for nonviolence as a force of power, not weakness, showing how it had weakened British rule: “The movement of independence has been never so strong as now,” he writes, through “the right means to combat the most organized violence in the world which the British power represents”:

It remains to be seen which is the better organized, the German or the British. We know what the British heel means for us and the non-European races of the world. But we would never wish to end the British rule with German aid. We have found in non-violence a force which, if organized, can without doubt match itself against a combination of all the most violent forces in the world. In non-violent technique, as I have said, there is no such thing as defeat. It is all ‘do or die’ without killing or hurting. It can be used practically without money and obviously without the aid of science of destruction which you have brought to such perfection. It is a marvel to me that you do not see that it is nobody’s monopoly. If not the British, some other power will certainly improve upon your method and beat you with your own weapon. You are leaving no legacy to your people of which they would feel proud. They cannot take pride in a recital of cruel deed, however skillfully planned. I, therefore, appeal to you in the name of humanity to stop the war.

As an alternative to war, Gandhi proposes an “international tribunal of your joint choice” to determine “which party was in the right.” His letter, Gandhi writes, should be taken as “a joint appeal to you and Signor Mussolini…. I hope that he will take this as addressed to him also with the necessary changes.”

Gandhi also references an appeal he made “to every Briton to accept my method of non-violent resistance.” That appeal took the form of an open letter he published that July, “To Every Briton,” in which he wrote:

You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions. Let them take possession of your beautiful island, with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these, but neither your souls, nor your minds. If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourself, man, woman and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them.

When Gandhi visited England that year, he found the viceroy of colonial India “dumbstruck” by these requests, writes Stanley Wolpert in his biography of the Indian leader, “unable to utter a word in response, refusing even to call for his car to take the now more deeply despondent Gandhi home.”

Gandhi’s 1940 letter to Hitler was actually his second addressed to the Nazi leader. The first, a very short missive written in 1939, one month before the ill-fated Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, strikes a conciliatory tone. Gandhi writes that he resisted requests from friends to pen the letter “because of the feeling that any letter from me would be an impertinence,” and though he calls on Hitler to “prevent a war which may reduce humanity to a savage state,” he ends with, “I anticipate your forgiveness, If I have erred in writing to you.” But again, in this very brief letter, Gandhi appeals to the “considerable success” of his nonviolent methods. “There is no evidence,” The Christian Science Monitor remarks, “to suggest Hitler ever responded to either of Gandhi’s letters.”

As the war unavoidably raged, Gandhi redoubled his efforts at Indian independence, launching the  “Quit India” movement in 1942, which—writes Open University—“more than anything, united the Indian people against British rule” and hastened its eventual end in 1947. Non-violence succeeded, improbably, against the British Empire, though certain other former colonies won independence through more traditionally warlike methods. And yet, though Gandhi believed non-violent resistance could avert the horrors of World War II, those of us without his level of total commitment to the principle may find it difficult to imagine how it might have succeeded against the Nazis, or how it could have appealed to their totalizing ideology of domination.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch the Destruction of Pompeii by Mount Vesuvius, Re-Created with Computer Animation (79 AD)

A good disaster story never fails to fascinate — and, given that it actually happened, the story of Pompeii especially so. Buried and thus frozen in time by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, the ancient Roman town of 11,000 has provided an object of great historical interest ever since its rediscovery in 1599. Baths, houses, tools and other possessions (including plenty of wine bottles), frescoes, graffiti, an ampitheater, an aqueduct, the “Villa of the Mysteries“: Pompeii has it all, as far as the stuff of first-century Roman life goes.




The ash-preserved ruins of Pompeii, more than any other source, have provided historians with a window into just what life in that time and place was like. A Day in Pompeii, an exhibition held at the Melbourne Museum in 2009, gave its more than 330,000 visitors a chance to experience Pompeii’s life even more vividly. The exhibition included a 3D theater installation that featured the animation above. Watch it, and you can see Pompeii brought back to life with computer-generated imagery — and then, in snapshots over the course of 48 hours, entombed by Vesuvius again.

As inherently compelling as we find the story of Pompeii, modern drama has struggled to capture the power of the disaster that defines it. The late-1960s BBC show Up Pompeii! offered a comedic rendering of life in the city before the explosion, but more serious interpretations, like the 2014 Hollywood movie Pompeii, met with only lukewarm critical reception. Best, it seems, to stick to the words of Pliny the Younger, witness to the destruction and still its most evocative describer:

You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, others their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices. People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.

via Metafliter

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Dave Grohl Shows How He Plays the Guitar As If It Were a Drum Kit

For decades now, debate has raged on whether Neil Young is a “guitar god or guitar slob.” His playing is sloppy and untutored, but so completely heartfelt, so totally engrossing, that it’s never mattered to his fans, myself included. I come firmly down on the “guitar god” side of the question, and not only because he’s inspired me when I’ve felt less than accomplished as a musician, but because I generally prefer musicianship that’s kinda messy, improvisational, and idiosyncratic versus classically-trained virtuosity—at least in rock and roll, where making a mess is kind of the point. Young himself couldn’t care less what people think about his rudimentary lead guitar playing. “When you’re able to express yourself and feel good,” he said in a 1992 interview, “then you know why you’re playing. The technical aspect is absolute hogwash as far as I’m concerned.”




The difference between Neil Young and many an unschooled amateur musician is often pretty clear: He’s a great songwriter with such a feel for rhythm, tone, and dynamics that intuitive musicality, one might say, is at the heart of his musicianship. I would say similar things about a player like Dave Grohl, who—as a drummer and a guitarist—has always possessed a confident, intuitive sense of what music is and does. And he’s done it, as he says in the interview above, with barely a lesson to speak of. He’s pretty much entirely self taught on both instruments, and—like Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, and a whole passel of other famous players—hasn’t memorized much theory or learned hundreds of chords. When he moved from primarily playing drums to guitar, as he demonstrates above, Grohl learned to think of the guitar strings as corresponding to the parts of a drum kit.

He shows how the riff for “Everlong,” for example, came to him by thinking about strum patterns as drum patterns, and it makes perfect sense. He also talks about how his guitar technique corresponds not only to drum technique, but also to whatever means of expression he needs at a particular moment in a song—whatever sounds good, as he puts it. Part of his ethos comes from a punk rock, DIY attitude of wanting to “just figure it out,” and not read the instructions. It’s a musical stance that can work perfectly well in punk, hardcore, or the Foo Fighters’ melodic alt-rock. Or in the shambling folk-rock of Neil Young. Not so much in, say, jazz or most genres of heavy metal or prog rock, forms of music that seem to have arisen expressly around virtuoso playing. If that’s what you’re into, you may need a few lessons. But whatever kind of music you play, as Grohl discusses above, the perfect is still the enemy of the good.

Grohl says he tries “to appreciate an imperfect performance, or an off-the-cuff idea, or a lyric that might seem unfinished or in such a simple form it doesn’t seem sophisticated enough….” To let one’s inner editor step in and try to guide the process is to give up the unforced spontaneity that makes music exciting. “When,” he asks, “did perfection become so important in music?” He doesn’t speculate, but I would say it might correlate to the rise of the digital machines in music production, which allow producers to edit every single note, fix every off-key vocal, move every drum hit into a perfect grid, smooth out every rough, messy performance—or do away with the “imperfect” human element altogether. Such production kills the spirit of recorded rock and roll—and even, I’d argue, makes for dull, uninspired electronic music. And such perfection in playing live music is, Grohl says, “unattainable.”

I’d personally say that the ascendency of slick production over interesting performance has been in large part responsible for the declining popularity of mainstream rock and roll, as its edges are too often planed away and it’s rendered safe and boring. Grohl has his own theory, which he discusses above, relating to a backlash against the post-Nirvana commercialism of the 90s and a nascent elitism among rock bands. His idea is as much a defense of the Foo Fighters’ “populism” as an explanation for why rock songs are rarely hit songs anymore. If you prefer his early work, you can hear him discuss his role in Nirvana, below, and talk about his relationship with Kurt Cobain in this excerpt from the longer interview with Sam Jones of OffCamera.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Jacques Derrida on Seinfeld: “Deconstruction Doesn’t Produce Any Sitcom”

Jacques Derrida could enjoy a good movie like anyone else. In a 2002 interview with TIME, he declared “I have watched The Godfather 10 times. I must watch it whenever it’s on.” Who couldn’t?

Coppola films were one thing. Apparently sitcoms quite another. In another 2002 interview, a journalist asked the French philosopher whether, in so many words, deconstruction shared anything in common with Seinfeld and the ironic/parodic way it looks at the world. This was taking things too far. “Deconstruction, as I understand it,” said Derrida, “doesn’t produce any sitcom. If sitcom is this, and people who watch this think deconstruction is this, the only advice I have to give them is just stop watching sitcom, do your homework, and read.” The cringeworthy scene originally appeared in the documentary, Derrida, directed by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Hoffman.

via Peter B. Kaufman 

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Hear James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake Read Unabridged & Set to Music By 17 Different Artists

If you want a guide through James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake—the modernist author’s “wordiest aria,” writes Kirkus Reviews, “and surely the strangest ever sung in any language”—you’d be hard pressed find a better one than novelist Anthony Burgess. Not only did Burgess turn his study of Joyce to very good account in creating his own polyglot language in A Clockwork Orange, but he has “tastefully selected the more readable portions” of Joyce’s final novel in an abridged version, A Shorter Finnegans Wake. No doubt “pedants will object,” writes Kirkus, but if anyone can edit Joyce, it’s Burgess, who has written a thorough introduction to Joyce’s language, a guide to Joyce “for the Ordinary Reader,” and the most comprehensive summary of Joyce’s last novel that I’ve ever encountered—proving that it can be done. Finnegans Wake makes sense!… sort of…

But not, however, as any straightforward story; after all, writes Burgess, “What Joyce is doing… is to make his hero re-live the whole of history in a night’s sleep.” And what Burgess does is show us the complex scaffolding and symbolism of that dream. What he does not do is explain away the music of Joyce’s novel—for it is, after all, not only one long dream, but one long song, the “strangest ever sung.” We can hear Joyce himself sing from the novel’s Anna Livia Plurabelle section in the video at the top (accompanied by subtitles and a very cool animation, I must say). His lilting tenor enthralls, but his is not the only way to sing Finnegans Wake. Indeed, the novel, though very odd and very difficult, is Joyce’s invitation to the world.

And the world has responded (“Here Comes Everybody!”). Last year, Waywords and Meansigns, a Joyce project co-founded by Derek Pyle, brought together artists and musicians from around the globe to sing, read, and set to music the words of Finnegans Wake. Open Culture’s Ted Mills wrote a post describing the “staggering 30+ hours” of Joyce interpretation, and concluded, “Those who read this and feel they’ve missed out on the creativity of tackling Finnegans Wake, don’t worry.” The project was then soliciting contributors for a forthcoming second edition, and now it has arrived. You can hear it in full above, an answer to the question “How many ways are there to read James Joyce’s great and bizarre novel?”

Seventeen different musicians from all around the world, each assigned to render a chapter aurally. The only requirements: the chapter’s words must be audible, unabridged, and more or less in their original order.

We begin with pages 3-29, “The Fall,” read in a rapid deadpan over avant-garde free jazz by Mr. Smolin & Double Naught Spy Car. Next, we have “The Humphriad I: His Agnomen and Reputation,” read by producer David Kahne against a backdrop of minimalist synths, tinkling keyboards, and waves of burbling electronic noise. Perhaps one of my favorite musicians—whose songwriting has always struck me as particularly Joycean—Mike Watt of the Minutemen and fIREHOSE promises to deliver his musical contribution for “Shem the Penman” very soon. In its place is a message from Pyle, who urges you to sign up for the Waywords and Meansigns mailing list for updates. After his message is a brief excerpt from conversation he had with Watt on the bass player’s podcast.

Finnegans Wake, says Watt, “shares with Ulysses the idea of wanting to try and talk about everything.” Joyce, Watt goes on, wanted to “transcend” in his writing the circumstances of his troubled family life, failing eyesight, and financial difficulties; and he was also just “having some fun.” That’s also a good description of the various renderings of Joyce represented in this compilation as these artists try to transcend ordinary ways of reading great literature, and clearly have lots fun in the doing. See the Waywords and Meansigns website for production credits and a complete tracklisting indicating the specific pages, chapters, and sections of each reading.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Alan Rickman Recites “If Death Is Not the End,” a Moving Poem by Robyn Hitchcock

Oddball singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock is a man who knows how to mark milestones. Back in 2003, he staged a concert at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in honor of his own 50th birthday, and in so doing, created a time release milestone of sorts for his friend, actor Alan Rickman.




Marking a half-century with passive aggressive-gag gifts and cards may suffice for the rabble, but a lyricist as gifted as Hitchcock deserves better. No one can deny Rickman of failing to deliver, when he regaled the crowd in Queen Elizabeth Hall with a recitation of Hitchcock’s own poem, “If Death Is Not the End,” above.

It’s an inimitable performance that becomes all the more poignant when one listens to it again, following Rickman’s recent death at the age of 69:

Life is what happened to the dead.

Forever we do not exist

Except for now.

Birthday Boy Hitchcock captured Rickman’s appeal in a tribute posted to his Facebook page:

His morose erotic drawl and gloriously disdainful demeanor sheltered a passionate artist and made for a charismatic performer whom I was proud to have as a friend. I just can’t believe I’ll never see him again.

As the poem says, he was made of life.

If Death Is Not the End

If death is not the end, I’d like to know what is.

For all eternity we don’t exist,

except for now.

In my gumshoe mac, I shuffled to the clifftop,

Stood well back,

and struck a match to light my life;

And as it flared it fell in darkness

Lighting nothing but itself.

I saw my life fall and thought:

Well, kiss my physics!

Time is over, or it’s not,

But this I know:

Life passes through us like the blade

Of bamboo growing through the prisoner pegged down in the glade

It pierces your blood, your screaming head –

Life is what happened to the dead.

Forever we do not exist

Except for now.

Life passes through us like a beam

Of charcoal green – a golden gleam,

The opposite of how it seems:

It’s not you that goes through life

– life is the knife that cuts your dream

Around the seam

And leaves you turned on in the stream, laughing with your mouth

open,

Until the stream is gone,

Leaving you cracked mud,

Not even there to be absent,

From the heartbeat of a dying fish.

In bed, upstairs, I feel your pulse run with the clock

And reach your hand

And lock us with our fingers

As if we were bumping above the Pole.

Yet I know by dawn

Your hand will be dry bone

I’ll have slept through your goodbye, no matter how long I wake.

Life winds on,

Through Cheri and Karl who can no longer smell chocolate,

Or see with wonder wind inflate the sail,

Or answer mail

Life flies on

Through Katy who was Catherine but is bound for Kate

Who looks over her shoulder at the demon Azmodeus,

And sees the Daily Mail

(I clutch my purse. I had it just now.)

Life slices through

The frozen butter in the Alpine wreck.

(I found your photo upside down

I never kissed a girl so long,

So long, so lovely or so wrong)

Life is what kills you in the end

And I can cry

But you won’t be there to be sorry

You were made of life

For ever we did not exist

We woke and for a second kissed.

via Audiboom

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her play, Fawnbook, opens in New York City later this fall. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Download Marc Andreessen’s Influential Blog (“Pmarca”) as a Free eBook

Marc_Andreessen_(1)

Image by Joi, via Wikimedia Commons

For years Marc Andreessen–the entrepreneur best known for launching Mosaic and later Netscape–ran a popular blog called “Pmarca” (apparently short for “Private Marc Andreessen”) where he dispensed wisdom on startups, business, investing and beyond. If you’ve worked in startups, especially in Silicon Valley, you probably followed “Pmarca” fairly religiously.

Like so many others, Andreessen eventually took down his blog and began “tweetstorming” on Twitter–all while serving on the boards of Facebook, eBay, and HP, and running his now influential VC firm, Andreessen Horowitz. Before “Pmarca” could fade completely into oblivion, fans asked Andreessen to preserve the blog for posterity. And that he did. You can now download an archive of “Pmarca” as a free ebook. Available in three formats (ePub, Mobi, and PDF), the archived version can be read in pretty much the blog’s original format. Start your downloads here.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. And if you want to make sure that our posts definitely appear in your Facebook newsfeed, just follow these simple steps.

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Try the Oldest Known Recipe For Toothpaste: From Ancient Egypt, Circa the 4th Century BC

Ancient_Egypt_Dentistry

Image of Ancient Egyptian Dentistry, via Wikimedia Commons

When we assume that modern improvements are far superior to the practices of the ancients, we might do well to actually learn how people in the distant past lived before indulging in “chronological snobbery.” Take, for example, the area of dental hygiene. We might imagine the ancient Greeks or Egyptians as prone to rampant tooth decay, lacking the benefits of packaged, branded toothpaste, silken ribbons of floss, astringent mouthwash, and ergonomic toothbrushes. But in fact, as toothpaste manufacturer Colgate points out, “the basic fundamentals” of toothbrush design “have not changed since the times of the Egyptians and Babylonians—a handle to grip, and a bristle-like feature with which to clean the teeth.” And not only did ancient people use toothbrushes, but it is believed that “Egyptians… started using a paste to clean their teeth around 5000 BC,” even before toothbrushes were invented.




In 2003, curators at a Viennese museum discovered “the world’s oldest-known formula for toothpaste,” writes Irine Zoech in The Telegraph, “used more than 1,500 years before Colgate began marketing the first commercial brand in 1873.” Dating from the 4th century AD, the Egyptian papyrus (not shown above), written in Greek, describes a “powder for white and perfect teeth” that, when mixed with saliva, makes a “clean tooth paste.” The recipe is as follows, Zoech summarizes: “…one drachma of rock salt—measure equal to one hundredth of an ounce—two drachmas of mint, one drachma of dried iris flower and 20 grains of pepper, all of them crushed and mixed together.”

Zoech quotes Dentist Heinz Neuman, who remarked, “Nobody in the dental profession had any idea that such an advanced toothpaste formula of this antiquity existed.” Having tried the ancient recipe at a dental conference in Austria, he found it “not unpleasant”

It was painful on my gums and made them bleed as well, but that’s not a bad thing, and afterwards my mouth felt fresh and clean. I believe that this recipe would have been a big improvement on some of the soap toothpastes used much later.

Discovered among “the largest collection of ancient Egyptian documents in the world,” the document, says Hermann Harrauer, head of the papyrus collection as the National Library in Vienna, “was written by someone who’s obviously had some medical knowledge, as he used abbreviations for medical terms.”

When we survey the dental remedies of Medieval England, we do indeed find that modern dental care is far better than much of what was available then. Most dental cures of the time, writes Trevor Anderson in a Nature article, “were based on herbal remedies, charms and amulets.” For example, in the 1314 Rosa Anglica, writer John of Gaddesden reports, “some say that the beak of a magpie hung from the neck cures pain in the teeth.” Another remedy involves sticking a needle into a “many footed worm which rolls up in a ball when you touch it.” Touch the aching tooth with that roly-poly needle and “the pain will be erased.”

However, “there is also documentary evidence,” writes Anderson, “for powders to clean teeth and attempts at filling carious cavities,” as well as some surgical intervention. In Gilbertus Anglicus’ 13th century Compendium of Medicine, readers are told to rub teeth and gums with cloth after eating to ensure that “no corrupt matter abides among the teeth.” In The Trotula—a compendium of folk remedies from the 11th or 12th century—we find many recipes for what we might consider toothpaste, though their efficacy is dubious. Danièle Cybulskie at Medievalists.net quotes one recipe “for black teeth”:

…take walnut shells well cleaned of the interior rind, which is green, and… rub the teeth three times a day, and when they have been well rubbed… wash the mouth with warm wine, and with salt mixed if desired.

Another, more extravagant, recipe sounds impractical.

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.

Yet a third recipe gives us a luxury variety, its ingredients well out of reach of the average person. We are assured, however, that this formula “works the best.”

Take some each of cinnamon, clove, spikenard, mastic, frankincense, grain, wormwood, crab foot, date pits, and olives. Grind all of these and reduce them to a powder, then rub the affected places.

Whether any of these formulas would have worked at all, I cannot say, but they likely worked better than charms and amulets. In any case, while medieval European texts tend to confirm certain of our ideas about poor dental hygiene of the past, it seems that the daily practices of more ancient peoples in Egypt and elsewhere might have been much more like our own than we would suspect.

via The Telegraph/Medievalists.net

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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