Get Ancient Advice on Losing Weight, Sobering Up, Removing a Tattoo & More at Ask The Past


It may seem that we live in an era so tech­no­log­i­cal­ly advanced that our dai­ly con­cerns dif­fer vast­ly from those of our ances­tors. Noth­ing could be far­ther from the truth: we still won­der about the best ways to talk to the oppo­site sex, still devise out­landish hang­over cures, and still obsess over how to lose weight. Con­sid­er­ing that our fore­bears have, by now, repeat­ed­ly faced these nig­gling prob­lems, would it not be wise to con­sult their wis­dom? If you’re more inclined to take the advice of an ancient monk than write Dear Abby, you’re in luck. Ask The Past is here to help.

Run by Johns Hop­kins’ Eliz­a­beth Archibald, Ask The Past is a com­pendi­um of wis­dom from the his­to­ry books. Below, we’ve select­ed sev­er­al pieces of ancient wis­dom that may (or may not) help our read­ers over­come some com­mon prob­lems:

How To Remove A Tat­too (c. 500)

 “They call stig­ma­ta things inscribed on the face or some oth­er part of the body, for exam­ple on the hands of sol­diers… In cas­es where we wish to remove such stig­ma­ta, we must use the fol­low­ing prepa­ra­tion… When apply­ing, first clean thes­tig­ma­ta with niter, smear them with resin of tere­binth, and ban­dage for five days… The stig­ma­ta are removed in twen­ty days, with­out great ulcer­a­tion and with­out a scar.”

Aetius of Ami­da, Tetra­bib­lion (c. 500)

How To Sober Up (1628)

“That one shall not be drunke. Drink the iuyce of Yer­row fast­ing, and ye shall not be drunke, for no drinke; and if you were drunke it will make you sober: or else take the mar­row of porke fast­ing, and ye shall not be drunke; and if you be drunke annoint your priv­ie mem­bers in vineger, and ye shall waxe sober.” 

The Booke of Pret­ty Con­ceits (1628)

The 16th Cen­tu­ry “How To Lose That Bel­ly In 14 Days!” (1595)

“An excel­lent and approved thing to make them slen­der, that are grosse. Let them eate three or foure cloves of Gar­lick, with as much of Bread and but­ter every morn­ing and evening, first and last, nei­ther eat­ing nor drink­ing of three or foure howres after their tak­ing of it in the morn­ing for the space of four­teene days at the least: and drinke every day three draughts of the decoc­tion of Fen­nell: that is, of the water where­in Fen­nell is sod, and well strained, four­teene dayes after the least, at morn­ing, noone and night. I knewe a man that was mar­veilous grosse, & could not go a quar­ter of a mile, but was enforst to rest him a dosen times at the least: that with this med­i­cine tooke away his grosse­nesse, and after could iour­ney verye well on foote.”

Thomas Lup­ton, A Thou­sand Notable Things (1595)

How To Grow A Beard (1539)

 “To make hair and beard grow. Take hon­ey­bees in quan­ti­ty and dry them in a bas­ket by the fire, then make a pow­der of them, which you thin out with olive oil, and with this oint­ment, dab sev­er­al times the place where you would like to have hair, and you will see mir­a­cles.” 

 Traic­té nou­veau, inti­t­ulé, bas­ti­ment de receptes (1539)

How to Make Some­one Die of Laugh­ter (13th cen­tu­ry) 

“Beneath the armpits are cer­tain veins called “tick­lish” which, if they are cut, cause a man to die of laugh­ter.” 

Richardus Saler­ni­tanus (13th c.?)

For more pearls of wis­dom, includ­ing How To Walk On Water, How To Gar­den With Lob­sters, and How To Tell Jokes, head over to Ask The Past.

Ilia Blin­d­er­man is a Mon­tre­al-based cul­ture and sci­ence writer. Fol­low him at @iliablinderman, or read more of his writ­ing at the Huff­in­g­ton Post.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

George Washington’s 110 Rules for Civil­i­ty and Decent Behav­ior

Lewis Car­rol­l’s 8 Still-Rel­e­vant Rules For Let­ter-Writ­ing

Medieval Cats Behav­ing Bad­ly: Kit­ties That Left Paw Prints … and Peed … on 15th Cen­tu­ry Man­u­scripts

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  • Leith says:

    If only I knew where to find some niter and tere­binth.

  • Jack says:

    Hey, I had a weight prob­lem and tried so many things. Dif­fer­ent things work for dif­fer­ent peo­ple and I was lucky enough to find one that worked for me. I lost 18 pounds in one month with­out much exer­cise and it’s been a life chang­er. I’m a lit­tle embar­rased to post my before and after pho­tos here but if any­one actu­al­ly cares to hear what I’ve been doing then I’d be hap­py to help in any way. Just shoot me an email at jackallbright[at] and I’ll show you my before and after pho­tos, and tell you about how things are going for me with the stuff I’ve tried. I wish some­one would have helped me out when I was strug­gling to find a solu­tion so if I can help you then it would make my day.

  • Ruby Baxx says:

    Gar­lic and but­ter to lose weight? Count me in!

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