Top 10 Medieval Explanations Behind Everyday Things

Today we are being smart to think that we know everything about everything, all because science has evolved and it gives us a lot of knowledge on a plate. In the Middle Ages, it wasn’t the same lemonade: the guys didn’t have good equipment to observe the world and they were steeped in beliefs and superstitions. Suddenly, when it came to giving explanations on a whole bunch of everyday things, they regularly crashed. We couldn’t have done better, so we’re not going to laugh. Of course it is, we’re going to laugh, because it’s still funnier.

1. Redheads are scarred by the devil

Today, we explain freckles by genetics and everything, but our ancestors, they were in balek mode: redheads are the mark of the devil. The poor guys hadn’t asked for anything, but they were told that their hair and freckles were like the flames of hell. And then we get out of “it was better before”…

2. Sperm contains small people

In the Middle Ages, we were just beginning to manufacture microscopes, and as much to say that their models had nothing to do with ours. Suddenly, to study tiny things like spermatozoa, it was not obvious. But Antoni van Leeuwenhoek – a guy who really improved the microscope, precisely – had managed to observe the spermatozoa. Only he thought – and many did at the time – that every sperm contained a little human waiting to grow. So that meant that the woman’s egg was just used to feed the mini-human, which, you can imagine, didn’t help much to get feminism off the ground at the time.

This subject fascinates me and we could talk about it for hours, but since we are drifting from the initial theme of this top, I invite you to look at what the “preformation theory” is on the Internet. You will see, it is fascinating.

3. Small animals are born from matter

Let me explain (and again I’ll give you the short version, even if the subject is fascinating): imagine, if you leave a steak lying around on your kitchen counter. After a while there will be worms in it. Well in the Middle Ages, somewhat because of Aristotle, it was believed that these insects were born from matter, like from the steak itself, a bit like magic. Ditto for the mice, which we thought would appear suddenly when we had left a little too much dirt or clothes on the ground, or the fish, which would be born from the mud. In short, it was thought that all small animals were born by “spontaneous generation”, which is of course false. But, at the same time as the discoveries of our friend Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, a certain Francesco Redi discovered that the worms which appeared on rotten meat actually came from eggs deposited by flies. It seems obvious to us today, but in reality it was quite a discovery at the time. We had just understood that animals were all born from other adult animals, and not from “nothing”.

Moucheadamier
Credits photo (CC BY-SA 3.0) : Original uploaded by Nono64 on French Wikipedia.

4. Beavers were fish

In the Middle Ages, quite a few people tried to classify animals by genera and families, but there were sometimes a few mistakes that seem totally absurd to us today. This is how we could see beavers classified as fish, or bees considered as birds. I know you shouldn’t make fun, but still, the guy who screwed up on the bees must have been a bit of a jerk.

5. Diseases? An imbalance of moods

The theory of humors was the main theory of doctors in the Middle Ages. We simply thought that, in the body, there were 4 elements (fire, air, water, earth) and 4 qualities (hot, dry, cold, humid), and that these elements and their qualities had to be balanced in order to be in good health. Suffice to say that with a cardboard theory like that, it was better not to have a health problem, because the doctors weren’t really cracks.

6. Misprints in a text were the work of the devil

You, when you make a typo, you tell yourself that… you made a typo. You won’t look any further. At worst, you tell yourself that you are tired or distracted. That’s all. While the copyist monks of the Middle Ages (who were almost the only ones to write regularly), when they made a typo, they put it on the back of the demon. And this demon definitely had a name: Titivillus. No, but assume guys, demons don’t exist.

7. Human behavior? They are influenced by the stars

Oh yeah. If for a while we have separated astronomy (the real science) from astrology (that big bullshit), this was not the case at the time. Our ancestors firmly believed that the stars influenced their actions. Exactly like millennials today. Shame.

8. Pearls have magical powers

Charms and other lucky charms have always existed (although, you would have to ask prehistoric men to be sure), and pearls were one of them in the Middle Ages. We were convinced at the time that they had powers, so that the ladies offered them to the knights before the tournaments to bring them luck. It’s a not very bad little superstition.

9. Our superstition with horseshoes comes from a guy who tricked the devil

Let’s stay two minutes in the charms with the horseshoe. If you wonder why it is thought to bring good luck, know that it comes from a story that dates back to the Middle Ages. It was said that a blacksmith named Dunstan had been visited by the devil in his forge. The devil, in disguise, wanted horseshoes for his mount. The blacksmith, who had recognized the man, would then have nailed an iron to the devil’s foot, and would have freed him only on condition that he promise never to enter a house to which a horseshoe was nailed. A nice guy this Dunstan. Well, afterwards, he also could have not released him. It would have been even better. A bit stupid finally this blacksmith.

10. Going under a ladder is for hangings

Come on, let’s finish with superstition again. The famous “Going under a ladder is bad luck”. Already, no, it’s not bad luck, and in addition there is an explanation dating back to the Middle Ages to demystify it. In those remote times, those condemned to hanging had to pass under the ladder of the gallows, while their executioner walked around the ladder. And which of the two would die each time? I’ll give you a thousand: the one who went under the ladder. But was it really the ladder’s fault? I’m willing to bet not.

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