Quotations of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on August 8, 2011

in Cleaned by Capitalism, Complexity & Emergence, Growth, History, Inequality

… are, first, from page 123-124 of Thomas Cahill’s Mysteries of the Middle Ages (2006):

Plumbing was unknown [in the middle ages]….  Because individual bathing in a copper basin in a drafty castle could lead so easily to chill, then to fever and death, kings and queens seldom bathed more than once a month, those with neither washer woman nor ewerer at their command scarcely more than once or twice a year.  Despite their silks and linens, their frequent changes of costume, their liberal burning of Arabian incense, the royals stank, as did their retinues.  More than this, the chamber pot was the sole device for receiving human waste.  A small castle – or even a large one – might become downright uninhabitable after many weeks of residence by such a throng [ellipsis added].

And yet – and yet – Cahill here describes the stinkingest of the stinkingest rich of the pre-capitalist age.  Let’s read Cahill a bit further, to page 188:

What appalls a modern dreamer about the Middle Ages is not so much the distance that lay between peasant and prince as that there was seldom any way of shortening that distance: the peasant would always be a peasant, the prince always a prince.

And yet… the rigid stratification of social roles was shaken by the rise of the merchant class, the medieval bourgeoisie [ellipsis in the original].


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