Friday, 20 March 2009

The Widdle of the Sphinx

It's strange, the things you come across on the internet when you browse idly. Not that I have time to be idle, of course. A house move, a shed load of decorating to do, wine to drink...so why did I type Ancient Egyptian Urine into Google? I'm not sure. But I did discover something interesting. The ancient Egyptians had a pregnancy test involving urine and wheat and barley seeds. They would steep the seeds from these two plants in the urine of a woman who was believed to be pregnant. If the wheat seeds sprouted, a boy was predicted; if the barley put forth green shoots, the child would be a girl. If neither sprouted, it was 'sorry, Mrs. Rameses, but I think you've made a mistake.'

Could I leave it there? Dear bloggy friend, what do you think? I had to see what use my old chums the Romans had for that (almost) inexhaustible supply of liquid we carry around with us. And it came back to pregnancy again, but this time, a way of preventing it. Apparently, if a woman could somehow get her gentleman friend to imbibe his own urine in which a lizard had been drowned, this dubious drink would act as an antaphrodisiac. It's the lizard I feel sorry for.

This was only one use for Roman widdle. Their ladies used it to clean their teeth, and it was also popular as a mouthwash. Apparently, Portuguese urine was the best for this purpose, but there is no record as to whether some kind of breath freshener was employed in conjunction with this bodily by-product, or how Romans managed to persuade the Portuguese to part with it in the first place; but it seems likely that the process involved threats of some kind. A slightly more palatable use for urine was in the cleaning of clothes; the ammonia apparently got Roman togas whiter than white. The dry-cleaner, or fullonica, would place large vats outside his premises into which passers-by could relieve themselves, and use this product to bleach these peculiarly Roman garments. Bingo! Citizens who were caught short were always sure of a place of easement, and the fullers acquired a completely free supply of cleaning fluid. Did I say free? Sorry. The emperor Nero devised a tax on the urine collected by the fullers - the vectigal urinae. And, although it didn't last long, a later emperor, Vespasian, re-introduced it. Perhaps this is why public toilets in Italy are referred to as Vespasiani.

Have you heard of the constellation of Orion, the hunter? Apparently, Orion means urine. The Boeotians (who lived near the Gulf of Corinth) had a myth that involved Zeus, Poseidon and Hermes urinating on a bull hide to provide King Hyrieus with a son. Poor old Orion. I wonder what sort of time he had at school? As he was the son of a king, did this make him the Royal Wee?

Sadly, as always, I seem to have omitted the New World in favour of the Old, so I should perhaps redress the balance by giving the Aztecs a mention. It appears that they too used urine for cosmetic and medicinal purposes. One such remedy for 'Roughness of the Face', otherwise referred to as Ixchachaquachiviztli (good grief), involved washing the face with hot urine and then smearing it liberally with powdered yellow chilli. This would be followed by another dousing in hot urine or wormwood sap and azpan sap. Sounds delightful, but I think I'll pass.

I suppose I could continue this post by looking at urophagia. It's interesting to note the number of websites that promote the drinking of one's own urine, and that provide detailed recommendations of the way in which this should be undertaken (in a glass, in a cup, lukewarm, hot and steaming, with/without rituals or incantations...). But I think you'll agree that enough is as good as a feast. And, as this blog is generally characterised by its sense of delicacy, I think I should spare you from the less palatable aspects of human behaviour.


15 comments:

Comedy Goddess said...

If I didn't know you better I would say you are just trying to piss down my back and tell me it's raining.

chris hale said...

Thank heavens you know me better!

Oh, and we haven't had any rain here in East Sussex for around a week. I've kind of forgotten what it's like!

mo.stoneskin said...

As always, fascinating.

Ixchachaquachiviztli is a word I'm going to work in to conversation today.

Right, now I'm off to drown some lizards in my pee...

chris hale said...

Thanks Mo.

Remember the golden rule - i before e, except after quitzaquoxatolotl.

Oh, and by the way...make sure the lizard isn't a protected species.

Derrick said...

Good morning Chris,

I had thought that CG was going to accuse you of taking the p**s, which I would find preferable to her suggestion/accusation!

Your reading matter leaves a little to be desired but ... whatever turns you on.

I was aware of the efficacy of urine for laundry purposes but not the rest. Thank you for rectifying that!

Dedene said...

Here in France, if a person is stung by a jellyfish or medusa, you have to pee on their stung part.

Your posts are always fascinating!

Argentum Vulgaris said...

An interesting wee bit of info...

I am more interested in the perverted mind that wrote Ancient Egyptian Urine into Google, what did you expect? Water Sports?

Great info betwixt cup and first sip.

AV

Stevyn Colgan said...

Dedene - As a Cornishman, I have had the dubious pleasure of accidentally swimming througha fleet of jellyfish and being stung to buggery. But that was as nothing compared to the ignominy of a lad called Kevin peeing on my swollen itchy legs. I can report that it seemed to bring some relief. For both me and Kevin.

Chris - Don't forget the ghastly uses of urine in tanning leather. Didn't people leave pots around to gather the stuff and thus provide a kind of public toilet/service?

Madame DeFarge said...

Well. I am, as always, reduced to incoherent mumblings of ignorance by your erudition.

I suppose that this post is indeed a urinary tract.

Sarah said...

I'll try not to seek out the irony in me reading this while needing to go to the loo.

I am fascinated by all of this-jellyfish comment included --not enough to act on any of that fascination, but enough to go on my own search engine binge on "urophagia".

chris hale said...

Derrick - Thanks as always for your interest. I'm a bit worried as to what my idle mind will pull out of the Google hat next time!

Dedene - Yes, I had heard something of the sort...

AV - I resemble that remark! Just look upon me as a free thinker.

Stevyn - So when are you and Kevin getting hitched? Yes, you're right about tanning. The process also involved the use of canine excrement, termed (for some unaccountable reason) pure.

MDF - I am prostate with humility at your kind words.

Sarah - Like everything else, one wonders how the jellyfish remedy came about. I mean, it's not something you'd think of for a sprain or a headache, now is it?

willow said...

Very interesting...I think. Glad I've already had my morning tea! Brings to mind a local landmark "Pee Pee Creek". Wonder if its water has any special qualities?

chris hale said...

Willow - with a name like that I'm not sue I want to find out what the special qualities are!

Rowan said...

I knew about the uses of urine for washing clothes and in tanning but the various cosmetic uses had passed me by so far - and will continue to do so I think!! The Egyptian pregancy test was interesting - I wonder if anyone has tested the theory? It's surprising how often there is some truth in these ancient and apparently daft ideas.

chris hale said...

Rowan - you're right; a lot of old remedies to have a scientific basis. Our ancestors chewed willow bark to get rid of headaches; it was later used to produce salycilic acid, one of the main ingredients of aspirin.