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How an onion can tell you if someone is dead, and other tricks from 500 AD

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In Ask the Past: Pertinent and Impertinent Advice from Yesteryear, history professor Elizabeth P. Archibald plucks some funny advice from medieval texts. Read on to find out what good luck charms to bring to your next court date, or how to make someone literally die of laughter. (On second thought, please don’t do that one.) Spelling “errors” courtesy of olde English.

How to Tell if Someone Is or Is Not Dead

JAN BUCHCZIK for EW

“Apply lightly roasted onion to his nostrils, and if he be alive, he will immediately scratch his nose.”

—Johannes de Mirfield, Breviarium Bartholomei, circa 1380

How to Kill Bedbugs

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“Spread Gun-powder, beaten small, about the crevices of your bedstead; fire it with a match, and keep the smoak in.”

—The Complete Vermin-Killer, 1777

How to Look Good While Dancing

JAN BUCHCZIK for EW

“When you are dancing, always maintain an agreeable face and please, brother, wear a pleasant expression. Some men, when they are dancing, always look as if they are weeping and as if they want to crap hard turds.”

—Antonius Arena, Leges dansandi, 1538

How to Dye Your Hair Green

JAN BUCHCZIK for EW

“To dye Heare into a Greene coloure. Take freshe Capers, and distill theym and washe your heare with the water of them in the sunne, and they will become greene.”

Alessio Piemontese, The Second Part of the Secrets of Maister Alexis of Piermont, 1563

How to Make Someone Die of Laughter

JAN BUCHCZIK for EW

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

Richardus Salernitanus, Anatomia, 13th century

How to Win a Legal Case

JAN BUCHCZIK for EW

“If someone carries with him the teeth, skin, and eyes of a wolf,

he will be victorious at court.”

Albertus Magnus, De animalibus, circa 1260