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Jason Feifer, editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur magazine and host of Building for tomorrow podcast, has a fun hobby: it scours newspaper archives to find out how people who lived 100 years ago saw life in the 21st century.
A chimerical dream of yesteryear: air-conditioned accommodation.
We, the commoners of today, live better than the royalty of the past.
“When the heating is done entirely electrically, and I want 70 degrees in my house, I will set the thermostat to 70 and the temperature will not rise above that point. This temperature will be maintained evenly regardless of the weather outside.” , predicted Charles Steinmetz from 1921, an electrical engineer at Schenectady (who apparently went by the enviable nickname “Forger of Thunderbolts”).
And that only concerns life 100 years ago, a failure in the full span of human life. When you look back, Feifer explains, you realize how incredible things are in our daily life.
“We live in a fantasy world and we hardly stop to appreciate it,” Feifer says.
Here are 5 ways we commoners today live better than the royalty of the past.
1. Royal purple
You may already know that purple was a royal color – but do you know why?
For starters, purple was exceptionally expensive due to what it took to make it – it had to be distilled from the dehydrated mucous glands that are found just behind the rectum of a particular snail. Speak BBC:
“It took tens of thousands of parched hypobranchial glands, torn from calcified coils of prickly murex sea snails before being dried and boiled, to stain even a small sample of tissue, including fibers, long after staining, retained the stench of invertebrates. marine excretions. “
Adding insult to odor damage, these snails must have been imported from Lebanon to Europe (the name “Tyrian purple” refers to Tire, Lebanon).
Then, of course, there was the law – it was illegal for commoners to wear purple. Only members of the royal family could wear it.
“In the 11th and 12th centuries, Europe began to develop dense urban spaces as we recognize them today. And that creates a social problem, ”Feifer says.
“Suddenly you need a way to distinguish who the different people are in the city… A serf had to wear the clothes of a serf. Lords had to wear the clothes of a lord. is identifiable, so you can never pass for someone you are not. “
2. Peace and quiet … and private sex
The next time you snuggle up in bed to read a book in private (in purple for good measure), don’t forget to remind yourself of your regal stature … at least compared to medieval Europe.
“For most people in the Middle Ages, the concept of personal space literally didn’t exist,” Feifer says.
“You worked, ate and lived with other people. And at night, whole families shared a bed. Sometimes strangers or travelers would jump in bed with them too, to warm up. It wasn’t weird for them. It’s just … how it was. “
The royal sex required a witness.
In fact, Feifer explains, the intimacy we feel during intimate moments was a luxury that even royalty couldn’t afford.
In societies where family lineage determines who rules the land, proving lineage is of the utmost importance. But since DNA testing was centuries away, proving that the man and woman in question were the real parents somehow required a … notary.
“When you’re a member of royalty, sex isn’t just sex – it’s an official act of extending royal lineage, which is a matter of state,” Feifer says. “So it needs to be… confirmed. It meant royal sex required a witness.”
Speaking of privacy, our bathrooms are another way to do better than the royals of yesterday – thanks to modern plumbing, many of us can safely assume that no one can watch us do it. Our things.
“If you are in the aristocracy, living in a castle, what we would call the toilet or the bathroom or the powder room, it’s called the garter,” says Andrew Rabin, English teacher at the University of Louisville. the podcast.
“And basically what it is is a hole … coming out of the castle, for you to sit in that hole and do your business. And it would literally run down the side of the castle.” “
The Royals may have suffered the injustice of being spotted doing their business in their castles, but what about the common people? The principle is similar, but much more … down to earth. Fortunately, the engineers of their time discovered a major hack.
“In medieval towns, the second story of a house jut out onto the street. This was for two reasons – the first, because it allowed them to build wider streets, which was useful because the streets could be places crowded with animals, ”Feifer said.
“But two, because that way people could walk under those overhanging second floors.”
If these people walked too close to the edge of these overhangs, says Rabin, they risked ending up with “a surprising new way to style (their) hair.”
But even when their hair was kept free of urine and feces, they were still offended by an array of street smells – a potent mix of human and animal feces and body odors. Rabin says it’s a misconception that people in the Middle Ages didn’t bathe – they did bathe, it just didn’t do much to alleviate the onslaught of noxious odors.
The Royals were fortunate enough to have access to the scent, but the same can’t be said for everyone who works for them. So take a deep breath and rest assured that what you smell made medieval royalty dream.
Literacy is one thing, but in England at the turn of the last millennium a commoner was not even allowed to speak the same language as its rulers.
“After the Norman Conquest of 1066, when various groups from France invaded and occupied England, the ruling class in England spoke a language called Norman French,” Feifer said.
“In fact, several generations of rulers would pass before any of them could speak the language of their people. You know Richard the Lionhart, aka Richard the First of England, who appears in countless films like King of Heaven, and is pictured with an English accent? No. He didn’t speak English. “
The average person probably wouldn’t have a chance to speak to the King anyway, but the implications of this differentiation between royals and ordinary people have extended to legal matters. This remained true even after Norman French was a distant memory.
“Even after the monarchy and the court gave up French and spoke English, if you were a lawyer, if you were a lawyer, you still had to learn to speak this ‘French law’,” Rabin said.
So in that sense, all you have to do to live like kings today is speak the same language as your elected leader and be able to read a legal document (although the text itself may look more like French law than English).
The last way to live like a royal is to indulge your sweet tooth.
“Sugar cane is a modern invention. Sugar beets: a modern invention. Corn syrup: a modern invention – and it takes a lot of factory processing to get this sweetness,” says Kara Cooney, professor of art and architecture Egyptian and president of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA, in the episode.
“Sugar in the ancient world came from fruit. If you had access to fruit… and if you juice it… you could get sugar. But it was a difficult thing to get hold of.
Like the color purple, sugar was rare because it was difficult to obtain and manufacture. Modern society has managed to reverse the scenario.
“Back then, consuming sugar was a sign of status,” Cooney says. “Today, thousands of years later, industrial sugar is one of the cheapest substances available. The status marker is therefore reversed.
The next time you indulge in your favorite dessert, enjoy it as the royal delight that it really is.
For more information, see the Build for Tomorrow episode here.
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