Daily Life: Health and Hygiene

Tirenians do not have the same need for privacy as we do today. They are happy to wash and defecate in public places. The very rich have their own private bathing facilities at home, but most urban Tirenians in large cities use the public bathhouses. These are not divided by gender, which leads to stories of immorality at the bathhouses. Some people feel that this public bathing is what allowed the terrible Great Death to spread so quickly. There are also some priests who feel that excessive bathing is a sign of vanity, and who let themselves become positively disgusting as a sign of their piety, but this is unusual. Meanwhile, rural Tirenians have outdoor privies, while an urban Tirenian would probably use a chamber pot, which is emptied into the street. Poorer citizens will use a public toilet, which would empty directly into the river. During the night, ‘night soil men’ come with their wagons to collect the waste and take out of the city to be reused as fertiliser.

Disease is rampant in Tirenia due to poor hygiene, and medical knowledge is still very basic. The best care comes from the prayers of the truly devout, but there are very few priests who can invoke true miracles any more. Many Tirenians will still turn to their priest in time of need, and praying for the sick and injured is a major duty of the priesthood. Anyone who claims to be able to use magical healing is guaranteed a lot of attention, which has led to travelling charlatans who will pretend to have the power of true healing.

In the absence of true healing, most Tirenians will turn to either a doctor or to folk medicine. Medico (doctors) are often part of a guild, and they will use their trade secrets to diagnose the illness. Doctors will set up their practice in a town, while some doctors are itinerant and will visit small villages. Dissection of bodies is illegal, so Tirenian doctors have limited anatomical knowledge. Many guilds and universities resort to buying bodies from grave-robbers for dissection. Tirenians believe that illness is the result of an imbalance of the four basic elements inside a person, and so their cures are based on a combination of treating the symptoms and trying to restore the elemental harmony of the patient through methods such as bloodletting - a system that is rarely successful. Folk medicine is based on superstition and tradition. It is just as successful as the science of a medico, however. Both folk healers and medici rely upon herbal remedies extensively, which are often quite effective. For the urban poor who are unable to afford a doctor, some monasteries and confraternities sponsor public hospitals that give basic medical care. The services that they offer can vary greatly, however.

In recent generations a new type of doctor has become important: the plague doctor. These specialists became experts in treating the Great Death. They are recognisable by their heavy black cloaks and their beaked masks. This costume is to avoid contact with the infected, and the ‘beak’ of the mask is filled with sweet-smelling herbs to prevent the ‘miasma’, the disease-carrying odor, from infecting the physician. Plague doctors are hired by the city leaders, and can command impressive rates. In addition to doing what they could to prevent the spread of disease, their main duty is to keep records of infections and fatalities.

Image: 'Actaeon surprises Diana in her Bath.' Titiano Vicelli, 1559.


Popular posts from this blog

The Not-So-Secret History of Tirenia

Thinking outside the 5ft by 5ft box

History and Fantasy