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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Lice Aren't Nice

We have the most interesting books here at MLC. No, really! Today I found something called Insects, Hygiene, and History by J.R. Busvine. Seriously, check out the cover art:

A Tit-bit for the Bugs
from the book Rowlandson the Caricaturist by Joseph Grego (1880)
The author delves into the lives of all sorts of gross bugs and icky insects. Lice, ticks, mites, bed bugs -- you name it. After briefly discussing entymology, he delves into people's views of vermin over the years. He has a rare touch of grotesque humor; perhaps such a thing is needed when studying the creepy-crawlies of the world. This quote from The Noble Lyfe and Nature of Man is included and it tickles me no end:

A louse is a worm with many fete and it cometh out of the filthi and onclene skynne... To Withdryue them, the best is to washe oftentymes and to change oftentymes clene lynen.
A plus to no longer living in the Middle Ages? Now we know that lice don't just pop out of our skin if we skip a bath. This wonderful line about fleas caught my eye:

On hearing the first cuckoo in spring, one should take earth from the ground where one's right foot is standing; this will have the property of driving all fleas from a house.
(If that doesn't work on your flea infestation, talk to Pliny.)

 As did this fascinating entry on lice:

The nature of the louse is that, on red hair they are red, on black hair, black, on white, white; and if one changes the hair, they will change colour.
 Chameleon lice!

I'll leave you with this charming depiction of a wife cleaning the lice from her husband's head...

from the Hortus Sanitatis (1491)

...apparently with a feather duster.

Busvine, J.R. Insects, Hygiene, and History The Athlone Press of the University of London, 1976.


  1. Boy, I wish I'd known that flea trick with the dirt and the cuckoo before I spent all that money at the vet on flea meds for the cats. ;)

  2. We had a minor flea infestation this winter. Really needed a cuckoo!!!


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