Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Stinky smelly feet: What did they do about it in the past?

Diogenes (412 - 323 BCE) should probably become the patron of foot deodorants because he refused to wear perfume anywhere other than on his feet. The clever man worked out the heat of his feet evaporated the solution which released a perfumed gas which then wafted upwards towards his nose. By his reckoning to apply perfume to the upper body was a complete waste because it only ever benefited the birds.

Socrates (circa 469 – 399 BCE) on the other hand (or should it be foot) was a firm believer in free men smelling only of free labours and manly exercise. He was concerned of the growing trend at the time for men to wear perfume. The women of ancient Greece by contrast, were not well known for smelling sweet.

Cleopatra scented her feet with aegyptium (a lotion containing almond oil, henna, honey, cinnamon, and orange blossoms). One to the properties of henna is it is an effective anti-perspirant, so maybe the Queen of the Nile had sweaty feet. Egyptian and Indian women from the classic period dyed the palms of their hands and soles of their feet with henna to keep them cool. One Indian princess, it is written, kept a maid servant whose job it was to follow her mistress from her bath and wipe the ‘tell-tale’ red footprints from the wet floor. Clearly the lady had feet to rot her socks and perhaps the most alluring quality of a seductress.

The term footman, as in a royal household originated from the fear of putting your foot in it. Well putting the wrong foot forward. It was considered extremely bad luck to enter a room with the left foot forward. The job of the footman was to ensure on right foot entry took place. The footman of Elizabeth I’s court would be very familiar with her shoes because she perfumed them with ambergris (excrete of the sperm whale).

An old remedy to mask underarm smells was urine. The drastic action was very often prescribed for little boys under twelve years of age. Urine was also used to soak the feet prior to binding the feet. In the first world war men would urinate on their boots in order to soften the hard leather. The skin of a human being is covered with an acetic covering known as the acid mantle. A large percentage of which is made up with urine.

Some Africa tribes considered urine to have special properties and use cow urine to dye their hair. Other tribes in central Africa were known to keep young females responsible for golden showers to the feet of their king every morning so that he could have a successful start to the day.

Somewhat surprising the late (great) Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) remains the only pop star to have written lyrics demonstrating the problems of foot odour. The condition is common enough, which might make you, think, others had trodden the ground before. Obviously not.

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