Reading a fair amount of history lately, I've been struck by the extent to which bathing is often equated with civilization by modern authors. It's not that I object to bathing myself. Indeed, I participate in the ritual daily, and force the kids to do so more often than they would like.
But after a while one gets awfully tired of it being pointed out over and over again that in the middle ages the great Roman bath houses stood empty and in ruins, while people sometimes went for months without bathing and complicated Roman sewer systems were abandoned for open sewers running down the streets.
Now, I'm not in favor of open sewers and bi-annual bathing, but pointing out that the Romans had sewer systems and public bath houses, and that the Turks did as well, but the builders of Chartres did not does not necessary mean that the Turks and Romans were civilized while the medievals were knuckle dragging savages. It just means that they hadn't put the work into sanitation that some other civilizations had.
Actually, the thing that makes it an even odder thing to throw stones about is that bathing didn't become a daily ritual in America and Western Europe until pretty close to the beginning of the 20th century. So if the medievals are to be considered barbarians in regards to bathing, the founding fathers did little better. (Though that doesn't make it into the books as much.)
Radio Greats: Another Point of View (CBS Radio Workshop)
23 minutes ago