The Roman Empire and Cleanliness

During my Sex, Gender and Culture course, I learned from my professor that the American and the Japanese cultures are equal in how they admire cleanliness. I am an American, and yes, I like to wash twice daily, shave, use anti-perspirant on my underarms and I like perfume and I always wash my hands after I use the bathroom.

From personal observation, I’ve seen that some cultures can be generally lax about personal hygiene and general cleanliness, so much so that it can be quite off-putting. One often finds many people in these cultures are generally apathetic about germs and health matters, even though there is a wealth of information to support the advocacy of cleanliness. This would not have been tolerated by great civilizations before. This apathy for personal hygiene has set in amongst all the other things people have become apathetic towards in our modern day world.

Some think that Americans are obsessed with health, and this is not very fair;  for the truth of the matter is that all highly civilized societies have been concious of their hygiene. Take for example that great civilization of the Roman Empire. Romans were notoriously stringent about their daily personal hygiene. They adored bathing and being nicely scented. The many baths still standing throughout what was once their lands are testament to this fact. The washed their hands, they cleaned their bottoms with olive oil and water on a sponge after defecating. They also had a habit of shaving their body hair (Julius Caesar was an advocate of this) for it showed civilization whereas unkempt hair could be dirty, greasy, smelly and suitable for only barbarians.

The Romans also thought that olive oil was a civilized food product and that butter was solely for barbarians like the peoples of Germania. Is not it strange, then, to learn that olive oil is indeed much better for the body than butter?

The Victorian period was known for trying to improve England’s previously poor sanitation and non-existent hygiene practices. Women died in childbirth because there was no infection control and doctors would not wash their hands before delivering a child. Prince Albert, that King amongst men, fought for sanitation to be improved to stop the raging diseases that affected so many of his kingdom’s citizens. Sadly, he himself succumbed to a preventable disease – Typhoid – which is due to the contaminated water he consumed.

Many illnesses can be prevented, lives can be saved when people open their eyes to reason and science and learn to change their personal habits for the best. Prevention is truly better than the cure.

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