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Hygiene - The Middle Ages And Renaissance, 200–1700 C.e.

regimens practice health medical

European medical writing all but ceased as academic study dis-integrated with the Roman Empire. Academic medicine owed its revival in the ninth century C.E. to the enthusiasm of Muslim scholars, who, having established an empire from Persia to Spain, translated and extended the classical medical corpus, particularly the works of Galen. The concept of hygiene was revitalized, particularly as it could readily absorb the Islamic belief that the spiritual unity of the cosmos was the basis for all medical practice and the cleansing and purification rituals that surrounded prayer. New texts of regimens for health were produced by such renowned physicians as Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya ar-Razi (Rhazes; c. 865–between 923 and 935 C.E.) and Avicenna (Ibn Sina; 980–1037 C.E.).

These Islamic physicians followed Galen's successors in considering the six "nonnaturals" (that is, factors external to the body) as the canonical categories that composed hygiene: air (or "environment"), food and drink, sleeping and waking, movement and rest, retention and evacuation (including ejaculation), and mental-emotions ("passions of the soul"). Regimens and advice books were structured around these categories. While regimens were widely respected, in practice, as in the classical period, many people blended them with the incantations, rituals, and charms of popular medicine, just as the notion of spiritual harmony integral to Islamic hygiene coexisted with religious notions of disease as a test or punishment.

European enthusiasm for hygiene returned with the upsurge in medical writing that marked the Renaissance, and handbooks were produced for a much wider audience. For example, in England between 1456 and 1604, 115 out of 392 editions of books on medicine and regimen were issued in the vernacular. However, these works contained an increasing diversity of thought that left the content of hygienic practice unfixed, further blurred the distinction between hygiene and therapeutics, and, under the influence of nascent sciences and the growing authority of mathematics, assigned and calculated degrees to humoral balance. Emphases and goals were shifting. For example, although exercise had largely dropped out of hygienic manuals in the medieval period, there was a renewed emphasis on regimens of movement in the Renaissance; and practitioners now aimed higher than the Galenic allotment of years, Health propaganda poster, c. 1940s. As civilization progressed during the twentieth century into expanded industrialization, frequent overcrowding, and two world wars, health risks increased. As a result, governments instituted programs aimed at encouraging citizens to practice good hygiene for a healthier society. © K.J. HISTORICAL /CORBIS wishing instead to preserve their youth and achieve an unlimited longevity.

Personal hygiene also became more clearly equated with the health of the soul as it was reinterpreted through Christian belief and practice. Thus classical hygienic prescriptions on diet became condemnations of the "sins" of gluttony and drunkenness. Self-help and an increasing asceticism (all-cold regimens were popular) were the twin characteristics of hygiene at this time. The works of social theorists John Locke (1632–1704) and John Wesley (1703–1791, founder of Methodism) emphasized "hardening" regimens and sobriety. These clearly moralistic ideas about hygiene fueled criticisms of "civilization" by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) and others, who suggested that compared with the "noble savages" of the "new" world, Europeans were being devitalized by nervous diseases brought on by overeating and drinking, failure to exercise, late rising, and tight lacing. Hygienic regimens were to aid in maintaining European identity in the face of dissolution.

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