Medieval historian and genius-person Elizabeth Archibald has collected a trove of advice from The Past. To share this advice, she runs a blog that’s aptly titled “Ask the Past.” And The Past, it seems, has much to say about the art of courtship. But is such advice relevant for the modern suitor? Yes. No. Sometimes. Let us consider three historical pieces of advice for hopeful lovers:
How to Impress Girls at a Dance, 1530
“Furthermore never fart when you are dancing; grit your teeth and compel your arse to hold back the fart… Do not have a dripping nose and do not dribble at the mouth. No woman desires a man with rabies. And refrain from spitting before the maidens, because that makes one sick and even revolts the stomach. If you spit or blow your nose or sneeze, remember to turn your head away after the spasm; and remember not to wipe your nose with your fingers; do it properly with a white handkerchief. Do not eat either leeks or onions because they leave an unpleasant odour in the mouth.”
— Antonius Arena, Leges dansandi (1530)
Contemporary Analysis: Correct. Then as now, girls are maximally impressed by gentlemen who do not slobber, fart, or have rabies.
How to Compliment a Lady, 1663
1. “Her Dove-like eyes.”
2. “Liquorous rolling eyes.”
3. “Her cheeks shine like sparkling stones.”
4. “Her Cheeks are like Punick Apples.”
5. “Her Cheeks are spread with Spices and Flowers.”
6. “Her breasts are the soft Pillows of love.”
7. “Her breasts are soft and tender as the Pelican’s.”
8. “Her Thighes are fit subjects for the pleasant Songs of youthfull Poets to acquaint the world with.”
9. “Her legs as stately and firm as marble pillars.”
Contemporary Analysis: Conflicted. Yes on spice-flower cheeks, yes on Songs-of-youthfull-Poet thighs. No on pelican breasts. No on love-pillow breasts. Absolutely no on marble pillar legs, are you calling me fat? Punick Apple cheeks, unclear. Knowing that punick apples are in fact pomegranates does not clarify the situation.
How to Sweet Talk Your Lady, 1656
“Instructions for Lovers: teaching them, how to demean themselves towards their Sweet-hearts. You must not accost them with a shrug, as if you were lowsie: With, ‘your Ladie,’ ‘best Ladie,’ or ‘most super-excellent Ladie’: neither must you let your words come rumbling forth, ushered in with a good full mouth’d, Oath, as ‘I love you’… But you must in fine gentle words, deliver your true affection: Praise your Mistress Eies, her Lip, her Chin, her Nose, her Neck, her Face, her Hand, her Feet, her Leg, her Waste, her every thing.”
— Cupids Master-piece, or, The Free-school of Witty and Delightful Compliments (1656)
Contemporary Analysis: Incorrect. Please say “I love you.” Please do not praise my Hand, Neck, or Nose. That will make me uncomfortable. If you want to compliment my face in general, though, I will take it.