“I advise you, if you are anxious to be read of, to look for some boozy poet of the dark archway who writes verses with rough charcoal or crumbling chalk which folk read while they shit”.
“Marcus Valerius Martialis” Rome, 70 C. E.
The average healthy human produces an ounce of poo for every 12 pounds of body weight, dropping a log anywhere between 3 times a day to once every three days. Our foul, stinking meadow muffins are so putrid a blind leopard with a head cold could track a human through a stink weed swamp. The only reason we were not hunted to extinction is that we used to live in the trees, where our “stinkies” magically disappeared when dropped.
“What hangs at a man’s thigh and wants to poke the hole that it’s often poked before?’ Answer: A key.”
Sumarian joke, 2, 500 B.C.
This “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” hygiene worked until 3 million years ago when we started to spend time on the ground. It must have been a short transition, as proved by our still smelly merde. But as long as our populations remained mobile we could usually outrun the lions and tigers and bears, and defecate away from where we hunted and gathered. When the ice ages restricted our outings, our Cro-Magnon siblings filled so many sheltering caves with aromatic and putrescent paleo-feces, we drove our Neanderthal roommates to prefer the cold outdoors to our proximity.
Strepsiades ; “Do you see this little door and little house?...This is a thinking-shop of wise spirits....
These men teach, if one give them money, to conquer in speaking, right or wrong.....They are minute philosophers, noble and excellent.”
Act I, Scene I. The Clouds by Aristophanes 424 B.C.
Then, about 10,000 years ago, humans settled down in settlements and started farming. Human populations mushroomed, as did our fecal matter. This led to the first great invention to deal with scheisse – sewage. Whoever was running the palace at Knossos on Crete 3,000 years ago, could pass a BM without ever having to see or smell it, as the constantly running water in the palace pipes instantly removed the royal turd from proximity to the royal nose. This may be the origin of the Robert's Supreme Court legal precedent that rich people's poop don't stink. But, of course, the palace pipes had to end somewhere, and the property values just downstream must have plummeted, along with the the owner's odor and ardor.
Marcus Valerius Martialis 70 C.E..
It was King Tarquin in 600 B.C.E. who first mixed socialism and sewage, when he built Rome's 16 foot wide Cloaca Maximum, aka the central sewer, aka “the big poop hole”, atop the cities' 100 foricae, public latrines, where King and commoner alike could discharge a brownie without having to give it a second thought.
This sanitation reduced the city's death rate to a mere 30,000 a year, allowing the population to top one million during the first millennium. But that didn't last. After the Romans threw out the Etruscan Kings, they privatized new additions to the sewer system, producing some very rich crap merchants – from the Latin “crappa” meaning chaff, or rejected material. But squeezing every ounce of profit from the poop populi left the sewers leaky and often in disrepair and disconnected. Thus Rome suffered a series of plagues that killed over half the population every few decades. Where upon the patricians took their money and fled to the suburbs, like Ravenna and Constantinople.
Graffitti on a wall in Herculaneum, Italy 79 C.E.
The fall of Rome brought on the dark ages, which meant even royalty were reduced to making night deposits in a chamber pot, a sort of portable latrine. Of course the wealthy had servants to dump their “cacha” (Latin profanity for poop) , usually in the nearest street, which became a sewer, from the old French “seuwiere”, meaning a drain cut in the ground. This was also the origin of the “High Street”, as the most valuable address, because, as any populist will tell you, shite runs downhill.
“With your giant nose and cock, I bet you can with ease When you get excited, check the end for cheese.”
Marcus Valerius Martialis 70 C.E.
By the 16th century, the 200,000 subjects living in the fetid putrid sewer of London, then the largest city in Europe, were dropping dead daily from anthrax, measles, whooping cough, strep throat, syphilis, child bed fever, malaria, polio, tetanus, and cholera, to name but a few of the infectious endemic illnesses. In addition there was an epidemic of influenza from 1557 to 1559 that killed 5% of the city. The first half of the century saw five waves of the “Dreaded Sweats” or “English Sweats” that killed tens of thousands within 24 hours of affliction. The Black Death or Bubonic Plague swept through London in 1563 (17,000 dead), 1578 (3,700 dead), 1582 (3,000 dead) and 1592 (11,000 dead). And the cause was obvious, even without a viable germ theory.
“This Nicholas just then let fly a fart, As loud as it had been a thunder-clap, And well-nigh blinded Absalom, poor chap; But he was ready with his iron hot, And Nicholas right in the arse he got. Off went the skin a hand's-breadth broad, about, The coulter burned his bottom so, throughout, That for the pain he thought that he should die, And like one mad he started in to cry, "Help! Water! Water! For God's dear heart!”
By 1600, the largest tributary of the Thames, the Fleet River (old Anglo-Saxon “fleot”, a tidal inlet), once called “The river of wells”, had been an open sewer for two centuries. Ben Johnson, Shakespere's contemporary, penned a tribute “On the Famous Voyage”, praising two lads who dared to boat down the 100 yard wide “ merd-urinous” stream. In the stone lined channel “Hung stench, diseases, and old filth, their mother...pills and eke in potions, Suppositories, cataplasms and lotions...the grave fart, late let in parliament.” At last a dead cat floats to the surface and curses the travelers. “How dare Your dainty nostrils (in so hot a season, When every clerk eats artichokes and peason, Laxative lettuce, and such windy meat) Tempt such a passage? When each privy's seat, Is filled with buttock, and the walls do sweat Urine and plasters?” But the waters of the Thames barely noticed the Fleet's filth, so contaminated were its own. The only thing more dangerous than being a child raised in sewage soaked Elizabethan London, was being Elizabeth in the the same place.
“In vain, the Workman showed his Wit, With Rings and Hinges counterfeit, To make it seem in this Disguise, A Cabinet to vulgar Eyes...So Strephon lifting up the Lid, To view what in the Chest was hid...So Things, which must not be expressed When plumped into the reeking Chest; Send up an excremental Smell, To taint the Parts from whence they fell. The Petty coats and Gown perfume, Which waft a Stink round every Room.”
Jonathan Swift “The Lady's Dressing Room” 1732
After years of living under the constant threat of a charge of treason, Elizabeth Tudor put on the crown in 1558 as a 25 year old paranoid anorexic, subject to panic attacks. Living just above the level of common sewage, the nobility survived eating slightly spoiled food, prepared by unwashed hands, unevenly cooked in polluted water. This lead to repeated bouts of stomach cramps, mild fevers, headaches, watery diarrhea and vomiting, which lead to dehydration. This gastroenteritis would rarely prove fatal to an otherwise healthy adult like Elizabeth, but it killed one in four of all infants and a quarter of all surviving children by the age of 10. However salvation from this rising tide of poo was offered in 1595 when a member of Elizabeth's court invented “The John”. Except he called it the “Ajax”, for a very punny reason.