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Monday, March 10, 2014

Advice from 1380: How to Tell if Someone Is or Is Not Dead

BL Harley 3140, f. 39r (14th c.)
We all know that the old ways are frequently the best; that may turn out to be the case here, but I think we need further testing.  I would personally rather not be declared dead based on the onion test.   
"Moreover, if there is any doubt as to whether a person is or is not dead, apply lightly roasted onion to his nostrils, and if he be alive, he will immediately scratch his nose." 
Johannes de Mirfield, Breviarium Bartholomei (c. 1380-95)

Of course, it's impossible to think about being not quite dead without thinking of the Monty Python (wiki) "Not Dead Yet" scene from Holy Grail:


  1. An old sailors' practice was to drive the last stitch of a body bag through the dead person's nose.

  2. Recall the song in which a man protests from beneath some dead bodies that he is not dead. Apparently he was lying drunk in the streets with the corpses of plague victims that were thrown there to be picked up by a man with a wagon and taken to the cemetery, where he ended up.
    Recall also that the ominpresence of the plague gave rise to veiled gruesome games about Death and the Plague: "Johnny Can't Come Across the Ocean Unless He has...; "Captain, May I?"; "Hide and Go Seek." They helped children cope with their fear of death, which was all around them.
    Recall that the recently deceased Fr.John Dunne of Notre Dame said that the plague was such a shock to the worldview and faithview of Christians that it took a long, long time for the culture to recover from that emotional and intellectual shock, if indeed it did. For many Jews, the Holocaust has had a similar effect.