What Took The West So Long In Adopting Personal Hygiene?

Cultural cross pollination occured once contact was made with Eastern and Islamic societies, why were the obvious benefits of cleanliness ignored?

I think your basic premise is wrong. You haven’t shown any evidence that the West took so long to adopt personal hygiene.

I recall that the Roman government put a lot of money into providing ornate public baths, even out in all their provinces, like England, for example.

And the Greek society before that – there was a lot of writing about bathing, athletes cleaning before the games, etc.

And go even further back: look in the Bible for all the passages about washing, ritual cleaning, etc. Jesus washing the feet of his disciples – wasn’t that a custom relating to hygiene?

You’re probably thinking of the time after this, called the Dark Ages, when there was a deterioration in personal hygiene. But pretty much everything else deteriorated during that time, too. Most human societies have gone thru periods of advancement, and periods of decay. In this case, the decay in western civilization coincided with a period of advancement in eastern civilization, so the contrast is clear, and makes you think the West was behind.

All good points except the one about the Bible - Jesus didn’t live in the West he lived in the Middle East.

Also, while the Romans may have been pretty clean, from the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment Westerners were pretty nasty. I don’t know if they were any nastier than the rest of the world , though, taken as a whole.

Very true…and in fact, the Jews, who took (and take) those Bible passages seriously, were amongst the least affected by unsanitary epidemics in medieval Europe.

Unfortunately, the non-Jews’ reaction to this was to take it as proof that the Jews has poisoned their wells and start another blood libel/pogrom/Crusade/etc.

I think you need to consider the labor involved in supplying bathwater in the days before indoor plumbing was common. Nevermind hot bathwater. Add in the cold winters of Northern Europe and bathing wasn’t that easy for a lot of the year. Where bathing did occur - I’m thinking Finnish saunas here - it was typically communal.

In the Middle East water may have been at a premium, but if you did take a dip you weren’t running risk of hypothermia for six months of the year.

Not to mention that where cities had turned the local water supply into an open sewer doing without washing in it may have, in fact, been the healthier choice.

World War II

Don’t laugh, that’s what my professor told us. Hygiene, including dental, bathing, nutrition- eating three square meals, literacy…

Precisely. Public baths existed and were widely used during most of the middle-ages. These dissapeared only during the late middle-ages (due to the pressures of the church that consideed them sinful, in particular since they often doubled as brothels, and to the fear of epidemics). And it’s probably only after this period that hygiene became so poor in Europe (to the point where physicians thought that bathing was bad for your health and advised against it). During most of the middle-ages, not even mentionning the Roman Empire, of course, hygiene probably wasn’t that bad in Europe.

Most of us Westerners are really descendants of barbarians, not the Romans, so bathing was not particularly considered such a tremendous virture. Add to that the loss of the sophisticated architects and engineers brought about by the decline of the Roman Empire - diseases, climate changes, taxes and war. It is no wonder that such benefits as personal cleanliness suffered.

Many Christians developed an attitude that to deny one’s body comfort was proof of their faith - and to be concerned with the body was unholy. After all, our reward is eternal and in the next world, so we should not be concerned with this. and the second coming was due any day. Sort of the opposite of the “indulgent” Roman pagans, who lived for today since, for most of their religions, there was no or a gloomy afterlife. Public baths fell out of favor, as did cleanliness itself. Eventually people like St Catherine of Siena was considered especially holy since she never bathed in her life - not to mention going years without a bowel movement. Ever wonder why so many saints were burned at the stake by their neighbors?