Thursday, June 19, 2014

The story of the madman in the bath

Let this be a lesson for you. 

The apodyterium or dressing room of the medieval public bath in Girona, Spain – an outstanding website worth a visit. Like Roman baths, it also had cold, warm, and hot rooms for bathing.


Here’s a little medieval story with a moral and a punch line. It comes from El Conde Lucanor, a book written in 1335 by Sir Juan Manuel (1282-1348), Prince of Villena and nephew of King Alfonso X the Wise of Castile.

The book is filled with “exemplary stories” to help the fictitious Count Lucanor deal with his concerns. For example, this story blogged in March 2012 turns out to be the source for “The Emperor’s New Clothes” with the lesson that you should never trust people who tell you not to trust the people who have always been honest with you.

In Example XLIII, the Count has asked how much he should tolerate from bad people. His advisor Patronio tells him this story, whose final line has become a refrain:

“A good man had a public bath, and a madman came to the bath when people were bathing. He hit them with buckets and stones and sticks and everything else he could find, so no one in the world dared to go to the bath that belonged to the good man. He lost his income.

“When the good man realized that the madman was making his business fail, he got up early one day and went to the bath before the madman came. He took off his clothes and got a bucket of boiling water and a large wooden club. Then the madman who had been attacking people arrived at the bath.

“The naked good man who was waiting saw him and ran toward him bravely and angrily. He threw the bucket of boiling water at his head and grabbed the club and began to strike him again and again on his head and body. The madman was afraid he would be killed and thought that the good man was mad.

“He ran out screaming, and he encountered a man who asked him why he was running and yelling. The madman told him:

 “ ‘My friend, beware, because there is another madman in the bath.’ ”


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