9 Ancient Table Manners for Children that will make you Laugh

Table manners should be instilled in the young,  this was the philosophy of Erasmus of Rotterdam, whose etiquette book became a best-seller and a standard school text.

Titled De civilitate morum puerilium, or On Civility in Children, his text continued to be reprinted into the eighteenth century, and spawned a multitude of translations, imitations, and sequels. It became a standard schoolbook for the education of boys throughout Europe. While upwardly mobile adults were struggling to break ingrained habits and acquire proper manners, Erasmus pointed out that the easiest, most painless place to begin is in childhood.

Here is a sampling of Erasmus’s advice (some of it is coarse by today’s standards):

• “If you cannot swallow a piece of food, turn round discreetly and throw it somewhere.”

• “Retain the wind by compressing the belly.”

• “Do not be afraid of vomiting if you must; for it is not vomiting but holding the vomit in your throat that is foul.”

• “Do not move back and forth on your chair. Whoever does that gives the impression of constantly breaking or trying to break wind.”

•”Turn away when spitting lest your saliva fall on someone. If anything purulent falls on the ground, it should be trodden upon, lest it nauseate

• “You should not offer your handkerchief to anyone unless it has been freshly washed. Nor is it seemly, after wiping your nose, to spread out your handkerchief and peer into it as if pearls and rubies might have fallen out of your head.”

• “To lick greasy fingers or to wipe them on your coat is impolite. It is better to use the tablecloth or the serviette.”

• “Some people put their hands in the dishes the moment they have sat down. Wolves do that.”

If some of Erasmus’s advice seems laughable today, we should pause to consider at least one warning from an etiquette book in our own century. On the only way to eat large lettuce leaves: “They must be cut with the blunt edge of the fork—never, never with a knife.”

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