Everyday life of European students from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment

The easiest way to understand the life of a student of the past centuries is to multiply all the life difficulties of a modern student three times. Then you will get a rough idea of how hard it was for young men in the pursuit of education. As a student, I studied a lot and used various online services, so I could write my papers perfectly.

Is it difficult to decide to study in another city, and even more so in another country? What about the cultural difference? Did you manage to ride away from the plague city before the outbreak of the epidemic? The next time you will not be allowed in without a paid certificate from the court secretary that you are healthy. Didn’t have time? Um… it’s God’s will.

During wars, you can be mistaken for a spy and immediately hanged on a bitch. Sometimes it is better to be a ragged and beggarly pedestrian in the company of the same starving people than well-dressed, on horseback and with a purse. Robbers are not transferred on busy roads, and the keepers of roadside taverns in the wilderness may decide that if you cut your throat and appropriate all the property, no one will know about it.

But poverty will not protect against encroachments on life and freedom. Lomonosov almost turned into a Prussian reiter. Trediakovsky “went on foot for extreme poverty” was arrested more than once as a tramp.

Finally, you arrived in a large, teeming city and found the university building. An interview with one of the professors, a cash contribution… and that’s it, are the entrance exams over? Yes, you are now officially a student. But don’t relax.

You have yet to experience a meeting with future fellow students.

“In different communities, the rites of initiation into students differed from each other. For example, in Montpellier, a freshman had to “make a jump” (from a height or over an obstacle). Upon their completion, the initiate kissed the hand of the bachelor who had just mocked him and arranged a feast for new comrades. After that, he became a servant to one of the elders, had to clean his clothes and shoes, be on his errands, serve at the table. Only a year later, having set a new feast, the “chick” became an “old man” and could tyrannize over newcomers himself.

In Avignon, the newcomer was called a “yellow kid”. In the first year of his studies, he was supposed to provide “old people” with various kinds of services and show them respect. He invited students to meetings, cleared the table, could not sit, speak out and cover his head in the presence of seniors who were sitting in hats with him, had to walk down the street behind them and take a seat in the back rows. For disobedience, several blows with a ruler were supposed. At the end of the one year, the last test was waiting for the “yellow boy”. If the elders spoke in favor of his acceptance, then, on the recommendation of his mentors, he was doused with water to wash off the stain of “yellowness”, after which anyone who called him a “yellow boy” received two blows with a ruler.

In Alcala, newcomers were put on a wheel, driven out into the street without outerwear when it snowed, beaten with sticks…”

The next pressing question is where to live while studying? Of course, it’s good if caring parents send money. Then you can live in the house of your teacher, having received both a householder and a patron at the university at the same time.
And if, as is usually the case with students, there is not much money? What were the dormitories like then? Listen to Erasmus of Rotterdam, who studied at the Montague College for Theological Students.

“In his letters, he complains endlessly: the rooms of the bedrooms are unhealthy, the walls are icy, covered with plaster, there is a latrine nearby, from which there is a stench; whoever will live in this “vinegar college” for a long time, he will certainly get sick and die. He is not happy about the food either: the eggs and meat are rotten, the wine is sour, and the nights are spent in an inglorious struggle with insects. “Are you from Montague? – he jokes later in his “Conversations”. – Must your head be in laurels? – No, in fleas.”

Nobody is going to make the learning process comfortable and exciting either. However, much depends on the point of view: for example, physical punishments are rarely resorted to at universities, preferring to punish with hunger, cold and monetary fines. There is a more respectful attitude than at school, where Latin is beaten with rods.

The role of notes in studies is quite comparable to modern ones, but it will be difficult for you to get used to how precious paper is: sometimes a student has to choose between a notebook and breakfast, lunch and pens, ink and dinner. And have you ever wondered what the “search for sources” looked like in pre-Internet times? I hope you enjoy reading standing up, turning the pages of a book chained to a music stand. Almost like especially dangerous books in the Hogwarts library, only they don’t try to bite.

“But the chains did not save either: in 1555, Dean Baudouin, informed of the unfortunate incidents, ordered a library catalog to be compiled, but his order remained on paper for a long time. In Bologna, too, they were shaking over books: in the XIV century, a student, to get the right folio from the Dominican library, was forced to resort to the influence of his patron Duke Lodovico Gonzaga.”

On the other hand, the students were so violent that, compared to them, the intelligentsia of bygone times, the current students should quietly drown themselves in shame.

“On the twenty-sixth of February 1229, during the carnival, the students again clashed with the sergeants of the Paris Provost, who tried to pacify the brawlers. The innkeeper did not want to give the students free wine; a trifling quarrel turned into a battle between the townspeople and the students. All the pubs were smashed, wine was poured on the ground, many people were beaten half to death; the victory remained with the students. The townspeople complained to Queen Blanca of Castile, and she ordered the Parisian Provost to “take action.” He gladly obeyed: several students were killed, many others were maimed. In protest, the university stopped lectures, and on April 15, the professors left Paris, taking most of the audience with them to Oxford and Cambridge. The remaining ones did not even think about changing their lifestyle.”
And the students had fun with an excellent imagination.

“The “Handbook of an Excellent Student” of 1495 lists everything that was forbidden to students (probably the list was compiled based on practical observations): spending the night (which starts at eight-nine o’clock in the evening in winter and nine-ten o’clock in summer) outside the house, having fun on Sundays with lay people (students were considered clerics), swimming on Mondays, hanging around the market on Wednesdays, missing matins, napping at mass, skipping vespers, fighting with the kids, dirtying books during the service, making riots, talking nonsense, chopping trees, interfering with the executioner, when he is performing his duties, reciting comedies in church and the cemetery…”

Everything is changing: new rules, new prohibitions, new nuances of study, lectures are being read, not just retelling the textbook, but summarizing the most relevant scientific knowledge, there are heated debates about the heliocentric system of the world, astrology is being taught at the Department of Medicine, violent fights are taking place in anatomical theaters between medical students and surgical apprentices…

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