How to Do It

Hope to conceive a boy? Tie a tourniquet around your husband's left testicle. Pregnant and fear a weak or malformed baby? Frequent hearty laughter should reduce the risk. What may seem quirky to today's readers certainly wasn't to its original audience Renaissance Italians. They read advice manuals prodigiously, and Rudolph Bell takes us through sixteenth-century Italy from this entirely new perspective: through manuals which were staples in the households of middlebrow Italians just trying to lead a better life. Read on and so will you.

Some timeless advice from
How to Do It
Guides to Good Living for Renaissance Italians
by Rudolph M. Bell

Seventeen ways to make your next child a boy

He should abstain from sexual intercourse for a while, like forty days.
They should wait for dry weather, with strong northerly winds blowing.
They should choose a date shortly after her menstrual cycle.
They should wait until dawn, when his digestion is complete.
They should eat and drink sparingly the previous evening, especially him.
They should spray the room with musk of civet cat, amber, or aloe.
They should hang pictures of virile men all about the room.
He should not be distracted by worldly or scholarly concerns.
They should engage in sexual foreplay to stimulate mutual orgasm.
He should put a tourniquet on his left testicle.
She should use a cushion to prop up her right flank.
He should ejaculate in one big spurt, with no dribbling.
He should stay fixed in the hole so air cannot enter to corrupt the seed.
She should assist by tightly closing her thighs, legs and feet.
She must not sneeze.
They should talk with each other lovingly after ejaculation.
They should be cheerful and thoroughly enjoy themselves!

How to reduce the risks of miscarriage and premature birth

Wear an emerald around your neck, reaching your abdomen.
Avoid bloodlettings and strong medicinals.
Carry around a lump of clay.
If you're rich, place a diamond in your vagina.
For everyone, eat snake-skins, wild rabbit fetus, and fresh-water shrimp.
Tell your husband you're sick and keep him away.
If he must have you, be dexterous, using suave strokes and not too many.
Don't wash your hair too often or in cold water; it leads to bronchitis.
Eat the richest foods you can afford but in moderation.
Drink lots of light red wine.
Avoid bathing, no more than one weekly even in the ninth month.
Overcome bouts of melancholy and fear with frequent hearty laughter.
Be self-indulgent in anything that does not harm you.
Avoid long carriage rides and crowded public spectacles.
Sleep a lot, but don't stay in bed until noon.
Exercise moderately; dusting, sweeping, washing, and ironing are fine.
Find a good midwife early on.

Baby and child care

Avoid cold, damp air.
Wash baby's hair in warm water, with very mild soap, and dry thoroughly.
Bathe baby frequently, even three or four times each month.
Exercise baby's limbs with tickling, stretching, blowing, and kissing.
Check the diaper and adjust feedings accordingly.

And when the baby is ready for solid food, this is what you do:
Rinse your mouth with cleansing wine before chewing the food.
If you have rotten, smelly teeth, get a healthy young person to pre-chew.
Spit out the first mouthful and only then give baby the best part.
Give baby honeyed bread but leave wine-soaked bread to old folks.
For sore gums, rub on hare's brain or chicken fat.

And when the baby wants to walk, this is what you do:
Put the baby at a bench, standing behind him for support.
Don't yank arms and risk dislocating them.
Use a walker and coax baby to retrieve a nearby apple or toy.
At 20-24 months encourage play with other children: log-climbing, running, playing catch with a ball, scampering freely to and fro.
If baby frolics and falls a lot, protect him with a cross-shaped helmet.

And when the child begins to understand, this is how to build good character:
Cultivate an honest desire to please, never breaking the child's will.
Reward success but do not make the child fear failure.
Do not let the child become languid and lazy, better to run and play.
Behave properly as parents, so the child sees good examples.
Don't laugh when the child uses dirty words or sticks up an index finger.

Advice for married women

If he has a roving eye, put more sparkle into your own lovemaking.
If he wants to take you to lewd comedies, just say no.
If he want you on top during intercourse, refuse.
If gossips tell you he's playing around, close your ears to them.
If he is depressed or angry, cheer him up with good food and sex.

Advice for married men

If she commits adultery, bury her alive (according to one writer, but others say he should just shut up and bear it gracefully).
If she climbs on top during intercourse, bounce her off.
If she refuses sex because she's preparing for communion, bless her.
If she offers reasonable, considered advice, take it seriously.
If she errs, correct her gently at first, saving beatings for really big defects.


Copyright notice:Adapted from How to Do It by Rudolph M. Bell, published by the University of Chicago Press. © 1999 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press.

Rudolph M. Bell
How to Do It: Guides to Good Living for Renaissance Italians
©1999, 390 pages, 11 line drawings
Cloth $25.00 ISBN: 978-0-226-04210-7
Paper $18.00 ISBN: 978-0-226-04200-8

For information on purchasing the book—from bookstores or here online—please go to the webpage for How to Do It.

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