Praegustator: the taster
I first heard about the praegustator when I was younger, and I wanted to be one when I grew up. Imagine being paid lavishly by a king to taste all kinds of exotic foods and drinks. However, like all good things, this one too, comes with a catch.
A praegustator’s job was not merely to check the spices and the salt of food. Instead, he had to taste and confirm whether the food was safe to eat or not. Usually, only someone in a high position or someone with a threat of being assassinated would hire a food taster.
If the taster became sick after the food tasting, it would be concluded that the food was not fit for the king. However, most times, slow-acting poisons would be mixed with food, showing their actions after the food was ingested. That is why, most times, preparing and serving food was in their job description.
One of the many instances of deliberate poisoning happened to the Roman emperor, Claudius, despite the precautions taken by his taster, Halotus. Much later, the Mauryan Queen, Dudhara, died after tasting the food for her husband. Regardless, history bears witness to more food tasters’ deaths when compared to the kings.
A Knocker up
A knocker-up, sometimes known as a knocker-upper, was a profession in Britain and Ireland that started during and lasted well into the Industrial revolution, when alarm clocks and watches were expensive. A knocker-up’s job was to rouse sleeping people so they could get to work on time.
A knocker up was paid to rouse the sleeping. Initially, they woke up people by loud noises but as this also resulted in waking others who didn’t even pay, they started using a baton or short, heavy stick to knock on the clients’ doors or a long and light stick, often made of bamboo, to reach windows on higher floors. They also used pea shooters. The knocker-up would not leave a client’s window until they were sure that the client had been awoken.
A knocker upper would also use a ‘snuffer outer’ as a tool. This implement was used to put out gas lamps which were lit at dusk and then needed to be extinguished at dawn.
A pinsetter is a machine used in the sport of bowling to reset the pins back to their original position after a player’s throw. The history of pinsetters can be traced back to the early days of bowling, when manual labor was used to reset the pins. This was a time-consuming and physically demanding task, and it was not uncommon for people to be injured while performing this job.
The first automatic pinsetter was introduced in 1936 by the AMF company, and it revolutionized the sport of bowling. The machine used mechanical arms to pick up and reset the pins, making the process much faster and safer. The popularity of bowling grew rapidly in the post-war years, and the use of automatic pinsetters became widespread in bowling alleys around the world.
In the 1970s, electronic pinsetters were introduced, further increasing the speed and accuracy of the pin resetting process. Today, modern pinsetters are computerized and use sensors to detect when a pin has been knocked down, allowing for an even faster and more efficient resetting process.
Overall, the evolution of the pinsetter has had a major impact on the sport of bowling, making it faster, safer, and more enjoyable for players of all ages and skill levels.
Delator: the rattle tattle
It’s hard to admit that delators were actually ‘professionals’ whose job was to gossip about their neighbors.
They reported everything about everybody to the person they worked for. If only this was their only job description — to keep the record of other people — they would have qualified as spies of their time.
However, that’s not it.
Since they were paid to gossip, the number of lies mixed with truth is unimaginable. They would even make the desi aunties look good. The delators were paid for ‘producing’ information and not just ‘giving’ it. That is why they were often the worst betrayers in society and were often looked down upon because they would go to any extent with their lies for more money.
Vestal Virgin: the committed virgin
In 216 BC, Hannibal crushed the Romans. Being as superstitious as they were, the Romans blamed their misfortune on their inability to please their gods.
They believed that all of the tragedy that followed after their defeat was due to their Vestal Virgins were not virgins. With this realization, one of the two Virgins killed herself, while the other was walled up alive near the Colline Gate.
Romans revered their goddess Vesta, the goddess of home and family. The Vestals were her priestesses, and their job was to keep the fire burning in the goddess’s temple, the only priestesses in ancient Rome.
When and if the fire in Vesta’s temple stopped burning, the Romans believed that chaos would enter their city. That happened after their defeat against Hannibal, which is why they decreed a harsh punishment.
Vestals were supposed to be virgins. They were chosen between the age of six and ten. After being selected, they had to be committed to thirty years of virginity. There was no way out.
In case any Vestal is unable to keep her ‘vow of chastity’ intact, a painfully torturous death would follow. However, there were a few perks to being a Vestal. These Virgins were given an upper hand over the other females in the land regarding rights, privileges, and power.
Armpit plucker: the human razor
Unlike today, the most popular leisure activity for people in ancient times was sports. Everybody, young or old, was involved in some athletic activity.
Since they indulged in several hours of physical activity, they were aware of the body hair’s ability to retain foul odour — especially in men. Hence, they kept an armpit plucker, whose sole job was to pluck out hair from men’s armpits. Imagine having a job requiring a lot of attention (plucking eyebrows is never an easy feat), only to be distracted by the unpleasant smell coming from the armpits of the men being plucked.
The armpit pluckers were professionals with hundreds of hours logged into their work profiles for plucking armpit hair. This job was particularly very common among the Romans.
Though they encouraged the armpit hair to be plucked, having hair plucked from any other body area was looked down upon, especially among the men. Perhaps that’s why there were armpit pluckers and not any other kind of professional plucker in history.
Chimney sweeping has been a necessary task for hundreds of years, dating back to the medieval times when chimneys were first invented and used for heating and cooking.
Chimney sweeps were once considered to be an important and respected profession, as they helped to prevent chimney fires and improve indoor air quality. In the 19th century, chimney sweeps were even believed to bring good luck, especially in Britain where it was traditional for newlyweds to be swept up the chimney on their wedding day.
However, chimney sweeping can be a physically demanding and dirty job, requiring the use of specialized tools and techniques to remove soot and debris from chimneys and flues. This, combined with the perceived danger of climbing ladders and working in tight spaces, has led some to view chimney sweeping as a “weird” or unusual job.
Despite this, chimney sweeping remains an important profession, and the skills and expertise of chimney sweeps are essential for maintaining the safety and efficiency of chimneys and flues. Whether it is considered a weird job or not, the role of the chimney sweep is one that has stood the test of time and continues to play a vital role in maintaining indoor air quality and preventing fires.
A rat catcher is a professional who specializes in the removal and control of rat populations in urban areas. This is a necessary job, as rats can pose a threat to public health, property, and the environment. They can carry and spread diseases, gnaw on electrical wiring, and cause damage to buildings and crops.
The job of a rat catcher typically involves identifying and trapping rats in and around buildings and other structures, as well as sealing entry points to prevent future infestations. Rat catchers may use a variety of traps and baits to capture rats, and may also use poison and other control methods to reduce the population.
In order to become a rat catcher, one typically does not need formal training or certification. However, it can be helpful to have knowledge of rat biology and behavior, as well as experience with the use of traps and control methods. Rat catchers must also be comfortable working in a variety of environments, including dirty, damp, and cramped spaces, and must have the physical dexterity and manual skill to handle and set traps.
The job of a rat catcher can be physically demanding and sometimes unpleasant, as rat catchers are often called upon to deal with unsanitary and potentially hazardous conditions. However, it can also be a rewarding and fulfilling career for individuals who are interested in pest control and environmental health.
Despite the stigma that may be associated with the job of a rat catcher, it is a vital and necessary profession, as rats can cause serious harm to people, property, and the environment. The skills and expertise of rat catchers are essential for maintaining public health and preventing the spread of diseases and damage to buildings and crops.
A resurrectionist was a term used in the 18th and 19th centuries to describe individuals who participated in the illegal trade of bodies for medical dissection and research. This was a time when there was a great demand for cadavers for medical research and education, but the supply was limited due to laws and cultural attitudes towards human remains.
Resurrectionists would exhume bodies from graveyards and sell them to medical schools, anatomy teachers, and private collectors for dissection and study. This was a dangerous and illegal practice, as it involved violating the sanctity of graves and violating the rights of the deceased and their families.
The job of a resurrectionist was not a recognized or respected profession, and those who participated in this trade were often considered to be criminals and faced harsh punishments if caught. However, the demand for bodies was so great that many individuals, including some medical professionals, resorted to this illegal trade to obtain the materials they needed for their work.
Today, the practice of resurrectionism is illegal in most countries and is widely condemned by medical and ethical standards. Cadavers for medical research and education are now obtained through regulated and ethical means, such as through donations from individuals who have expressed their wish to donate their bodies for medical use after death.
The term “resurrectionist” is now associated with a dark and unethical aspect of medical history, and serves as a reminder of the importance of respecting the rights and dignity of the dead and the need for ethical practices in medical research and education.
Phrenology was a pseudoscientific discipline that was popular in the 19th century, which claimed to study the shape and size of the head to determine a person’s character, intellect, and mental abilities. Phrenologists believed that different regions of the brain were responsible for different personality traits and intellectual capacities, and that the shape of the skull reflected the development of these regions.
A phrenologist was a practitioner of this discipline, who would examine the shape and size of a person’s head to determine their strengths and weaknesses and provide insights into their character and potential. Phrenologists would use a variety of instruments and techniques to measure the head and identify the bumps and indentations that they believed indicated specific traits and abilities.
The practice of phrenology was widely discredited by the scientific community and is now considered to be a pseudoscience, as there is no scientific evidence to support its claims. Nevertheless, phrenology was a popular and influential movement in the 19th century, and many phrenologists were highly respected and sought after for their opinions and insights.
The job of a phrenologist was similar to that of a fortune teller or astrologer, as phrenologists provided their clients with subjective and unscientific assessments of their character and abilities. While the discipline of phrenology has fallen out of favor, the idea of using physical characteristics to infer personality and intelligence continues to be a popular cultural fascination.
Today, phrenology is largely considered a historical curiosity and is not recognized as a legitimate scientific discipline. The skills and techniques of phrenologists are not in demand, and the practice of phrenology is no longer pursued as a profession. However, the legacy of phrenology continues to influence popular culture and the public imagination, and serves as a reminder of the importance of critical thinking and skepticism in evaluating scientific claims.
A lector, also known as a reader, was a person who was hired to read to workers in factories, mills, and other places of employment during the 19th and early 20th centuries. This was a time when many workers were illiterate or did not have access to books or other forms of entertainment, and the lector was seen as a way to provide workers with a source of education and cultural enrichment.
The job of a lector was to read aloud to the workers while they performed their tasks, and the lector would typically read a variety of material, including news, fiction, poetry, and educational texts. The goal of this practice was to improve the literacy and cultural knowledge of the workers and to provide them with a form of entertainment during their workday.
Lectors were often highly respected and valued members of the community, and many were seen as cultural ambassadors, bringing the latest news and ideas from the wider world to workers who might not otherwise have access to this information. The position of lector was also seen as a way to counteract the negative effects of long hours and monotonous work, and to improve the mental and physical health of the workers.
In some factories and mills, the role of the lector was highly organized and formalized, with regular reading sessions and strict rules about what could and could not be read. In other places, the lector was more of an informal figure, who would read to the workers on an ad hoc basis.
The practice of having lectors in the workplace declined as literacy rates increased and as workers had greater access to books and other forms of entertainment. However, the legacy of the lector remains an important part of the cultural and labor history of many countries, and serves as a reminder of the value that was placed on education and cultural enrichment in the workplace.
Featured image Credit: Ancient Origin