A Lesson in Ancient Greek Beauty

Ancient Greek Beauty

So I was writing the new chapters for Dagger of the Sun (DOTS) and it got me thinking about armpit hair.

Yeah, I know…

Gross! 

But it got me thinking about how people in ancient times may have gotten rid of unwanted hair – I know laser treatments weren’t available yet. (No matter what Lynsay Sands would have me believe in her Argeneau series! There is no such thing as an evolved Atlantean civilization in DOTS, so I couldn’t just open up an Ideal Image laser salon on a random Greek street corner.)

So I did what any good scholar would do? I Googled it.

And I found an interesting article about the history of hair removal the NoNo website of all places. But I figured if anyone was going to know there stuff, it would be the experts. Here’s a snippet of what I found:

Ancient Egyptians removed unwanted hair with flint or bronze razors – they even invented a technique similar to waxing called sugaring, which used a sticky paste and a piece of cloth to yank the hair out at the root! Hair removal was very important to the Ancient Egyptians for cultural or perhaps even religious reasons. In Ancient Egypt, both men and women shaved their heads and wore wigs instead of their natural hair. They took it so seriously so long ago, that some Egyptian bronze and flint razors have been dated to over 3000 years ago, and sugaring is thought to date back as far as 3000-4000 BC!

Around that time people also developed the first depilatory creams, which chemically dissolve the hair above the skin. Other depilatories that date from that time dissolved hair above the skin as they still do today, but without the chemical and anatomical knowledge we have. This meant that early depilatories (5000-7000 years ago) were very irritating to the skin, and were probably quite painful. Simpler depilatories included quicklime, arsenic, and starch and more complex versions later on included resin, pitch, animal fats, and even bat’s blood!

In Ancient Greece, it was simply barbaric to have body hair, and people took great pains to remove any hair that would show them to be anything less than civilized. Any beards or unshaven areas besides the head would indicate that you were a lower class or even a slave – an appearance that was avoided if at all possible.

The information was surprisingly useful when it came to crafting my characters – I was also surprised to learn that I wouldn’t really have to change anything about their appearance. (I must have been channeling some Ancient Greek being when I wrote the character descriptions.)

After I found information on that, I started thing about teeth – because, really, what else what there to think about? And, once again, I turned to the Google gods for help. As generous as ever, they answered my prayers and I found a neat article about Ancient Greek oral hygiene:

How do we clean the teeth?  The simplest answer is with the finger.  Either the finger was wrapped with a cotton cloth, and then rubbed over the teeth to clean them, or the finger was dipped in some powdered substance with special properties to clean the teeth.  These tooth powders were the forerunners of our modern toothpaste.  

Or, the branch of a tree whose fragrant essential oils have antiseptic and other therapeutic properties for the teeth and gums could be chewed.  The chewed end would then come to resemble a brush of sorts, whose loose, frayed fibers could be brushed over the teeth to clean them.  

One tree native to Greece and much used by the ancient Greeks that fits these requirements rather nicely is the Laurel (Laurus nobilis), which the Greeks call Daphne.  Its essential oils are antiseptic, and also stimulate blood circulation to the gums, promoting their health and regeneration.  After chewing on the branch, or the leaves, your mouth is cleaned, and left with a fresh, clean scent.

Sometimes fresh, fragrant green herbs were chewed after a meal to cleanse the teeth and mouth and freshen the breath.  These fresh herbs included those of Fennel, Parsleyand Lovage.  Even today, fresh Parsley is often chewed to remove the odor of Garlic.  The seeds of these and other plants, such as the Cardamom, were also chewed to cleanse the mouth and freshen the breath. 

Finally, I also looked up some beauty tips – because it was something I thought my character Delphyne would appreciate after what I put her through in the first few chapters. I found one article in particular enlightening:

Women would start their routine with a bath, before applying a variety of oils and perfume to their skin. Honey and olive oil were used heavily, on their body, hair and in cosmetics for their moisturizing properties. Ancient Greek women wore their hair long and had a preference for it to be golden. This was achieved by using a vinegar solution that bleached the hair in the sun, or a yellow flower dye. Soap, pomades and wax were also used to give the hair shine. To enhance the texture of the hair, Hellenistic women often curled their hair and held it in place with combs. They used different embellishments and veils also. Gold and semi-precious stones were used as were diadems and flowers. A diadem was an ornamental headband primarily worn by the upper classes and royalty, if adorned with gems and gold. Scents were used in the hair and were made my boiling flowers, herbs and spices and mixed with olive oil. In the classical period, women only cut their hair during periods of mourning. Hair played a role as a social communicator and also emphasized class differentiation, as only slaves wore their hair short. 

The last article refers specifically to female beauty routines, but I’m sure that men had some as well. Unfortunately, those articles are harder to find. 😦

But overall, I found all the articles I extremely helpful, and I hope you get a chance to give them a read through in their entirety. (I’ve linked to all of them in the post.)

Rika Ashton

(aka The Researcher)

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