Greek hygiene

Greek personal hygiene was a philosophy of life that went well beyond good grooming. In the name of their young goddess, princess, or high priestess of health Hygieia, the Greeks ultimately brought another permanent layer of meaning to the idea of cleanliness. We are all hygienic now. Leaving eastern Eurasia and Middle Eastern history behind us, we move west into the Mediterranean and end up on its northern shores: Greece in the Bronze Age, c.1500-600 bce, followed by an exciting period of transition between oral culture and literacy, and the Greek intellectual and literary renaissance of c.600-400 bce.

The standard history of hygiene starts in the later classical period, not the earlier Bronze Age;but even with this further addition, one thousand years of cultural change is a relatively short time-span compared with some we have been looking at. It suggests a high-energy society—partly due to the communications revolution of the written word; but also in part because the Greeks were relative latecomers to the high culture of the subtropical zones. After a long gestation, by c.400 bce Greek 'hygiene' had emerged as a specialized medical discipline that attempted to control every aspect of the human environment—air, diet, sleep, work, exercise, the evacuations, passions of the mind—and to incorporate them into a 'sanitary' or wholesome way of life. It was a rational approach to bodily function that made no reference at all to the old cosmetic toilette.

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