Cosmetics

In appearance young Greek aristocrats would have looked like the well-groomed warriors they were: glossy and fit, but not ornately or heavily decorated in the southern Eurasian style. Hard and spare, keen and sinewy, was the male bodily ideal.38 Greek opinions on the cosmetic beauty toilette in the fifth century had changed significantly since Homer's day. The revelation of the pure naked gymnastic physique must have made older cosmetic customs appear outmoded, and foreign ones unpatriotic; they were certainly not considered hygienic. It was from around this time that the word 'cosmetic' ceased to mean simply the care bestowed on dress and adornment, and became a term of abuse and inferiority, literally a dirty word, to Greek male rationalists. It became normal, in later fifth- or fourth-century Greek philosophical prose, to use the word 'cosmetic' to describe something superficial—or feminine.39 In plays, flamboyantly dressed and carefully painted cosmetic beauty had become the mark of a disreputable woman, whose lavish ornamentation separated her from the chastely dressed 'respectable' woman. (And the same went for the men.) Plutarch considered it 'whorish' for a wife to wear rouge and perfumes and 'play with her husband';in his world, that was the job of the hetera. Women were considered (among other things) to be creatures of darkness, the moon, the left side, and water— polluted, pale, wet, cool, pliable, weak, changeable by nature, materially impure, and metaphysically 'unbounded'—'she swells, she shrinks, she leaks, she is penetrated, she suffers metamorphosis'. She was the exact opposite of the firm, clean-cut 'Apollonian' male.40 To the disapproving male philosopher, women were personified in the beautiful, seductive, but ultimately deceiving goddess Pandora, who 'made evil so beautiful'.

Set alongside this type of new misogyny was the new physiology of the dominant-male body, written up by the philosophers, but taken straight from the palaestra. In a fine burst of male virtue, Plato denounced the two evil 'counterfeit' (female) domestic activities which (he claimed) were currently masquerading as health care:

Cookery then, as I say, is the form of pandering which corresponds to medicine, and in the same way physical training has its counterfeit in beauty-culture, a mischievous, swindling, base, servile trade, which creates an illusion by the use of artificial adjuncts and make-up and depilatories and costume, and makes people assume a borrowed beauty to the neglect of the true beauty which is the product of training.41

It is very noticeable that, in theory, none of the physical training in the palaestra applied to 'white-armed' women (as Homer always called them). Young girls could run and play outdoors, but following the arrival of the menses, respectable young women were virtually confined to barracks and shut away from the sun. Those white arms were necessary for perfect female cosmetic beauty. The attacks on 'feminine' cosmetics could have been motivated by any number of things: a patriotic revulsion against foreign toilettes, an aversion to masculine weakness, an incipient ascetic puritanism;or (equally likely) a tightening of family control over its female assets, as female prosperity and rule-breaking opportunities increased; or over its male assets, to ensure the continuation of the family line. They were probably only empty words and mere exhortations; as far as we can tell, grooming was still indispensable, but in later classical Greece it probably had to be discreet (at least while at home, or in front of the parents). But then the Greek toilette was probably like that anyway—modest care rather than urban glamour. In the poet Hesiod, the farmer's daughter bathes and oils herself in front of the kitchen fire while her father works in the winter winds outside. For summer the family probably had a louteron outdoors.42 In the urbane Roman Empire, cosmetics had a very different public profile.

The practical Greeks pioneered collective facilities for the hygienic or healthy way of life—parks, baths, sports, theatres, and temples—that were a pretty comprehensive provision for the body and soul. For the philosophers, however, brain counted more than brawn. In Plato's Republic the aim of higher Pythagorean gymnastics was not the training of the body but the training of the senses, the true pathways into the inner soul:

Let us search for artists who are gifted to discern the true nature of the beautiful and graceful; then will our youth dwell in a land of health, amid fair sights and sounds, and receive the good in everything; and beauty, the effluence of fair works, shall flow into the eye and ear, like a health-giving breeze from a purer region, and insensibly draw the soul from earliest years into likeness and sympathy with the beauty of reason...

Plato put personal self-control at the heart of all gymnastic training. There was, he said, within a man's soul a better and also a worse principle; and when the better has the worse under control, then he is said to be master of himself... but when, owing to evil education or association, the better principle, which is also the smaller, is overwhelmed by the greater mass of the worse—in this case he is blamed and is called a slave of self and dissolute.43

Set firmly within its materialist framework, the Greek educational doctrine of personal self-control and hygienic self-cultivation became steadily more complex, leading to the Stoic and Christian doctrines of self-examination, personal meditation, prayer, and confession. Most Romans took the practical arts of Greek 'self-cultivation' extremely seriously. They perfected the arts of medical attendance and cosmetic care, applied their fullest resources to the arts of water engineering, and supported the largest numbers of health-conscious leisured classes that western Eurasia had ever known.

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