Re: Agamemnon's handle-bar mustache
- Dear John,
What a "hairy" question you have posed!
--- In Indo-Eurasian_research@yahoogroups.com, "John C. Huntington"
> Long ago and far away, remember reading that the Romans pulledYes, that's true. Plucking the facial hair with the use of a
> facial hair (is this true?)
volsella ('a pair of tweezers', from Lat. vols-, past participle
root of vellere 'to pluck') was one of the shaving methods resorted
to in classical Rome. This was, for instance, the method preferred
From pp. 196-8 of William Smith's _A Dictionary of Greek and Roman
Antiquities_ (London, John Murray, 1875), reproduced online at
<< The Homeric heroes were bearded men. [...] [T]he Greeks wore the
beard till the time of Alexander the Great [...]. Plutarch (Thes.
c.5) says that the reason for the shaving was that they might not be
pulled by the beard in battle. The custom of shaving the beard
continued among the Greeks till the time of Justinian [...]. The
Romans in early times wore the beard uncut [...]; and according to
Varro (De Re Rust. II.11) and Pliny (VII.59), the Roman beards were
not shaven till B.C. 300, when P. Ticinius Maenas brought over a
barber from Sicily; and Pliny adds, that the first Roman who was
shaved (rasus) every day was Scipio Africanus. His custom, however,
was soon followed, and shaving became regular thing. The lower
orders, then as now, were not always able to do the same, and hence
the jeers of Martial (vii.95, xii.59). In the later times of the
republic there were many who shaved the beard only partially, and
trimmed it, so as to give it an ornamental form; to them the terms
bene barbati (Cic. Catil. ii.10) and barbatuli (Cic. ad Att. I.14,
16, Pro Cael. 14) are applied. When in mourning all the higher as
well as the lower orders let their beards grow.
In the general way in Rome at this time, a long beard barba
promissa, (Liv. XXVII.34) was considered a mark of slovenliness and
squalor. The censors, L. Veturius and P. Licinius, compelled M.
Livius, who had been banished, on his restoration to the city, to be
shaved, and to lay aside his dirty appearance (tonderi et squalorem
deponere), and then, but not till then, to come into the senate, &c.
(Liv. XXVII.34). The first time of shaving was regarded as the
beginning of manhood, and the day on which this took place was
celebrated as a festival [called Depositio barbae -- FB](Juv. Sat.
III.186). There was no particular time fixed for this to be done.
Usually, however, it was done when the young Roman assumed the toga
virilis (Suet. Calig. 10). Augustus did it in his 24th year;
Caligula in his 20th. The hair cut off on such occasions was
consecrated to some god. Thus Nero put his up in a gold box, set
with pearls, and dedicated it to Jupiter Capitolinus (Suet. Ner.
With the emperor Hadrian the beard began to revive (Dion Cass.
LXVIII.15). Plutarch says that the emperor wore it to hide some
scars on his face. The practice afterwards became common, and till
the time of Constantine the Great, the emperors appear in busts and
coins with beards [...].
BARBERS [Lat. tonsores -- FB] -- [...] Men had not often the
necessary implements for the various operations of the toilet;
combs, mirrors, perfumes, and tools for clipping, cutting, shaving,
&c. Accordingly the whole process had to be performed at the
barber's, and hence the great concourse of people who daily gossiped
at the tonstrina, or barber's shop. [...] The business of the barber
was threefold. First there was the cutting of hair [...]. The second
part of the business was shaving (radere, rasitare, [...]). This was
done with [...] a novacula (Lamprid. Heliog. c31), a razor (as we,
retaining the Latin root, call it), which he kept in a case [...].
Some who would not submit to the operation of the razor used instead
some powerful depilatory ointments, or plasters, as psilothron
(Plin. XXXII.10.47;a acida Creta, Martial, vi.93.9; Venetum lutum,
iii.74; dropax, iii.74; x.65). Stray hairs which escaped the razor
were pulled out with small pincers or tweezers (volsellae [...]).
The third part of the barber's work was to pare the nails of the
hands [...]. >>
Hope this helps,
- The reference Francesco quoted on techniques for removing the
beard employed in classical antiquity appears pretty thorough, but
there's always something to be added.
The tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse being afraid to trust himself in
the barber's hands, made his daughters learn to shave him. When they
grew up, he dared not trust even them with a razor, but made them burn
off his beard and hair with red-hot nut-shells.
I'm pretty sure the source is Cicero in his Tusculan Disputations,
but I haven't run the passage down.
- --- In Indo-Eurasian_research@yahoogroups.com, "Daniel J. Milton"
> The tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse being afraid to trust himself inhttp://la.wikisource.org/wiki/Tusculan%C3%A6_Disputationes_-_Liber_V
> the barber's hands, made his daughters learn to shave him. When
> they grew up, he dared not trust even them with a razor, but made
> them burn off his beard and hair with red-hot nut-shells. I'm
> pretty sure the source is Cicero in his Tusculan Disputations, but
> I haven't run the passage down.
"Quin etiam ne tonsori collum committeret, tondere filias suas
docuit. Ita sordido ancillarique artificio regiae virgines ut
tonstriculae tondebant barbam et capillum patris. Et tamen ab is
ipsis, cum iam essent adultae, ferrum removit instituitque, ut
candentibus iuglandium putaminibus barbam sibi et capillum
adurerent" (Marcus Tullius Cicero, _Tusculanae Disputationes_ 5. 58).
- You're welcome Victor. I'm glad I could be of some help. Yes, those
razors look a tad frightening but it's the Roman razors that are
really disturbing. Thankfully the Romans didn't have bikini-lines to
There were four types of razors used by the British Celts. For some
examples of Celtic razors see the following site. It also contains
examples of early razors primarily from the European Bronze and Iron Age.
Now, the remaining question is what did they use to keep those
handlebar moustaches curled? Could it be the same hair gel that the
Irish imported from the Gauls?
--- In Indo-Eurasian_research@yahoogroups.com, "Victor H. Mair"
> Thank you, Sarah, for so much detailed information about mustaches
> the ancient Celts and excellent illustrations depicting them. With all
> that shaving and shaping of the facial hair going on, I've often
> wondered how the ancients did it. With the sharpest knife they had
> around? I think I heard somewhere about scraping with sharp, broken
> shells, but I may just be imagining that. In any event, I cut myself
> often enough with safety razors, so the ancients must have bloodied
> their faces quite a bit while shaving with less evolved instruments.
> Does anyone know how they actually did it?
> Incidentally, some of Genghis Khans' early ambassadors were humiliated
> by the Arabs in Kwarezmia by having their beards removed and faces
> mutilated. Maybe they just did a particularly bad job of shaving them!
> bhmsympatico wrote:
> > Steve,
> > Diodorus first mentions the practice of shaving amongst the Celts and
> > notes that the nobles wore mustaches. The handlebar mustache was
> > present but the most common form was the down turn mustache as seem on
> > the bust of a Gallic chieftain, 1st century A.D. and the sculpture of
> > The Dying Gaul They sometimes wore a thin, shaved beard under the lip
> > (Clonycavan Man) like the thin, triangular beard on the Agamemnon
> > Mask. The mask has two shared features with other European cultures:
> > 1. shaving and a handlebar mustache and 2. a stylized graphic method
> > of depicting the face.