Recipe for an ancient Roman glow
As pandemic restrictions ease in the United States, restaurants are reopening, mask warrants are lifted, and vaccinated people begin to venture, hesitantly, into the world, squinting in the sun. As the new day dawns, so does this achievement: it’s time for a total makeover.
But where to start? For the best post-pandemic glow, consider a few beauty tips from Ancient Rome.
“The cultivation of beauty is one of the oldest arts, dating back to the mythical childhood generations of the world,” wrote classicist Ortha Wilner in 1931. The ancient Romans devoted themselves intensely to the cosmetic arts. They worked hard to achieve “ideal” features, many of which are still considered “desirable” in Western beauty culture: soft, glowing skin; Big eyes; long, brightly colored hair.
The Roman toilets were stocked with a variety of mild and greasy oils, ointments, and ointments for skin care. To soften the skin, most facials have started with an antioxidant-rich honey or barley base. The Romans then mixed a variety of ingredients, Wilner wrote, each with their own purpose: “to heal blemishes, remove wrinkles, soften the skin, increase clarity, boost color, add fragrance, etc.” Want to remove unsightly growths? Add incense. Are you looking to firm the skin and remove wrinkles? Throw together a bean flour paste wrinkle remover. Other common additives included myrrh, white lead, powdered deer horn, dried rose leaves, and eggs.
Wilner particularly drew attention to a “famous” softening and cleansing ointment known as esypum. It was fat taken from unwashed sheep’s wool. “Even the best smelled strong and unpleasant,” Wilner wrote. “It made Ovid nauseous.
To remove unwanted stains, the Romans crushed the intestines of a small land crocodile “which feeds only on the most fragrant flowers”, or turned to a mixture of “willow seeds with saltpetre and sour wine”. But beware: “This wine which has been with dead newts will cause freckles to appear on those who drink – an insidious weapon by which the Roman ladies could have taken revenge on their beautiful rivals!” Wilner wrote.
Now with “a smooth, blemish-free complexion,” it’s time to put on makeup. According to Wilner, the ideal Roman beauty “required … two good eyes, long dark lashes, dark eyebrows, well formed and meeting right between the eyes.” The blush came from vegetable dyes, crushed poppies and red lead. The ash and antimony paint helped create the almost perfect unibrow. To brighten their smiles, the Romans looked for a pumice powder or, in a pinch, the ashes of a wolf’s head or the teeth of a dog soaked in wine.
To finish off the look, the Romans colored their hair with a creative assortment of waxy pomades and dyes. (Those without flowing hair could apply paints directly to bald or shaved heads.) Wilner cited a warning that often accompanied these dyes, stating that “the face should be greased to prevent it from being stained. … and the mouth should be kept full of oil until the dye is dry, lest the force of the dye blacken the teeth. “
These days, “beauty preparations… are less tasty of the barnyard,” Wilner observed. Yet, she argued, “today’s methods are not as different as one might assume.” Obviously, you can’t go wrong with the classics.
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By: Ortha L. Wilner
The Classical Journal, Vol. 27, n ° 1 (October 1931), pp. 26-38
The Classic Association of the Middle West and the South, Inc. (CAMWS)