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Cosmetic products and Ancient Greece: The Ancient Greek culture has shown us a variety of facts about human grooming. The Greeks gave special importance to beauty where it had to be harmoniously linked to soul and body. Famous praisers of perfection deified physical beauty, which is why the goddess of love and beauty Aphrodite has been a model of beauty from then until today.
The proportions of the face were considered one of the secrets of beauty. The face was divided into three parts and they were equal. From the hairline to the eyebrows, from the eyebrows to the upper lip and from the upper lip to the chin. They called this ideal ratio the “golden ratio”.
The development of the art of individual adornment was inevitable since trade flourished very early in Greece and especially in its island section, so the Greeks brought all kinds of adornment from the East, thus cultivating the feeling of adornment.
Our first finds go to the Cyclades at the end of the 4th to the end of the 2nd BC. millennium, where for the first time they buried the dead together with their offerings. Among the offerings were a multitude of marble idols that were 19 anthropomorphic. Although at first the gender was not clear, it later became clear that they were pretending to be women. From these offerings we can learn about the way in which women painted their faces. In particular, the largest one found in a tomb in Amorgos is 1.52 m high. and depicts a woman who seems to have colored her eyes, lips and Vulva (genital organs).
From the Cycladic findings we are approaching the Mycenaean years of the 13th century BC. where they were found in the area of the so-called “cult center” of Mycenae, we notice that they have red color on their lips and eyes, while the latter were outlined with black color, having an upturn in their shapes. The eyebrows were also shaded with black color. At first they thought it belonged to the head of a goddess, but later they concluded that it depicted a woman of the corresponding era. For this reason, it is an element of the way the Mycenaeans painted their faces. We do not have much information about perfumes in Mycenae except that the perfumers were called “those who boil ointments” and that they had a special place in the palaces.
To complete the Aegean arc we will study the way of beautification and clothing of Crete during the Middle Bronze Age from 2100-1560 BC. In the first period, the information can be gathered from the frescoes where the archaeological dig brought to light. So in them we see that the men wear the Minoan
costume, are presented with a shaved head and wear high shoes. 20
In the second period, women wore skirts of various shapes and framballades, while above the waist they had perikordis that left the chest open or covered it with a thin fabric. Their headdress was rich and elaborately cared for, the women added ribbons or gold beads. Of course, the same care was given to the face, where it was painted with white, the lips with red and the eyes with various pigments. It should be noted that they took special care of their grooming and attached great importance to the harmony of colors. The preparation of perfumes, ointments and perfumes was done by perfumers who called them “ointment makers”. The main products that the Cretans imported
from Egypt, Syria and Lebanon were balsam, cinnamon, nard, myrrh and raw materials for the manufacture of perfumes.
Rulers of the seas and by extension trade, initially the Corinthians and the Rhodians (8th and 7th centuries BC) and then the Athenians (6th and 5th centuries BC) played an important role in the transfer of the related the care of knowledge. Egyptian practices are imported into Greece, which however transforms the mysticism and ritual of Egypt into something different. Grooming was no longer an example of respect for the gods, but for man himself.
Greeks want to like each other. At the same time, however, they also study the medical use of various preparations. In Athens of the 7th century B.C. cosmetics find a home thanks to the growth of the class of perfumers. Marjoram, lily, thyme, sage, anise, rose and iris were added to olive oil, almond oil, castor oil and linseed oil, forming thick ointments, which were kept in small ceramic jars. This knowledge passed from the Greeks to the Romans.
On the contrary, however, they received the knowledge for the construction of elaborate baths from the Romans. Where in the morning it was briefly visited as reports have it that the morning ablution was done casually, the actual toilet was done at the end of the day after work and before dinner. The women also visited the special rooms with the polished stone baths in the evening to wash their bodies and hair with the help of the slaves, in Homer of course we read that there were portable metal baths to be used in the apartments. 21
Public baths existed in Athens since the fifth century. It was round about in a circular chamber, large and deep so that one could lie in it whole in the water without being able to sink, so one had to pour water with a jar or a sponge. In these buildings there were facilities with excessive heating to cause sweating. The children who worked in the baths took care of the heating, poured water and anointed the people’s bodies with oil.
Mainly Greek doctors are credited with the scientific improvement of aromatherapy, with the establishment of the famous School of Medicine in Kos of Hippocrates, which you consider the father of Medicine, to be the top.
Leafing through the golden pages of Ancient Greek history, we are in front of a colossal and admirable culture that developed in the city-state of Athens, reaching its peak in the 5th century, which was rightly characterized as the “golden age of Pericles”. Since trade was booming, the Athenians were supplied with silk and linen as cosmetics and perfumes. Imports were made from Syria, Egypt and Alexandria.
Athenians used to dye their hair or wear wigs, short hair on women was a sign of mourning or recognition of old age, also slaves had short hair. In their make-up, they painted their cheeks white with creams made from a thin mouth of kerusite (pure carbonic pencil) which they called psimithion: it is exactly the name that has since been established in the Greek language to indicate any kind of pout, while they blackened their eyebrows with smoke or finely ground antimony, they shaded their eyelids with charcoal or speckled antimony with powder and grew their eyelashes with a mixture of egg white, resin and ammonia. To redden their lips and nails, they used the root of wild mallow. As for the “blush” of the time, Milton was a minion face or the phykon preparation of seaweed or infused from the root of the plant of the same name or pederos from the root of a thorn. They also put a preparation of white lead all over the face while the eyes were smeared with kaolin. Vermilion is a red dye made from mercury sulphide that was ground into a fine powder.
Many women had a whole workshop with mirrors, tweezers, pins, bottles of perfumes and aromatic substances, containers of creams. They put on a lot of perfumes like the men, which is shown by the bitter looks of Socrates who complained that they abused them. They had creams for wrinkles and freckles, chewing gum for sweat, walnut and palm oil for the chest, thyme oil for the neck and knees. An infinite variety of myrrh ointments from flowers and plants, always based on oil, which was applied with special brushes called christarias or simply with the fingers.
In Athens of the 6th century B.C. the ceremonies for the god Dionysus appear. In these ceremonies the art of make-up played a decisive role in the performance and execution of the mystery. The Dionysia was a procession whose followers tanned their faces with wine and gossip. The pencils were white colored carbonized pencil (sulimas).
In general, we have information from statues, frescoes and idols that represent women as particularly elegant, composed, haughty and dignified, almost always in the same position to emphasize the torso and breasts. The perfect female body is seen in the nude statues of Aphrodite: 23 rich curves, small breasts, shapely buttocks (a point of greater attention in sculpture and men). The girls of good families had a strict code of behavior and appearance but slowly the use of small talk except for courtesans generalized to women of all classes.
Besides, even the goddesses used cosmetic ointments. The modest Hera, married with four children, used without qualms the arts of Aphrodite in order to irritate Zeus, while she becomes furious when her daughter Angelos steals the ointment to give to Europa, Zeus’s mistress.
In the Economy when Ischomachus sees his wife smearing her face with a lot of rosin to make it look whiter, rouge to make it pinker and high shoes he draws a parallel: Tell my wife how you would think if I were to boast that I have more property than her where I have would not deceive you? Aristophanes and the comic poets satirized women’s efforts to look more beautiful gave us enough information about everyday life.
Lucian describes the morning cares of a lady who shuts herself in her room before her husband sees her, together with the maids who season her with various medicinal herbs (…) each maid holds something different: silver basins, jugs, mirrors, a multitude of boxes reminiscent of apothecaries , vessels full of pitiful things to whiten the teeth and darken the eyelashes. However, the longest hours were spent on hairdressing, some dye it red and others blonde, while those who leave it black spend a fortune on perfumes to smell beautiful.
The fathers of medicine Hippocrates and Asclepius relied on precious herbs, flowers and fruits and made cures for a multitude of ailments, wounds and diseases, while Galen, the father of pharmaceuticals and a personal ingredient of longevity.
We read that in a battle in today’s Gaza, Palestine, Alexander the Great was wounded by an arrow, and as he continued his conquests in Egypt and then in the desert of Tripoli, it was found that the wound was not only not healing, but had become infected. When he camped in the oasis of Ammon, where he was declared the “Son of Zeus”, his teacher Aristotle, who had meanwhile been informed of the event, sent a local priest who treated the wound with aloe oil, which grew abundantly on the island. Socotra of the Arabian Sea. The priest treated the wound, which soon healed. It is also said that Aristotle convinced Alexander to send a naval expedition to conquer the island and of course the aloe plantations,
This island was known for its plantations since the 5th century. BC, the merchants of the island exported aloe to China, India and Malaysia. So one can imagine that, if aloe was used in human wounds, how much more in the healing of the wounds of Bucephalus and of course the other horses of the army which were precious and very expensive. Aloe in ancient Greece symbolized beauty, patience, luck and health. Hippocrates describes some of its healing properties, such as increasing hair growth, healing wounds, relieving intestinal disorders and stomach pain. 25
Another oil that had an important position in the Greek area was the olive oil (especially that of Thassos), in the first type of Greek writing (linear B) we find information about it. It was used in the diet but mainly intended as a base for perfumes and body ointments, which may have had healing properties. Also suitable as a cleaning agent, like soap, but also as a preservative for various surfaces. The scene on a vase found in Berlin is well known, where a young man pours oil into his hand and then uses a special tool, the strainer, to clean himself. More than 60 medicinal uses are found in the Hippocratic codex. It seems that olive oil was particularly suitable for skin diseases. The Greeks put oil on their hair and probably also on their clothes. Plutarch mentions that olive oil gave shine to white clothes.
Athena herself, the goddess of prudence, reason and virtue, in contrast to the myrrh, Rhodes and frankincense of Aphrodite, was anointed mainly with olive oil after exercise. As far as the human body is concerned, health and beauty should go hand in hand. The person was necessary to be nice and clean, with the baths in everyday life, with the baths of foreigners and the baths of athletes. This was followed by rubbing the body with oily26 aromatic substances, as we learn from Athenaios, but always in moderation.
The soap was not well known, although there are reports that it took its name in honor of the poetess Sappho as its possible origin is from the island of Lesvos. What is certain is that they added sodium and salts to the bath water. Thucydides mentions that olive oil, almond oil, and walnut oil were added to the bath water that came from the Kallirroi spring. Finally, around the wedding ceremony, a series of customs dictated fragrances for the body care of the groom and the bride. In Aristophanes, we have a description of the grooming of the future groom Dikaiopolis. Baths with fragrant herbs, irises, daffodils, rhododendrons, and lilies for body care, myrtle wreaths for the ceremony, and scented fumes for the celebration environment. In conclusion, in ancient Greece, hygiene and medicine were two interrelated subjects, referring to the healing properties of plants with a balance between magic, pharmacology, and beautification through various texts of primary importance such as Hippocrates, Theophrastus, and Galen. After all, two of the basic principles of Hippocratic Medicine are “Let your medicine be your food and your food your medicine” and “Our body has the ability to heal itself, the highest importance are: nutrition, movement, the environment, the way of life, the way of thinking”