19 June 2021

Coiffure Legendaire: the (Hair) Gods of Olympus

The hair and beards of the men of Ancient Greece era were inspired by their great heroes: Achilles, Menelaus, Paris… and were described by Homer as beautiful men with long abundant curls.

However, to understand the development of the Hellenic hairstyles it is necessary to give a look to the precedent set by the Assyrians. Settled on the banks of the rivers Euphrates and Tigris, and organized in City-States of the Mesopotamian civilizations, gods and warriors were represented with abundant hairs and frizzy beards, covering their face and chest.

To get those sorted curls a hair iron had to go to great lengths, and that’s why many historians point to them as the inventors of the curly ‘dos. In Greece, these highly complex hairstyles distinguished them from the barbarians of the North, carrying short and unkempt hair. Thus, the curls became an obsession for the Greeks, who devoted much time to hair care: washing it, braiding it, curling it, adding color and even sweetening it. They used combs made from bone, bronze or ivory, often richly decorated, and of course, curling iron to curl.

In Olympus, the goddesses represented had long beautiful hair, such as the Aphrodite. Artemis, goddess of hunting and warrior, was combed by the nymph Psecas, who became the patron saint of the Greek hairdressers – for this reason they were called psecades. Elaborate aromatic essences based on flowers, spices and oils, were used on the hair and body. They also believed that fragrances and aromas were essential and had been sent to the world by the gods of Olympus. They used to boil flowers and herbs such as myrrh or the frankincense, vine leaves and rose extracts, and linked the preparation with olive oil. To soften the hair, and comb it, they used lotions, balms and bees wax.

Despite the abundance of men and women with dark hair, blonde was the most appreciated, as it would then be in Rome. Therefore they clarified the tonality of hair with a variety of soda and oil soaps, and alkaline lyes from Phoenicia, then center of Mediterranean soap. For transient colouring, they arranged with a mixture of pollen, yellow flour and gold dust!

Men also had long beards until the times of Alexander (330 BC), who forced his soldiers to cut them to avoid injuries during fighting. He knew the enemy could stretch and grab the beards and use it as an advantage. It was not until many centuries later, in the Byzantine period of Justinian I (s. v-VI d. C.), that the armies returned to allow the long beards. Philosophers kept their long beards, always ignoring trends and norms of their peers. They let them grow as a hallmark of the thinkers and a symbol of his wisdom. Examples of this are Socrates and Plato.

Later, in Athens in the 5th century b.c., in agora, they built the first lounges of hairdressing, called koureia. Women wore typical symmetric hairstyles, with a middle part, usually wearing it curly and picked up at the nape of the neck. Krobylos, a completely collected braided hairstyle was very popular.

It is at this time, surely, when barbers began to acquire fame. The narrated myth as King Midas, who had ears of a donkey for having dared to humiliate the God Apollo, hiding them under a hat. As described in ‘The metamorphoses of Ovid’, his Barber, learned his secret to cut his hair. The Barber did run the news to the four winds, and very quickly, the King was ridiculed by all.

By Raffel Pages

More information: www.museumraffelpages.com

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