Friday, May 3, 2013

The Art of Beauty, As Written By An Old Roman Dude

Did you know that Ovid wrote over a hundred verses of didactic poetry defending the use of makeup by Roman women?

(Okay so yes I MAY have been reading a lot of Ovid lately. I swear I reach other stuff sometimes. It's not all Greek verse and Richard Siken around here, except when it is. For instance, I just today got a book called THE HORSEMASTER which a) is hilarious comedy value and b) I am actually totally looking forward to reading.)

It's estimated that originally there were somewhere between five to eight hundred verses in Ovid's work, but this is one of those fragmented pieces that we've only been able to pick up second or third-hand. In fact, the only reason we know the title and publishing date of Cosmetics for the Female Face, aka The Art of Beauty, aka Medicamina Faciei Femineae, is that Ovid mentioned it in his second book The Art of Love which was literally a Roman era how-to-pick-up-le-hot-Roman-chicks guide. Self-help: not as recent a phenomena as people think!

The popular theory is that The Art of Beauty was a parody working off of a very well known and serious book at the time. But even if it was, so what? Just because something's a parody doesn't make its points any less valid, and all of the beauty recipes that Ovid included are actually effective skin treatments. Keep in mind that the people who study this stuff also call Ovid's efforts to move toward a concept of mutual fulfillment in his book The Art of Love "superficial brilliance". Umm hokay.

The sad fact of the matter is that a lot of scholars will dismiss something if it doesn't sound super fancy and/or is about the ladies. But I'm not convinced that everyone thought that way even in the olden times. People are complex, and there were just as many smart and tough ladies in ye olden times, even if things were harder for them, and I'm sure there were plenty of men that respected that.

Also guys this actual sentence is in the Wikipedia article for The Art of Love. I... I cannot even.

What ho, Captain, we have made a DISCOVERY!

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