Women’s beauty standarts in ancient Greece
Was there an analogue of the modern concept of “glamour” in women’s beauty in ancient Greece? Yes, the ancient Greeks had the word “kalokagatia” (variants of translation: “beautiful and kind”, “beautiful and good”), which meant the harmony of external beauty and inner virtues. Famous philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle reasoned about such harmony. What was the external beauty of ancient Greek women supposed to show?
First of all, it was in harmony with bodily proportions. Unlike savage barbarians and Asian peoples who preferred puffed-up beauties, the Greeks considered a sporty but at the same time feminine figure to be ideal. The statue of Aphrodite of Milos by Praxiteles is one of the most famous antique sculptures, reflecting this ideal. The statue is a slender woman with a graceful posture, 164 cm tall. Her breasts, waist and hips are 86, 69 and 93 cm.
Aphrodite by Callimachus a Roman copy of the fifth-century BC original.
The great mathematician Pythagoras discovered in the 6th century B.C. the principle of the so-called “golden ratio”, according to which the whole is related to its greater part as the greater relates to the lesser part. One century after him, the ancient Greek sculptor Polycletus calculated the ideal canon of beauty. The ideal body in women’s beauty in ancient greece should have the following dimensions:
The head should be a seventh of the height.
The hand should be a tenth.
The foot should be a sixth.
The navel divides the body into two parts; the ratio between them should be close to the “golden ratio”. In this case, the ideal proportions for men are 8 to 13, and for women, 5 to 8.
Faces were also given great attention in antiquity. According to the canons of Greek beauty, a beautiful face had a straight nose which extended to the forehead (the so-called “Greek profile”), large eyes and arched eyelids. The distance between eyes must be at least equal to the length of the eye, and the ideal mouth must be one and a half times larger than this distance. The line of the eyebrows should be rounded, and the forehead should be small. The chin is straight and not too expressed.
Women’s hairstyles in ancient Greece had no variety, being variations on the so-called combos, aka “Greek knot”. The most beautiful hair color was considered to be “golden”. Otherwise, any other light color (“ashy”, for example), so Greek women tended to whiten or dye their hair if it was naturally dark. Greek women had to have hair only on their heads, and the other body hair was carefully removed.
The skin was also supposed to be light. A tan was considered a sign of rusticity because peasant women had to work under the scorching Mediterranean heat. Therefore, women also whitened their skin in every possible way: bathing in donkey’s milk, ointments, and peeling (using fine river sand soaked in lotus juice). Ancient Greeks also knew facial masks. For example, a mask of barley dough gave the skin an attractive pallor, and a mask of a mixture of swan fat, honey and vinegar was used for freckles and wrinkles.
A vessel and brush for applying powder. A modern replica of ancient cosmetics.
The word “cosmetics” is from Greek origins, and its root is the word “cosmos,” that is, order and harmony in opposition to “chaos.” The ancient ladies knew and used makeup very effectively. Initially, it was not considered very decent for married persons to adorn their faces with imported (the best compositions were brought from India, Arabia and Egypt) and, therefore, very expensive cosmetics and only hetaera could afford it. But over time, these prejudices became a thing of the past, and all Greek women began to use cosmetics.
Leaden whitewash was very popular, and carmine dye, made from cinnamon, or the cheaper cinnabar, was used as blush. Powder made of chalk and lipstick made of red clay was also known in ancient Greece. Women blackened their eyebrows with soot and glossed their eyelashes with light resin and egg white. Some women tinted their cheeks and lips with antimony. A special eyeliner was also made of ash and antimony diluted in saffron tincture.
There was a particular hairdressing profession in ancient Greece, and they were called “calamists.” Enslaved people were trained in this craft, as wealthy client women did not want their rivals to use the unique secrets of beauty. Special ointments, lotions and beeswax were used to make hair shiny and voluminous. Women used to sprinkle gold powder on their hair for festive occasions. And from the IV century BC, wigs appeared.
Modern reconstruction of the appearance of women’s beauty in ancient greece and Greek woman.
So Ancient Greek women pursuing beauty were not inferior to women of any other country and age.
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