National Geographic : 1944 Mar
Greek Women Used Mascara and Beauty Lotions THUCYDIDES, the Greek historian, says, "The name of a decent woman, like her person, should be shut up in her house." This somewhat harsh dictum of a masculine observer reflects, for fifth century Athens, the general attitude toward women, and also indicates the strong oriental influence that ap pears so often in Athenian art, as opposed to the more rugged Dorian ideals of the Peloponnesus. Save among a certain class of women, known as the hetairai, or companions, education and intellec tual pursuits were not encouraged among the Athenian women. It was not until after the fifth century that women began to escape from a sort of intellectual bondage. Aristophanes in his comedies makes fun of them, but indicates a trend to ward their emancipation in a play in which the women go in disguise to the assembly, to take over the gov ernment of Athens on the ground that the men are incapable of handling af fairs properly. Normally, a woman's life was con centrated on home tasks-weaving, spinning, the care of small children, and a host of domestic duties. Mar keting was usually done by the mas ter of the house, and it was only under cover of a veil that the wife of a re spectable citizen appeared on the street. Ladies of less reputable character, however, went about quite freely, and special places were often reserved for them in the theaters. We hear of many courtesans, famous either for their beauty or, more rarely, their wit. Prominent among these was As pasia, who for many years was Per icles' companion, and who must have been a woman of remarkable talent. Socrates credited her with compos ing the funeral oration which Pericles delivered on the first men to be killed in the Peloponnesian War, and said that he himself had learned the art of eloquence from her. The chiton was the normal indoor dress. On going out, a woman wore an himation, or cloak, as well. This rectangular piece of cloth, heavier than the chiton, could be draped about the body or pulled partly over the head. Sometimes a scarf which could be drawn over the face was worn. The young woman in the fore ground of the picture is inspecting her coiffure by means of a polished bronze mirror. A servant girl is holding a casket with a necklace for her mistress to put on if she approves. Beside her stands a thymiaterion, or incense burner, and on the low table at the right are a couple of small pyxides, in which were the cos metics women used as freely in an cient days as later. Many exqui sitely decorated examples of these little covered jars have been found, some even with remains of powder or rouge still inside them. Eyes were darkened with mascara, and creams and beauty lotions were popular. It is questionable, however, that the wife of an Athenian citizen would have bedizened herself with cosmetics in such a bold manner as to deserve the scornful ridicule of a reproach given woman in an Athenian comedy: "If you go out in summer, two streaks of black run from your eyes; perspiration makes a red furrow from your cheeks to your neck: and when your hair touches your face it is blanched with white lead."