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From technē to kakotechnia: use and abuse of ancient cosmetic texts

Totelin, Laurence ORCID: 2017. From technē to kakotechnia: use and abuse of ancient cosmetic texts. Formisano, Marco and van der Eijk, Philip, eds. Knowledge, Text and Practice in Ancient Technical Writing, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 138-162. (10.1017/9781316718575.008)

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Starting with Xenophon in the Oeconomicus, ancient male authors have expressed concern at women using cosmetics and adorning themselves. A passage of Lucian’s Dialogue of the Courtesans is only one text among many conveying an anti-cosmetic message: After all, one could perhaps put up with the conduct of the men. But the women -! That is another thing women are keen about - to have educated men living in their households on a salary and following their litters. They count it as an embellishment if they are said to be cultured, to have an interest in philosophy and to write songs that are hardly inferior to Sappho’s. To that end they too trail hired rhetoricians and grammarians and philosophers along, and listen to their lectures - when? It is ludicrous! - either while their toilets are being made and their hair dressed, or at dinner; at other times they are too busy! And often while the philosopher is delivering a discourse, the maid comes in and hands her a note from her lover, so that the lecture on chastity is kept waiting until she has written a reply to the lover and hurries back to hear it. In addition to reminding us that all women are by definition voraciously sexual, this passage suggests, in ironic tones, that for these creatures, beauty and philosophical knowledge were two types of embellishment. Lucian’s woman does not perceive the difference between true and false beauty. And because she does not understand this, instead of writing verse or philosophical thoughts, she ends up writing to her lover, thus misusing any education she may have. Writing, knowledge, cosmetics and gender relationships are the themes explored in this chapter, which deals with the cosmetic recipes that have been preserved in Greek and Latin, the bulk of which are to be found in encyclopaedias and medical texts. Indeed, whilst only five recipes are preserved from Ovid’s poem Medicamina faciei femineae, hundreds, probably even thousands, have come down to us through medical and scientific treatises. Indeed, it is difficult to find a major medical compilation that does not contain cosmetic recipes.

Item Type: Book Section
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: History, Archaeology and Religion
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D051 Ancient History
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
ISBN: 9781107169432
Last Modified: 21 Oct 2022 07:18

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