You Won’t Believe What It Meant to Have a Beard in Ancient Greece and Rome
Beards have a long history. They date back as long as humans do! All throughout our time here on Earth, having a beard is somewhat a symbol of the time. In our modern day, it seems there’s less of a meaning as to why people have beards and that they’re really more of a fashion statement now. But that wasn’t always the case.
It was always believed that if you were a philosopher, you had a beard.
The trend started when three philosophers, Carneades, Critolaus, and Diogenes of Babylon arrived in Italy. They all three were sporting rather manly beards in contrast to the clean-shaven Italians that greeted them. This was thought to have been the start of beards as a symbol of philosophy.
The beard as a symbol was important for many reasons.
Some believed philosophy to just be a person’s hobby. It’s opposite of that, however. When one is a philosopher, it affects their lives and how they interact with others. The beard was a good sign indicating that this person was a philosopher and ran a little different than others.
If you were seen walking around without a beard, it was an indication that you had yet to accept philosophy as a way of life. Those who did keep their beards nice and long as a way to show off their style held their facial hair so close to their identity that some would rather die than shave it off!
Removing someone’s beard was also a form of punishment for some. The philosopher Apollonius of Tyana had his beard shaven and forcibly removed as a punishment by Emporer Domitian. He subjected Apollonius to this torment for “anti-state” activities. Apollonius didn’t take the martyr way like some had declared they would, and instead walked around with a clean shaven face.
Having a beard wasn’t just enough for some people. The way that you kept up your grooming was also an indication of other things.
For example, cynics would sport long and dirty beards. This was their way of symbolizing their total rejection of society and all its customs. Also, Roman stoics would more often trim and clean their beards. This was a way of showing that certain customs were still acceptable so as to never hold them higher than true virtue.
It seems that times have definitely changed in regards to beards. What was once a symbol of intelligence and scholarly thought are now symbols of all sorts of things. Having a beard nowadays definitely doesn’t mean that you are necessarily intelligent or thoughtful anymore. For some, it’s quite the opposite. But it’s probably good this custom has died. What are women philosophers supposed to do in order to show their intellect? Perhaps it will become a trend again and women can start wearing false beards as if they were wigs.