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What would Pliny the Elder have said?


If Pliny the Elder, the Roman philosopher who lived contemporaneously with Miriam, thought the eyelashes were natural—and who knows? The lighting was poor in those days—he might have said, “Here is a chaste woman.” He’d written that eyelashes fall out from excessive sex. Consequently, women tried to keep their eyelashes thick and long to prove their chastity.

On the other hand, if he believed the lashes were enhanced with cosmetics, as they sometimes were with burnt cork or powdered antimony, he’d have regarded the woman as deceitful and manipulative. Like most Roman men, he felt that cosmetics were acceptable for preserving natural beauty but not for creating a false illusion of beauty.

Despite the disapproval of their men, wealthy women had slaves for applying their cosmetics in private. In THE DEADLIEST HATE, while attending a reception at the palace, Miriam observes the patrician women’s cultus, that is, their makeup, perfume, and jewelry:

Crushed against a rainbow of Chinese silks, I scrutinized their grooming while their skirts rustled the air and their hems brushed the floor. Despite the reek of their cosmetics, their artful makeup amplified every feature and expression: their red ochre lips twitching into salon smiles, their lead paste foundation caking in the crease of every pucker, and their kohl-lined eyes darting flames of jealousy at the taller, blonder, and younger among them. To complete the spectacle, elaborate hairstyles accented with henna and threaded with jewels crowned their bobbing heads while the rest of their bodies bloomed with matching gemstones.

But poor Miriam! While she is steering her course through that thicket of finery, an assassin is sharpening his blade. By all means protect yourself first, but if you can, please look out for her too. Just click here:

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