AN OVERFED GORILLA

November 13, 2018

 

 In The Deadliest Hate, Miriam dines with her cousin Eli as they head for Caesarea on his ship:

   

Eli was dressed as a Roman but with too much torso for the pigskin girdle about the waist of his short-sleeved, knee-length, Attican wool tunic and too little neck for the scarlet, Chinese silk cloak about his shoulders. His stubby fingers either fiddled with  his cloak or toyed with his single piece of jewelry, an iron signet ring bearing an intaglio engraving of a grain ship on a deep red, almost black carnelian stone. His face and the backs of his thick but manicured hands were hairless despite the dark mane foaming about his head, which caused me to wonder how many hours he must spend with his tonsor to wax, tweeze, and shave his body and facial hair. I figured by the time he reaches Byzantium, he’ll look like an overfed gorilla.

    

Wealthy men like Eli had a skilled live-in servant to shave them; otherwise they started their day with a trip to the tonsor, or barber, who’d shave their face with an iron straight razor that looked a bit like a modern knuckle duster. Unfortunately, this type of shaver corroded quickly, became blunt, and tended to leave nasty cuts, sometimes even causing tetanus. But don't worry; the tonsor would then apply a soothing plaster made from special perfumed ointment and spider webs soaked in oil and vinegar. Despite the dangers, Roman men flocked to the barber shops daily because, like the baths and the latrines, they were great centers for news and gossip.

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