On Facial Treatment for Ladies by Ovid.

Woman with wax tablets and stylus, so-called "Sappho".
(Donna con tavolette cerate e stilo, cosiddetta "Saffo").

On Facial Treatment for Ladies (Medicamina Faciei Femineae) is a short poem by Ovid on female beauty treatments. The date of it is uncertain, but it was mentioned in Ovid's Ars Amatoria, which is dated around 2 A.D.

It begins,
Girls, learn from me what treatment will embellish
Your complexions, how beauty is best preserved/
Cultivation forced barren soil to yield rich ceral
Harvests, killed off the sharp
Encroaching briars; cultivation breeds out the bitter
Flavour of fruit, the grafted stock adopts
Alien bounty. What's cultivated delights: a lofty building
Is sheathed in gold leaf, black earth
Lies under marble, fleeces are dipped and redipped in cauldrons
Of Tyian dye, while Indian ivory's carved
Into exquisite objects d'art
He further defends the use of cosmetics and accessories and urges women not to trust witchcraft, spells, and potions, declaring it all nonsense, and the importance of remembering "proper behaviour" throughout it all which will last, unlike beauty, until death.

The poem, which hasn't survived in its entirety, concludes with some practical measures women can take:
Let me show you how, when you first wake in the morning,
Your face can be bright and fresh.
Take imported Libyan barley, strip off its outer
Husk and chaff, measure two
Pounds of stripped grain, and add an equal measure
Of vetch steeped in ten raw eggs.
Let this mixture dry in the air, then have your donkey grind it
Slowly, taking the rough quern round; prepare
Two ounces of powdered hartshorn, taken from a vigorous
Stag's first fallen antlers; stir this well
Into the powdery meal, then sift the mixture,
At once, through fine-meshed sieves.
Take twelve narcissus-bulbs, skin them and pound them
(Use a marble block); add them in,
With two ounces each of gum and Tuscan spelt-seed,
And a pound and a half of honey. Any girl
Who uses a face-pack according to this prescription
Will shine brighter than her own
After this recipe he gives a few more, and the poem abruptly ends.

This is such an interesting poem, and so odd - it's like reading a 1st Century edition of Cosmopolitan! As ever, it's good to read about women in these ancient works, and though it may be all about pleasing men there's a glimpse into the daily life of women in their beauty regimes (it would have been all the more insightful to read a woman's perspective). Whatever the case it's invaluable, fun, and quite bizarre to compare 1st Century beauty routines with 21st Century beauty regimes (and, given some of the magazines I've read, though different they could be equally as complex!).

And that was my 16th title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week: Tales from the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin by Alexander Pushkin.


  1. "Tyrian dye..."? and after using the formula for a face pack, you can cook it for breakfast!! (forgive me, i couldn't help it...).

    1. Ha! I think it could be rather tasty, though somewhat deadly :)


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