oil me up Scotty*

Back in ancient Greece, it was customary for the very rich to coat their hair with butter. It kept down vermin and helped preserve order in an elaborate hair-do. In many societies, including ancient Egypt and modern Ethiopia, a lump of fatty incense or perfumed butter was placed on the head at dinner parties and allowed to melt and drizzle voluptuously down one’s face and body.

learn about melting hair here

In Rome there were professional anointers who offered massage for a fee in the gymnasia and public baths. Every athlete who took his sport seriously had two trainers: a gymnastic master for physical training and an anointer who advised him about diet, gave him medical check ups and prescribed oil rubs.

Gymnasia y Esgrima found here

Before wrestling naked, one first did a few warm up exercises to open the pores, then poured on oil and rubbed it in. Next one sprinkled oneself from head to foot with sand or dust, which stuck to the oil and provided a kind of protective second skin. This prevented the body from being too slippery for one’s opponent to grasp; in addition the oil and sand were thought to keep the body temperature constant and ward off colds.

image found here

After exercise, one was rinsed and scraped with an iron tool called a strigil, with more oil to soften the instrument’s abrasiveness. After a bath in water and lye made from wood ash or lime, or a rubbing with Fuller’s Earth to remove any remaining sweat, sand and grease, one was ready for yet another generous application of oil.

The poet Martial, complaining about the young men of his day who refused to do any work, said they spent “most of their lives in oil” meaning that sport and luxurious massages were all they cared for.

Turkish Oil Wrestlers found here

*information found in Margaret Visser’s interesting book “Much Depends on Dinner – The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal”.

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35 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Very interesting facts indeed. I love the pursuit of facts. The more obscure, the better. Well done!


    • There are lots of obscure facts on Margaret Visser’s book

  2. Great sand sculpture!
    Oils in all ancient cultures were very important, whether from the coconut, the olive, the date or some other plant.And then along came margarine…

  3. I find it funny that no matter how far back you go into recorded history, you can always find someone complaining about the younger generation.

    • Perhaps it’s mostly envy, youth is wasted on the young

  4. Wonder if the wrestling matches smelled like burning popcorn?

    • I love that smell

  5. I can’t believe it’s not product!

    • Would Fabio lie to you?

  6. Wow that sand sculpture’s brilliant!

    • Yes it’s fabulous. I wonder how long it took to build?

  7. I don’t think I’ll try coating myself with butter. It would probably attract every dog in the neighbourhood.

  8. many tribes had women apply grease to hair to attract flies to keep them off the food

  9. In Yorkshire, it is still common for children to be coated in goose fat and sewn into all-enveloping undergarments at the start of winter. There are two reasons for this: one, it helps to ward off colds and flu and two, should they fall into a winter bonfire, they roast beautifully and provide a good meal for all the family.

    • Sounds delicious. Do they make good crackling?

  10. Never been a big fan of oil or butter, though I once coated myself in goose fat to take a dip in a bitterly cold river in Inverness. My gentlemans sausage shrunk to only 10″ long due to the extreme cold.

    • [swoon, thud]

    • And bet your nose just grew by 10″ 😉

      • Hey Jimmy you are a fibber and braggart!

      • But such a lovable one

  11. Always amazed with your obscure facts but that sand castle!! Now, that is really something.

  12. Not sure I like the idea of being oily all the time. Makes my head itch to think about having oily hair constantly.

    • I think a dry scalp would be itchier than an oily one

  13. maybe i should try that ‘rooting hair’ technique to fill in the gaps on my head? that, or just wear a lump of butter up top so no one notices that it’s thinning?

  14. Scraped down after exercise with an oiled iron tool? I bags being the next endorphin junkie.

  15. I wonder how long that sand sculpture lasted. If I saw it in person, I’d be really tempted to sit or lie on it.

  16. The strigil’s look terrifying. (I’ve just realised that may be the strangest sentence I’ve ever written.) It’d have to have been a damn good oil rub to warrant someone going at you with one of those.

    • Yes they look like they could do some serious damage

  17. Good! You found that book useful! 🙂

  18. There’s an awesome sand-sculpting festival held on Revere Beach every year. Check out the video on this site: http://reverebeach.com/2010/10/2011-sand-sculpting-festival-to-be-held-july-14th-18th/

  19. A lump of butter in the hair? ugh……

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