Keep out moustache, here comes the beard

The beard is the fur that grows on men’s faces. It covers the lower part of the face and the chin; it can even reach the neck. The area between the mouth and the nose is called a moustache. The beard had crucial functions even in the prehistoric ages. It kept the face warm, protected the mouth from dirt and it also frightened away enemies. During history, it was the symbol of masculinity and potency. It also represented and still represents a kind of coherency among men wearing a beard. Jowls can be found on certain mammals too: for example dogs, goats.

Neruda Nándor drogista portréja, Budapest, 1880 - Magyar Kereskedelmi és Vendéglátóipari Múzeum, CC BY-NC-ND

The beard became an important symbol in the antiquity. Among the ancient civilisations, it had a huge role in the Egyptian culture, where the characteristic, long beard was an important accessory of pharaohs, who wore it even after death on their face moulds. Usually, it was an false beard fixed to the chin, an essential proof of pharaohs’ divine origin, because the antropomorf male gods were depicted with this type of fur. The female pharaoh Hatshepsut from the 15th century B.C. wore this kind of beard as well. Later, this beard cult disappeared from Egypt. In Mesopotamia, the natural beard was in fashion; it was well-groomed and shaped with different oils.

Growing a beard was also fashionable in the Ancient Greece, and what is more: cutting it off was a kind of punishment there. Greek men even frizzled their hairy ornaments. The custom of shaving appeared later in the Roman Empire – for hygienic reasons. The Roman Caesars had unbarbed faces. As of the 5th century B.C., so many people followed the new ideal that a growing need for barbers occured. The Latin word ‘barba’ (=beard) is in connection with the word ‘barbar’ that meant ‘barbarian people, foreigners who speak foreign languages’.

Amrita apja, Umrao Singh Sher-Gil, a szikh, nemesi származású filozófus és szenvedélyes fotográfus (1933) - Magyar Nemzeti Filmarchívum, CC BY-NC-ND

According to the Hebrew-Christian tradition, most men wore a beard in the Bible, which was the symbol of masculinity and power. The Philistines, who were often described as enemies in the Bible, were depicted as people without a beard on the artworks of the Near East. The story of Delilah and Samson, who was deprived of his hair and fur – that is to say his strength, also exemplifies the symbolic power of the beard. The Old Testament describes the importance of grooming the beard and the central character of the New Testament Jesus is one of the most famous bearded persons of the world. Most of the Apostles also had dominant beards. The beard of recluses symbolises their turn-away from the world. Later during centuries, the opinion of the clerical order changed from time to time, whether they allowed or forbade clericals and laics to wear a beard. Believers of Orthodox Christianity and Orthodox Judaism still insist on their long facial hairs. Muslims also think it is important to wear a beard, just like their prophet Muhammad did.

The beard gained historical importance in the 18th- 19th centuries – primarily in Hungary. (Before that as of the 16th century, wearing a beard was popular among the urban and rural population; the married men had this privilege mostly.) For Austrian influence in the 18th century, Hungarian men were obliged to shave, because the authorities levied a beard fine. After the 1848-49 revolution and war of independence, the Kossuth-beard was popular; they wore it as a kind of expression of sympathy and a symbol of the passive resistance. The Kossuth-beard consists of a separate moustache and a separate beard, while the chin is shaved. Lajos Kossuth himself abandoned this style at his elderly age.

Plohn József: Szabó Imre (1908 körül) - Dr. Tóthné Aranyossy Ildikó, CC BY-NC-ND

There were other cases as well, when the beard became the symbol of revolt and liberty, for example, the appearance of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro during the Cuban revolution. (Since then, the portrait of the bearded Che Guevara became a symbol, too.) During the 1960s and ‘70s, the hippy movement fancied the pullulating beard, besides giving full swing to the hair.

According to the subjective point of The Times, the most famous bearded person in the world is Karl Marx with his bushy facial hairs. The second one is Rasputin – the counsellor of Emperor Nicholas II of Russia. The third one is the English actor Brian Blessed – less known in Hungary – with his Santa-beard. The fourth one is Jesus Christ and the fifth is the Victorian writer Charles Dickens. Thinking of the famous bearded figures of the Hungarian history you might remember the politicians of the Reform Age: from the cult-creating Lajos Kossuth, to István Széchenyi or Lajos Batthyány – or the Emperor of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy Franz Joseph I of Austria – whom a type of beard was also named after.

Interestingly, besides the huge number of bearded men, there were some famous bearded women as well. The abnormal hairiness in case of women developed due to endocrine disorder mainly. Magdalena Ventura from Naples of the 17th century was renowned as ‘La mujer barbuda’ (the bearded woman). She was painted by artist Jusepe de Ribera in a naturalistic painting: the woman is nurturing her baby-child in the company of her husband who is also wearing a beard. In Hungary, Szidónia Barcsy became famous for her beard in the 19th-20th centuries. This abnormality developed in the baroness after her first child’s birth. She had the same fate as all the people with physical deficiencies in that era: she walked the world with a circus as a special spectacle.

Zichy Mihály: A jó bor - Rippl-Rónai Megyei Hatókörű Városi Múzeum, CC BY

The beard culture has a renaissance nowadays – strictly groomed and shaped of course. A complete industrial sector has been built upon the beard and moustache cosmetics (comb, soap, shampoo, conditioner, wax, oil etc.). Moreover, the beard-demand has revived a nearly-extinct profession: barbershops are opened one after the other. Going to the barber’s is not only a part of the Y-generation hipster, urban lifestyle, but there is a general demand in barbers – whether it is about a simple adjustment or some kind of extra looks like the full beard, Garibaldi, Van Dyke or Bandholz. The functions of the beard changed in the past thousands of years, though it was always fashionable in certain groups of society. It is not worn because of its warming effect or terrifying form; it does not have power or revolutionary symbology any more, but it is still rather cool.


Translated by Zita Aknai


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