On the Painting of the Face

Translated from Latin to English by David Camden

Learn, ladies, what care can enhance your appearance, and how your beauty may be preserved. Cultivation bade the sterile earth to pay out a bounty of grain, bade the biting thorns to die. Cultivation also improves the bitterness of fruit, and the split tree gains adopted richness. That which is cultivated gives pleasure. Lofty halls are plated with gold, black earth lays hidden under set marble: the same fleeces are many times dyed in cauldron of Tyrian purple: India offers its ivory to be cut into delightful figures. Perhaps the ancient Sabines under king Tatius preferred to cultivate their fathers' farms rather than themselves: when the matron, sitting red in her high seat, was spinning continuously with her hardened thumb, and she herself penned up the lambs which her daughter had pastured, she herself set the twigs and chopped wood on the hearth. But your mothers gave birth to tender girls. You want your body to be covered with rich clothing, you want to change the style of your perfumed hair, you want to have hands shining with gems: you adorn your neck with stones sought from the east, and so large that your ear finds two a burden to bear. Yet it is not a fault, if you are anxious to please, since this age of ours has men who love elegance. Your husbands are refined in feminine principles, and scarcely does a wife have to add to their refinement. It makes a difference for whom each prepares herself, and what lover she may be hunting; elegance of appearance does not cause reproach. They lie hidden in the country and are trimming their hair; though lofty Athos may hide them, lofty Athos will find them smart. There is pleasure, too, in self-satisfaction; and dear to the heart of girls is their own beauty. Juno displays the praised feathers of her bird to men, and many a bird shows off its beauty. Thus love will inflame us rather than by strong herbs, which the hand of a sorceress gathers for her terrible craft. Trust not grasses nor mixed juices, and do not attempt the harmful venom of an infatuated mare; snakes are not split in half by Marsian spells, nor does a wave return to its source; and though one has provoked the bronze of the Temese, the Moon will never be cast off her horses.

Let the first care be in your own behavior, girls. The face pleases when the character commends. Love of character is lasting: age destroys beauty, and a pleasing face will have been dried out with wrinkles. There will be a time in which it will bother you to see your own reflection, and grief will come as a second cause of wrinkles. It is sufficient, and uprightness endures into old age, and through its years love depends on this.

Learn, when sleep has let go your tender joints, in what manner your faces can shine bright. Strip from its covering of chaff the barley which Lybian farmers have sent on ships. Let an equal measure of vetch be moistened in ten eggs: but let the stripped barley weigh two pounds. When this has dried in the blowing breezes, have the slow ass break it with the rough millstone; therewith also grind the first horns that fall from a lively stag (let the sixth part of a solid as1 be added). And now when it is mixed with the dusty powder, immediately sift all of it in hollow sieves. Add twelve narcissus-bulbs without their skins, and let a strenuous hand pound them on pure marble. Let gum and Tuscan seed weigh a sixth part of a pound2. To this let nine times as much honey be added. Whoever will treat her face with such a paint will shine lighter in her mirror. Nor hesitate to roast pale lupin-seeds, and likewise fry beans that puff out the body. With fair distinction, let both have weights of six pounds, and give them to black millstones to be crushed into pieces. Do not let white lead nor foam of red nitrite be wanting, nor iris which comes from the earth of Illyricum. Give them equally to be subdued by the strong arms of youths, but when ground their right weight will be one ounce. A remedy taken from the querulous nest of birds removes blemishes from the face: they call it halcyon-cream. If you ask with what weight thereof I am content, that which an ounce divided into two parts weighs. So that they may mix and be properly smeared on the body, add Attic honey from its golden combs. Although incense pleases the gods and their angry powers, it must not all be offered upon kindled fires. When you have mixed incense with nitre that scrapes off warts, see that on both sides of the balance there is a exactly a third of a pound. Add 3/4 pound of gum stripped of its bark and a moderate cube of rich myrrh. When you have ground these up, sift them through close-set meshes: the powder must be settled by pouring on honey. It has been found useful to add fennel to the fragrant myrrh, (let the fennel weigh five scruples, the myrrh nine), and take one handful of dried roses, and virile frankincense with the salt of Ammon. Thereupon pour the juice which barley makes: let the frankincense weigh the same as the rose-leaves and salt together. Though it is smeared on your soft countenance for a short time, much color remains on all your face. I have seen one who pounded poppies moistened with cold water, and rubbed them on her tender cheeks.

1 i.e. 2 ounces

2 1 Roman pound = 12 ounces