Ancient Hairstyles and Heroic Dragons

Ancient Hairstyles and Heroic Dragons

Recently I’ve found myself lamenting the way my blogging has changed in the wake of Facebook. I used to share links to all the various cool things I found on my blog. Now all those links go to Facebook. It wasn’t so much a decision as that it’s easier to go with the flow, to hit the Share button, than it is to construct a blog entry. Also, the conversation on Facebook seems to be more fast paced and well, just more in general. But I feel like by only sharing to Facebook I’m cutting out much of my blog readership since I limit my Facebook friends to people I know in real life or with whom I’ve had long-term relationships via blogs or email.

So in this new year I’m going to try an experiment, to start sharing at least some of the more interesting articles I’ve shared on Facebook. If they generate conversation and people seem to be interested in them, then I may continue to do so. If there’s no response and it just seems to be a time sink, then I probably won’t keep it up.

1. Recreating Ancient Hair Styles

Maybe this doesn’t sound all that interesting, but I am so fascinated. I keep coming back to watch more videos. And the girls are intrigued too. I started with this article about a hairdresser who had recreated the hairstyle technique of the Vestal Virgins. The part of me that was a classics major my freshman year was seriously geeky excited by this piece.

For the first time, the hairstyle of the Roman Vestal Virgins has been recreated on a modern head.

The Vestals were priestesses who guarded the fire of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth, among other sacred tasks. Chosen before puberty and sworn to celibacy, they were free from many of the social rules that limited women in the Roman era. Their braided hairstyle, the sini crenes, symbolized chastity and was known in ancient texts as the oldest hairstyle in Rome.

“These were the six most important women in Rome with the possible exception of the emperor’s wife,” said Janet Stephens, the Baltimore hairdresser and amateur archaeologist who unraveled the secrets of the Vestals’ trademark braids.

Stephens reported her findings Friday (Jan. 4) at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Seattle. She first became interested in ancient hairdressing after what she calls an “accidental encounter” with an ancient portrait bust in Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum.

“I said, ‘Oh, that is so cool, I gotta try this at home,’” Stephens told LiveScience. “And it failed miserably.”

The failure spawned seven years of research and a publication in the journal Roman Archaeology on the techniques of Roman Imperial Period hairdressing.

You can see the video here:

Then I found Janet Stephens’ You Tube Channel with 17 videos of recreations of ancient hairstyles. This is seriously geeky cool.

Finally, an interview with Janet Stephens on The History Blog:

I am an independent researcher, but my husband is a professor of Italian at the Johns Hopkins University, so I have library privileges there. We are friendly with colleagues in the Classics/Archaeology department and at the Walters Art Museum. They were kind enough to send me articles and clippings, read drafts and help with some picky Latin, though I try not to impose.

Now I’m kind of regretting cutting my hair. Not that I know anyone who could come over and try these on my head.

2. Here Be Dragons. . . and Wizards and Vampires and Orcs

Dom pointed me to this great article,  The Feast of the Magicians by science fiction novelist and Catholic convert John C. Wright. In it Wright addresses the same question that Michael O’Brien tackles in his book A Landscape with Dragons (I’ve written about the O’Brien book before.) I find Wright’s take on the question of good dragons, vampires, wizards, etc much more satisfying than O’Brien’s. Wright makes a much more nuanced critique and thus has room for a wider range of stories.

I thought it very much answered many of the things I disliked about O’Brien’s Landscape with Dragons. Where O’Brien can’t stand the idea of a dragon being made into a good guy, John C. Wright makes a much more nuanced argument. He begins by stating,


I am sick to death of vampires as portrayed as protagonists in stories. They are properly villains and vermin, antagonists to be exterminated, not friends afflicted with angst and waiting to be understood. I am weary of friendly werewolves, and disgusted by friendly dragons, and I wonder about friendly witches, particularly when none of them are old crones.  And, in honor of the day, I should admit that while I am not sick yet of friendly magicians, I am suspicious and annoyed by stories where magic is treated like a technology, that is, like an art which is lawful and harmless to practice, a thing without a terrible price.

This sounds very much like Wright agrees with O’Brien’s critique of much of modern fantasy, but then he goes on to qualify his objections in a way that O’Brien doesn’t:


  Some of my favorite stories, including ones I have written myself, have bad guys as good guys. Indeed, some of the most beloved superheroes of the comics are basically bad guys dressed up as bad guys doing good guys stuff: the Batman and the Shadow both favor long black capes. One is garbed as a bat for the express purpose of terrifying cowardly and superstitious criminals; and the other laughs a laugh so maniacal that the crooks of gangland jump headfirst out of upper story windows to escape it. Both of these, frankly, are devils who fight on the side of the angels.

  In fantasy, the bad guys take the forms and shapes of mythical and legendary monsters, wizards and witches and hobgoblins and so on, and so the idea of a fantasy monster using his powers to fight for the side of right is no more unexpected than the idea of Zorro wearing a black hat in a Western.

  But here we are talking about something slightly different. The reason why I am sick of dragons as good guys is not because of a surfeit of books by Anne McCaffrey and Ursula K LeGuin. I am not sick of their dragons, not tired of Kalessin of Earthsea nor weary of Ramoth of Pern. And, technically speaking, Ramoth is a dragon-shaped intelligent alien, not really a dragon any more than Dr Who on Gallifrey is a human; likewise, Kalessin is not a dragon but a long (龍), a celestial rain-serpent of the Orient, who were dangerous but not malevolent.

  No, what wearies me, and what would become the archfoe of the hypothetical Mundane Fantasy movement, is the idea that there are no bad guys, no such things as “good” or “evil”. This is the idea that all truth is relative, all truth is myth, all truth is false: The only thing that there really is, once you penetrate the illusion of good and bad, and debunk the myth of vice and virtue, is the evil self serving lie or bigotry of discriminating between good and evil on the one hand, and the tolerance of lacking that discrimination on the other. In technical terminology, this philosophy is called “nihilism.”

Wright proposes an O’Brien-esque retrofantasy movement where “instead of the warlocks and witches and werewolves and vampires and monsters and dragons being the good guys, like they always are in modern (and postmodern) fantasy books, these archetypal and ancient symbols of evil would be treated as they were treated in older stories, as bad guys, or, at least, unglamorous” and then he explains why that doesn’t work:


The retrofantasy movement can never come into being, because all fantasy is based on the premise that the writer is going to take the symbolic and allegorical images and creatures from myth and fable and portray them naturalistically, as if they were real. In reality, bad men can do good deeds, and the war between darkness and light cuts through the hearts of every man.

I’ve been uneasy with O’Briren’s take on fantasy ever since I read it, though I am a big fan of his fiction. I thought this essay explains O’Brien’s shortcomings as a literary critic better than I ever could have said. I’m curious what everyone else thinks, though.

3. Carolina Chocolate Drops

My sister linked to this song on Facebook and I really liked their sound. I spent an hour this afternoon with the kids watching Carolina Chocolate Drops videos. Including one on how to play the bones. We had so much fun. Sophie did say the one guy’s hair confused her. Because it’s confusing when a man has long hair. We had some fun conversations about the various instruments and the different combinations of musicians and instruments. I love listening to good music with my kids.


4. The Church Breathing

This short little video is just so beautiful. Take five and watch it.

via Coffee and Canticles

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  • Our neighbors have a crawfish boil every year, and David won’t even pick one up, much less eat it!  He gets all scared and shrinks away.

    Hapy 8!  I don’t even know when my blog birthday is.  Sometimes it feels like I’m still in labor.

  • Happy blog birthday!  I do enjoy reading your blog, but don’t comment much.  It’s really the pictures of all your gorgeous children that make me smile.  You’re a good picture taker!

  • Bonus points for consistency and thanks for sharing your faith and family. I began in 2005 but have not been consistent at all. God bless you.

  • I hope you know that I enjoy everything that you post. Thank-you for sharing! Yours is always one of the first blogs that I check. smile

  • Blog readers definitely come and go … There are some whom I *really* miss, and I have no way of knowing what happened to them …. At least when bloggers decide to stop writing, they can put up a post to that effect …. Hard to lose readers who seemed ‘chums’.

    Happy eight years! On the one hand, I want to say “eight years?! No way!” But I have been blogging since 2006 myself, so there you go ….


    Oh, PS: I do like the shared links, that you originally posted on facebook. I don’t do facebook, but when bloggers share on their blogs things they linked to there, it is always such interesting stuff …

  • Happy Blogaversary! I remember when I found your blog… James followed Dom’s blog and introduced me to yours. I think that was about 6 1/2 years ago though… where has the time gone!?!

    I know for me it has gotten a bit harder to keep up with blogs. I do manage and I do comment here and there, but there are, as you know, many great blogs with great blog posts to read and many little ones demanding attention constantly – hence I often wind up playing blog-reading catch up.

    Congratulations again!

  • Happy Anniversary, Melanie! I share your ambivalence about Facebook… and feel trapped by it because so many people/groups use it to post events and invites and I’m afraid I’ll miss something if I don’t check it.

    I used to think I spent too much time reading blogs, but you always learn something – like awesome hairstyling tricks!

  • GeekLady,

    We have a long family tradition of playing with lobsters and crawfish before they go in the pot. I’m always surprised at their lack of fear.

    Thanks. I do love taking photos. It’s funny to think I didn’t have any pictures at all in my first few years of blogging. What a difference it makes! I sometimes wonder what I might be able to do with a good camera.

    Thanks, Owen, you might not be consistent but you have other great qualities that make up for it.

  • Happy Blogversary!  Still going with five little children—pretty amazing!

    I’ve followed you, after learning of your blog from Dom’s—through your engagement, wedding, births, etc.  Didn’t comment much at first as I could never get the sign-in to work.

    I too love the photos and feel such an attachment to all the Bettinellis.  My grandhcildren are growing up too fast and there will be no more babies, so I’m “borrowing” your children to fill in the empty space.  Keeping you and your mother in my prayers for strength and good health.

    Keep up the good work!  Your faith is an inspiration.

  • Hi Melanie,

    I’m not a frequent commenter, but I do so enjoy your blog! You and Melissa Wiley give me some of my favorite book recommendations, so it’s very appropriate that you both started at the same time! =)

    And thanks for sharing links from facebook, which I’d otherwise miss. I try to limit my facebook use, too, but can’t quite leave it since it’s so many people’s way of planning events and communicating…

    All the best for your family and blog in 2013!

  • Thanks, everyone. Without you guys I’d be talking to myself, which would just be sad and boring.

    Since my first linky post generated a great conversation I’m working on another one. Up with blogs!

  • Happy Birthday!! Yes, eight is a great age. I can’t believe it’s been about four years since i started reading your blog, around the time I first considered homeschooling. Thanks for the inspiration, interesting rabbit trails, and baby photos wink and friendship too of course…