Mustache Summer

Mustaches in History

Mark HallMark

In 1800 BC, the Pharaoh Teqikencola outlawed mustaches among the elite of Egyptian society; hence the inevitable decline of his nation's empire. The countryside became overrun by mustachioed bandits and foreigners who gathered popular support among the population who could not afford the expense (and bother) of shaving to please the Pharaoh.

Greeks and Romans were also anti-mustache. And, as is well known, their empires are no longer with us. Both empires collapsed, as hordes of hairy-upper-lipped barbarians trashed these centers of so-called civilization.

In Asia, mustaches have always been seen as sign of wisdom among the men (not the women, curiously) who wore them. Confucius is always depicted with long, fine streams of perfect hair emanating from the corners of his perpetual wry smile. It was he who said, "A man without a mustache is man without a soul." Buddha wore a tight, fashionable mustache and is widely believed to be among the holiest men who ever walked the earth. Jesus, also noted for his godliness, had a mustache (although slightly sullied by the addition of his beard, but I think Jesus is allowed a break). Although some historians and theologians have interpreted the Greek translation of Jesus' Aramaic comment to his mother at the Wedding at Canaan, "Mother it is not my time yet," to the more literal, "Mother, my mustache has not fully grown." Holiness and mustaches, it seems, are inseparable.

The Middle Ages were replete with mustaches. Charlamagne championed them. His great victory over the Moors celebrated in the "Song of Roland" was widely believed to be a battle over whose mustache style would prevail in Europe. Charlamagne's supporters preferred the more free-form style, while the Muslim-inspired mustaches of the Moors were highly stylized and beyond the European barbers' capabilities of the time. This caused the Moors to lobby Charlamagne to "fight to the death to defend our freedom of lips." The pope (who preferred a shaggy handlebar mustache) later crowned Charlamagne the first Holy Roman Emperor as a result.

The French have never made up their minds about mustaches. They're in. They're out. Clemenceau sported one, as did Louis XIV, but Henry V did not. Proust had one, but Sartre and Camus eschewed them. The British were likewise of two minds on the matter. The most famous mustache in English history is the one Winston Churchill could not grow. This fact made him a manic depressive, turned him into a drunk, and probably derailed him from his rightful place in history as a well-known ship's captain in His Majesty's Navy. The Germans took mustaches to extremes. Hitler and Himmler wore mustaches that tried not to be mustaches. But they knew if they were to hold sway over the mustache-crazy Aryans, they had to grow something. Hence, those pissy little bits of hair above their lips. Now Bismarck had a mustache.

In the United States, mustaches have been prevalent in politics and history throughout. Lincoln grew a mustache while he wrote the Gettysburg Address and General Grant had one as he kicked Confederate butt at Vicksburg. In fact, anything in American history with "burg" in it usually involved a mustache.

Modern times are probably the apex for mustaches. All styles and lengths are embraced. It is a time of mustache freedom. But we need to beware. To be vigilant. To defend the mustache to the death.

Have a good summer.


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