Cleopatra, the last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, is best known for her relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony, and for committing suicide after losing the Battle of Actium. Although she’s often seen as someone who used men for her political gain, Cleopatra, who was born in Alexandria, the then intellectual capital of the world, was a very educated, learned and intelligent woman and a supporter of the arts.
Cleopatra herself wrote a book, which has unfortunately gone lost. Only fragments of it, included in works by other authors, today remain. The book is called Cosmetics, but don’t let that title deceive you. The book contained her beauty secrets, but it was also more of a medical work. Here’s what Cleopatra recommended to treat baldness:
“For bald patches, powder red sulphuret of arsenic and take it up with oak gum, as much as it will bear. Put on a rag and apply, having soaped the place well first. I have mixed the above with a foam of niter, and it worked well.”
Several other recipes to treat the same problem were also mentioned in the book, but the best one was believed to be this:
“The following is the best of all, acting for fallen hairs, when applied with oil or pomatum; acts also for falling off of eyelashes or for people getting bald all over. It is wonderful. Of domestic mice burnt, one part; of vine rag burnt, one part; of horse’s teeth burnt, one part; of bear’s grease one; of deer’s marrow one; of reed bark one. To be pounded when dry, and mixed with plenty of honey ’til it gets the consistency of honey; then the bear’s grease and marrow to be mixed (when melted), the medicine to be put in a brass flask, and the bald part rubbed ’til it sprouts.”
Using burnt mice may be disgusting to us today, but at the time, it had its logic. Mice, as well as deer, were considered by the ancients to be very fertile, so they reasoned that applying them on the scalp or on the skin may also make them fertile, and grow hair again.
But aren’t you glad that baldness isn’t treated like that anymore?