Monday, February 18, 2008

History, Long and Short

History is marvelous.

Exhibit A: Olivia Judson, "A Tyrannical Romance":

I want to take a journey 68 million years back in time to see a Tyrannosaurus rex couple mating. What was it like? Did they trumpet and bellow and stamp their feet? Did they thrash their enormous tails? Did he bite her neck in rapture and exude a musky scent? Somehow, I imagine that when two T. rex got it on, the earth shook for miles around.

And if I could only take this journey, I could answer a question that sometimes bothers me. Did T. rex have a penis? Did he even, as lizards do, have two?

I ask the question not out of prurience, but because it’s a matter of scientific interest. There are a couple of reasons why. First, the penis is another important indicator of the mating system. In species where females usually mate with a single male during a breeding episode, penises tend to be small and uninteresting. In those where females mate with several males (whether by choice or by force), penises are typically larger, and come with fancy decorations such as grooves, nobbles, and spikes.

Exhibit B: Charles Dawson Shanly, "The Romance Of Hair," Atlantic Monthly (January 1867):
It appears from various records, that the present passion for the different shades of red hair—golden, auburn, and bronze-red—has raged very fiercely in different periods and from very early times. The great Italian painters, Titian, Paul Veronese, Giorgione, and others, had gold-red hair “on the brain.” Their beauties were nearly all crowned with a glory of the fascinating tint. In “beautiful Venice,” about the days of Titian, a glorious sight to see must have been the house-tops, from a bird’s-eye view, when the belles of noble rank sat out upon them, catching the golden flashes of the sun with their damp tresses. Vecelli states that they used to procure the desired tint by the following process. They would soak their hair thoroughly with a wash made up of black sulphur, alum, and honey. Then they would repair to the flat house-tops, and, hanging the wet masses of their hair over the wide brims of crownless straw hats, would sit there for hours, until even the darkest-eyed brunette of them all would have her raven tresses alchemized into burning gold. That must have been a wondrous and beautiful sight, out there on the flat roofs of Venice, the morning before some great Carnival ball. Will observers who dwell much in attics inform us whether our American belles recline out upon the housetops, and lay traps with their tresses to catch the audacious radiance of the sun? I look out from my window now, — a back window commanding an extensive view of house-tops, — fiat, some of them, and others of sufficiently gentle slope. I strain my eyes to behold some such beatific vision as might hive dazzled Titian when he emerged from the roof-scuttle of his house, and singled out for a Madonna some fair and fulvous one of the bleachers that were spreading their tresses on the leads below. But, alas! I see no such gorgeous sight. I see nothing more lovely, in fact, than tom-cats and chimney-pots, the sooty tops of the latter of which certainly do not absorb any glory from gilding rays of the warm October sun...

At various periods beards were regulated by law. In 1533, Francis I. issued an edict ordaining that Bohemians, Egyptians, and other persons of that sort should be arrested, shaved, and committed to the galleys. It is said that the Parliament of Toulouse forbade the wearing of beards, and that, when a certain gentleman, furnished with a very long one, brought some claims before that body, he was told that they could not be entertained until he had shaven his face clean. Indeed, so much controversy took place at this time regarding the beard, that the learned doctor Gentien Hervet wrote a discourse upon the subject, which was printed at Orleans in 1536. He divided his discourse into three sections. The first maintained that all men ought to allow their beards to grow; the second, that all men ought to shave their beards off; and the third, that every man should do just as he pleases about his beard. Twenty years later, beards were again much in vogue. They were worn in the swallow-tail cut now, and there were fan-tail beards to be seen also, as well as many other strange and grotesque devices in the arrangement of the facial hair. A great variety of unguents for the beard were also brought into use at this time, all of different colors and perfumes. The beard, at this period, was generally made up at night, and placed in a bag to prevent it from getting out of form. It became the proper thing now, in France, to carry a small brush for the purpose of arranging the mustache, an office which ladies would sometimes perform for their beaux, and great value was attached to a mustache that had been put in form for the wearer by some fair hand.

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