Eye Paint As A Protector and Medicine

In our discussion in class this past Tuesday, Ethan talked a lot about the presence of eye palettes and their variations in the Egyptian mortuary contexts and etc. Of course this led to a small discussion regarding the ornamental eye make-up that has made Ancient Egyptians so easily recognizable. After touching on this in class, I became interested as to the significance of the product itself.

I came across a simple article while researching online that answered a couple of questions I did not even know I had about cosmetics in the ancient society. I can not say I was surprised to learn that make-up application was a daily practice in which both men and women participated in, but I was a bit stunned when I learned that the eye cosmetics held significance in medicinal, magical, and spiritual practices along with the ornamental ideas we recognize today.

There were two main types of makeup used in Ancient Egypt including Udhu and Mesdemet each possessing a different meaning regarding their application. The first was found in the lands of Sinai considered to be under the protection of the goddess of beauty, love, joy, and women, Hathor. This green hue, typically brushed across the whole lid by women, represented her protection of those wearing her mineral. The latter, Mesdemet, was made of lead, more specifically Galena and was used as our equivalent of eye liner. Galena proved to be a disinfectant, protect eyes from the sun, and keep flies and bugs away. The lead sulphide also provided remedy to many everyday eye irritants. The two together also represented a sort of psychic protection. Without decoration or adornment, it was thought that eyes would become more susceptible to the Evil Eye. So, in order to keep the demon psyche away, Egyptians would paint their eyes to represent a direct defense against the Evil Eye.

The use of eye make-up in the Ancient Egyptian society, although well known is also misinterpreted. With this new knowledge, I am now more aware of the ways Egyptian practiced their beliefs and acknowledged their problems on a daily basis. So, make-up was not always just for looks but served as a remedy and protector.

3 thoughts on “Eye Paint As A Protector and Medicine

  1. This was a really great and interesting topic to look into. We (and by we, I mean the general world populace) might not build pyramids by hand, or mummify cats and falcons anymore, but cosmetics – including eyeliner and eye shadow – is still a prominent part of today’s culture. So looking into the use of eye makeup was a good idea. Furthermore, the information that you found proves that it would be silly for us to assume that Ancient Egyptians would have worn eye makeup for cosmetic purposes.

    Your findings also provide other explanations for differences between Ancient Egyptian and today’s use of makeup. Today, eye makeup is mostly worn by women, but in Ancient Egypt – based off of art and other visual reference like sarcophagi – eye makeup was worn by both genders.

    Another thing I found interesting is the idea that eye makeup was used for religious and/or spiritual reasons. It gives insight into Ancient Egyptian spiritual beliefs, and how they hoped to avoid their concept of evil. Today, while eye makeup is not prohibited in most religions by any means, eye makeup still comes with a stigma of immodesty, something most religions try to avoid.

  2. This topic is so fascinating! It reminds me of the dangers in looking at another culture using our own understandings. Something like makeup can carry different connotations and weights depending on the culture. For us, makeup is an individual form of expression without any sort of deeper meaning. Even at CVS or other all-purpose stores, there might be an entire aisle of choices when it comes to makeup. Choosing one color or style over another might affect others’ impressions, but there isn’t a single, understood meaning that everyone can grasp.

    The idea that the Egyptians carefully and methodically did their makeup with very specific, culturally accepted reasons is fascinating. That would explain why you would wish to take fancy palettes for makeup into the afterlife. There are still dangers and challenges that they wish to protect themselves form after they have died. The gods were so involved of all aspects of life and death for the Egyptians; women would still want to seek protection from an important goddess.

    These complexities make me wonder if there are other things we are missing from Egyptian culture that can’t be understood from our own perspective. Perhaps certain kinds of pottery had more significance than just being vessels to store and carry goods.

  3. I enjoyed your commentary about the role of eye makeup in Egyptian society. I would be interested to read the article you spoke about. It is truly interesting to see the role of certain cultural practices in a light that exposes actual reasoning and sound evidence.

    I would have had no idea that the eye makeup was used for more than cosmetic purposes had I not come across this post. I had always seen the image of Egyptians with eye makeup in movies, television, and hieroglyphics themselves and had always assumed it was a cosmetic accessory, not a meaningful cultural tool. You are correct in your assumption that, while a well known practice, it is completely misinterpreted.
    If I had not read your post, I would have gone on assuming that this practice was not ceremonial. However, the ceremonial aspect of this practice seems to be actually much more important than the cosmetic purposes.

    I also found it interesting that different colors of eye makeup symbolized different purposes that the makeup supposedly carried. I liked the parallel you tied to the makeup palettes found in many Egyptian tombs, as well. Having a strong cultural significance would explain the choice to carry makeup accessories into the realm of the afterworld.

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