Apr 25: The Germanic origins of the playoff beard and other bullet points

There’s not a lot of coherence in Tacitus’s travelogue through Germany – it’s just, here’s this tribe, here’s something interesting/unusual/downright weird that they do, and moving on. If he were writing it today he probably would have done it in the form of a chart. Therefore I am being equally incoherent and Friday-rific, and just pulling out random stuff that I find interesting:

• Guess what the Germans drink. You’ll never guess. Aw, you guessed: "For their drink, they draw a liquor from barley or other grain; and ferment the same, so as to make it resemble wine."

• The French-are-pussies trope extends a long, long way back: "The Treverians and Nervians aspire passionately to the reputation of being descended from the Germans; since by the glory of this original, they would escape all imputation of resembling the Gauls in person and effeminacy."

• As does the playoff beard: "As soon as they arrive to maturity of years, they let their hair and beards continue to grow, nor till they have slain an enemy do they ever lay aside this form of countenance by vow sacred to valour. Over the blood and spoil of a foe they make bare their face."

• As does, also, the endless imperial war: "It was on the six hundred and fortieth year of Rome, when of the arms of the Cimbrians the first mention was made...If from that time we count to the second Consulship of the Emperor Trajan, the interval comprehends near two hundred and ten years; so long have we been conquering Germany."

• As does misogyny: "Upon the Suiones, border the people Sitones; and, agreeing with them in all other things, differ from them in one, that here the sovereignty is exercised by a woman. So notoriously do they degenerate not only from a state of liberty, but even below a state of bondage."


In general this volume (No. 33, "Voyages and Travels"), shows the persistence of the human situation. We are always voyaging and traveling and gossiping about what we've heard; it's no surprise that Herodotus, who was just profiled in The New Yorker, is in here too.

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