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Burma-Shave Verses

The Origin of the Barber Pole
The modern barber pole originated in the days when bloodletting was one of the principal duties of the barber.  The
two spiral ribbons painted around the pole represent the two long bandages, one twisted around the arm before
bleeding, and the other used to bind is afterward.  Originally, when not in use, the pole with a bandage wound
around it, so that both might be together when needed, was hung at the door as a sign.  But later, for convenience,
instead of hanging out the original pole, another one was painted in imitation of it and given a permanent place on
the outside of the shop.   This was the beginning of the modern barber pole.

The word "barber" comes from the Latin word "barba," meaning beard.   It may surprise you to know that the earliest
records of barbers show that they were the foremost men of their tribe.  They were the medicine men and the
priests.   But primitive man was very superstitious and the early tribes believed that both good and bad spirits, which
entered the body through the hairs on the head, inhabited every individual.  The bad spirits could only be driven out
of the individual by cutting the hair, so various fashions of hair cutting were practiced by the different tribes and this
made the barber the most important man in the community.  In fact, the barbers in these tribal days arranged all
marriages and baptized all children.   They were the chief figures in the religious ceremonies.  During these
ceremonies, the hair was allowed to hang loosely over the shoulders so that the evil spirits could come out.  After the
dancing, the long hair was cut in the prevailing fashion by the barbers and combed back tightly so that the evil spirits
could not get in or the good spirits get out.
This rule by barbers was a common thing in ancient Asia.  In fact, wherever there were legends and superstitions
about the hair, the barbers flourished.  To this day in India, the veneration of the hair continues and those who cut
and dress the hair are important characters.

In Egypt, many centuries before Christ, barbers were prosperous and highly respected.   The ancient monuments
and papyrus show that the Egyptians shaved their beards and their heads.  The Egyptian priests even went so far as
to shave the entire body every third day.  At this time the barbers carried their tools in open-mouthed baskets and
their razors were shaped like small hatchets and had curved handles.  The Bible tells us that when Joseph was
summoned to appear before Pharaoh, a barber was sent for to shave Joseph, so that Pharaoh's sight would not be
offended by a dirty face.

In Greece, barbers came into prominence as early as the fifth century, BC.  These wise men of Athens rivaled each
other in the excellence of their beards.  Beard trimming became an art and barbers became leading citizens.  
Statesmen, poets and philosophers, who came to have their hair cut or their beards trimmed or curled and scented
with costly essences, frequented their shops. And, incidentally, they came to discuss the news of the day, because
the barber shops of ancient Greece were the headquarters for social, political, and sporting news. The importance of
the tonsorial art in Greece may be gathered from the fact that a certain prominent Greek was defeated for office
because his opponent had a more neatly trimmed beard.
In the third century, BC, the Macedonians under Alexander the Great began their conquest of Asia and lost several
battles to the Persians who grabbed the Macedonians by their beards, pulled them to the ground and speared them.  
This resulted in a general order by Alexander that all soldiers be clean-shaven.  The civilians followed the example of
the soldiers and beards lost their vogue.  Barbers were unknown in Rome until 296 BC, when Ticinius Mena came to
Rome from Sicily and introduced shaving.   Shaving soon became the fashion and the barber shop became the
gathering place for the Roman dandies. No people were better patrons of the barbers than the Romans.   They often
devoted several hours each day to tonsorial operations, which included shaving, hair cutting, hairdressing,
massaging, manicuring and the application of rare ointments and cosmetics of unknown formulas.  The great ladies
of Rome always had a hairdresser among their slaves and the rich nobles had private tonsors, as they were then
called.  Barbers were so highly prized that a statue was erected to the memory of the first barber of Rome.
When Hadrian became emperor, beards became the fashion again -- and for a very good reason.  Hadrian had a
face covered with warts and scars.  He allowed his beard to grow to cover these blemishes.  The people of Rome
imitated the emperor and grew beards whether they needed them or not.
The fashion changed again to clean-shaven faces. We know that Caesar was clean-shaven.   As we will see
repeated in history many times, the leaders of the state were the leaders of fashion and the people were always
ready to follow the prevailing styles.