Part 4 from Your Nose: A History of the Nose, Rhinoplasty and the Attitudes that Shape our Perception, in Five Parts (Excerpted from Dr. Adamson’s book Fabulous Faces, available on Amazon.com, and edited for our blog).
Part 4: A Historical View Of Noses And The First Nose Jobs
The ancients could look at a face and leap headlong into all kinds of conclusions about its owner. The Roman poet Ovid believed that “the truth of a man lies in his nose.” (The Romans had a thing about noses. In close combat, they aimed for the nose, letting the enemies of Rome wear their defeat on their faces. The idea stayed alive into the Renaissance, see what happened to Michelangelo!)
The Historical Relationship Between Nose and Character
In her book The Nose: A Profile of Sex, Beauty and Survival, American journalist Gabrielle Glaser (the proud owner of a magnificent nose) describes how the nose was central to the eighteenth-century revival of the pseudoscience of physiognomy (judging character on the basis of appearance). Swiss theologian Johann Kaspar Lavater published essays in which he analyzed his subjects’ noses, foreheads, eyes, and chins. According to Glaser, a quick glance at anyone was all Lavater needed to understand a person’s morality, intelligence, and religiosity.
Lavater’s strange preoccupation caught on. The writing of Honoré de Balzac, a nineteenth-century master of literary realism, is full of plotlines that hinge on the size and shape of his characters’ noses. Many of his novels and short stories are collected within La Comédie Humaine. It contains no fewer than 400 references to noses. The “realism” of his descriptions leaves room for doubt.
In The Vicar of Tours, Mlle. Gamard, an unhappy woman, runs a boarding house for priests and has no friends. Why? The answer was as plain as the nose on her face. “Her aquiline nose was of all her facial characteristics the one that did most to express the despotism of her ideas, just as the flattened angle of her forehead betrayed the narrowness of her mind.”
Another Frenchman, Edmond Rostand, built a classic play, Cyrano de Bergerac, around a nose. “A great nose indicates a great man,” said Cyrano, “genial, courteous, intellectual, virile [and] courageous.”
The First Nose Job
Ours is an old profession. The first rhinoplasties were performed not decades ago, not centuries ago, but more than 2,600 years ago.
The place was India. The surgeon was Sushruta, a teacher of medicine. He was a busy guy. That’s because adulterers not only got thrown out of their houses but also had their noses cut off.
Sushruta could put things right. He compiled the first step-by-step guide to rhinoplasty.
• Gather a vine leaf big enough to cover the severed piece of nose.
• Slice from the cheek a patch of living flesh equal to the size of the leaf.
• Scarify the severed piece of nose with a knife and quickly apply the cheek skin to the area.
• Insert two small pipes in the nostrils to allow breathing and to keep the graft from hanging down.
• Dust the nose with pulverized sappanwood, licorice root, and barberry to aid healing.
• Bind the severed nose piece back in place with cotton, and sprinkle it with sesame oil.
• When healing is complete, trim off the excess skin.
And, Sushruta might have added, don’t cheat on your spouse!
Next week, we wrap up our series with an overview of the Modern Rhinoplasty.