Let me ask you a question . Who is generally accepted to have been the most powerful and successful lady pharaoh in the history of Egypt ? If you answered Cleopatra , well, I’m sorry but you leave with nothing. The correct answer is actually Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut assumed the throne after the death of her husband Thutmose II, keeping her step son off the throne for a good 20 years. Mind you, he didn’t do so badly either, as Thutmose III, one of the great pharaohs of ancient Egypt. If you compare busts of Hatshepsut to those of her successors and predecessors its quite hard to tell them apart, one of the reasons being that she is often depicted as wearing a ceremonial beard. If clothes maketh the man, apparently in Ancient Egypt facial fungus made the pharaoh.
I thought of this a couple of days ago when I was having a chat with one of my work colleagues. Last Wednesday was the first day back at school for the staff, with two year groups of children returning on Thursday, and all of them back on Friday. I don’t suppose that its much different for the staff than it is for the children – first day back means, amongst many other things, a chance to catch up with colleagues, and find out what everyone’s been up to for the last few weeks. One of my colleagues said that she had thought of me during the holiday when she had played in a pub quiz on the offchance.
“How did you get on ? “ I asked.
“Oh, we did alright, “ she answered, “ in fact we would have won, but there was a team of quiz professionals there and they beat us by a couple of points. “
“How do you know they were professionals ? “ I asked, intrigued .
“ Well, they looked like quizzers . “ she answered, and then, leaning in confidentially, added , “ they had beards. “
I am not a pogonophobe. I have nothing against beards, and in fact about ten years ago I did have a goatee myself, when I was going through my David Brent phase. But I know many, many great quizzers who have never had a beard. In fact I also know many great quizzers who never will have beards, being female. Yes, I know some great quizzers who have beards, but I also know many quizzers who do have beards, and frankly, are no great shakes . The beard is, I believe, immaterial.
And yet . . . And yet for all that, I kind of understand why she said what she said. Maybe you don’t do this yourself, but whenever I go to a quiz I’m not that familiar with I take a good look round at the opposition, and I’ll be honest, I’d expect a team which looked like the team my friend described to me to do well, and this even before a single question had been asked. Why is it that a simple thing like a beard can have such an effect on the way that total strangers might rate your intelligence before they have even spoken one word to you ? Partly I think its cultural and historical. The beard has certainly been used as a sign of age and maturity, which were often seen as going hand in hand with wisdom. In western art certainly the tradition was that a figure of great moral authority and wisdom would be portrayed as wearing a beard – greek philosophers , Hebrew patriarchs and prophets for example. I suppose quite a few of us will have had the experience of tuning into the Open University by accident when we were younger, and seeing some of the bearded professors who made up a proportion of its output in the early days.
Of course, none of this explains in any way why a cable knit jumper should have a similar effect too.