Friday, February 20, 2009

The Colour of Beards

Seafaring folk of the eighteenth century, like most folk of the eighteenth century, were a superstitious lot. Sailors would only sing songs that mention home when they were on the return leg of their journey. Since whistling was thought to encourage wind, a sailor would never whistle during a storm, for fear of turning a squall into a hurricanoe! And it was generally thought to be very bad luck to cut hair or nails while at sea.

Hair and nail clippings were sacred to Persephone, a Greek demigoddess. So it was considered bad form to make them while your fate rested in the hands of Poseidon, god of the sea. Consequently, many pirates ended up with noticeable beards. Some beards were so noteworthy that the name of the beard is more well known than the name of the man.

Especially Blackbeard. His beard, in addition to being black, was long and wild, and he was known to braid it and weave burning pieces of rope into it-- to terrify opponents.

Bluebeard was not a pirate. Bluebeard is a European folk tale about a character who serially marries and murders women. But this tale is outside the scope of this blogge.

Redbeard was not a pirate, technically. Redbeard was two pirates, probably the most famous of the Barbary corsairs. Baba Aruj and Hayreddin Barbarossa were Ottoman Turks born on the isle of Lesbos (then called Midilli). They and their other two brothers were all seamen in the Mediterranean. Aruj was given a small fleet by an Ottoman Prince in order to fight the Knights of St. John who were interfering with Ottoman trade and shipping. He was later given authorization to raid Italy and other Christian nations on the northern mediterranean coast. When he was killed in battle with Spain, his brother Hayreddin took over his mission. Hayreddin eventually grew wealthy and ultimately became Pasha of Algiers.

Yellowbeard is a pirate-themed comedy film by Graham Chapman of Monty Python. It is an example of a film that was probably ruined by development hell, but the finished product is still quirkily entertaining. Ah, but what might have been, if it had starred Keith Moon and Adam Ant as originally planned...

Check it out for yourself:

No comments:

Post a Comment