By Patrick F. Cannon
I think tattoos are uniformly unattractive (I was going to use a stronger word, but I’m trying to be reasonable here). Let me also stipulate that people I’m related to and have great affection for have them, although fairly discrete ones. I also readily admit that you can be a fine human being and still have a tattoo.
With these provisos out of the way, let me say that I have never seen a tattoo that improved anyone’s appearance. How does the old saying go: If God had wanted you to have a tattoo, you would have been born with one? This leads me to explore the history of tattoos, to see if God fits in there somehow.
The first tattoo that we know about was found not too long ago, when intrepid Swiss mountaineers came upon a grizzly site as they traversed a melting glacier. What on initial appearance looked like a pile of old leather, turned out to be, on closer examination, human remains. Young Fritz was sent down the mountain to alert the proper authorities, while the others stood guard over the discovery. In due course, a helicopter from the Swiss Bureau of Mountain Cadaver Discoveries descended from the sky. Upon landing, a team emerged with a carbon fibre casket, into which they carefully placed the shriveled horror.
After a secrecy-shrouded period of extensive study, the Bureau announced to the world the discovery of a more or less intact body that was at least 20,000 years old, and whose relative preservation was likely due to being frozen in the glacier. How it could be 20,000 years old when many believe God had only created the heavens and earth some 8,000 years ago they were loathe to explain. They did speculate that the “Swiss Mountain Man,” as they called him, had been the victim of foul play, as he had a hole in his skull. Perhaps, they posited, he had been headed for warmer climes when he had been set upon by wandering brigands.
But the most stunning revelation was the discovery that he had what looked like a tattoo on his upper right arm. While somewhat faded, it appeared to be a heart pierced by an arrow. Below the heart were some symbols that may have been words of a forgotten language. Linguists are now toiling away trying to find the key that would unlock the ancient tongue, but so far no dice.
While there is no conclusive evidence, evaluation of bas reliefs at ancient ruins of Assyrian and Babylonian cities seem to show that some figures either have tattoos or are wearing Hawaiian shirts. And everyone knows that the Greeks were enthusiastic tattooists, since Homer wrote in the Iliad: “Brave Achilles, with ‘Mom’ proudly emblazoned on his manly pecs, hurled his lucky javelin at the cowering Trojans!”
When Rome came to power and subjugated the Greeks, tattooing was outlawed throughout the Empire. The guild of Greek tattooists had to go underground, but found a ready market for their talents in Egypt. While primitive tattoos were to be seen on early mummies, later mummies like the so-called “Sailor Pharaoh,” Wetses III, had quite sophisticated anchors on their biceps. Even these underground tattooists were victims of the Dark Ages that followed the Fall of the Roman Empire, but a few of the Greek tattooing families survived in the mountain fastness of the Pindus range.
In the meantime, so-called primitive peoples in the dark corners of places like the Amazon, New Guinea and the Outer Hebrides, continue to use tattoos to mollify their Gods and frighten their enemies. As they slowly become exposed to civilization, they do generally abandon tattooing in favor of Michael Jordon tee shirts.
Back to the Greeks. As the Dark Ages began to lighten up, they left their mountain hideouts and made their way to the world’s ports, where they once again began to ply their trade. There was no lack of drunken sailors, prime candidates for anchors and full-rigged sailing ships. After sobering up and reentering polite society, the former swabbies took to wearing long-sleeved shirts to hide their youthful indiscretions.
So, tattooing remained in the seedier back streets of the world’s ports of call until the now legendary Hellenic needle man, Aristotle Pennassis, changed his sign from “Tattoo Parlor” to “Body Artist.” This struck an immediate cord with rebellious youth, now as always on the lookout for ways to annoy their parents. Instead of a tattoo, they were now sporting “body art.” As with young people throughout the ages, they live only for the moment, not foreseeing that the bloom of youth will inevitably give way to the sagging wrinkles of age. And that today’s passion for Jessica may give way to tomorrow’s lust for Joe.
While I might not live long enough to see the coming horrors, it’s frightful to contemplate. Were I younger, I would put my money on the inevitable rise of tattoo removal technology. Someday, tattoos may be easier to remove than graffiti on the sides of railroad tank cars. But in the meantime, think twice before you mess with God’s handiwork (see, I did fit God in after all).
Copyright 2016, Patrick F. Cannon