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Liberté – Egalité – Mustelidité

So, about Phrygian caps. Phrygia was an ancient kingdom in what is modern Turkey. It was conquered repeatedly by its neighbors, the ancients tell us, “for wearing those dumbass hats.” In Greek art, the Phrygian cap was used to indicate the wearer was some kind of foreigner, and Roman poets referred to Trojans as Phrygians. I claim extra credit for not making a cheap Trojan/hat joke.

Anyhoo, the Phrygian cap was like a red nightcap with the point pulled forward. The next time it turns up in history, it’s being worn by freemen of Rome — former slaves whose freedom was so thorough, it would be passed to their children. And that’s where the hat became associated with freedom and liberty.

Like this lady, the tart with the titties (hoo boy! Googleanch, here I come!). The spirit of France is called Marianne, and she’s usually drawn wearing a Phrygian cap (or Bonnet Phrygien, eef you pleez). Here she is, flashin’ ’em for the troops.

Woohoo, Marianne! And Ginger, too!

Phrygian caps were an essential symbol of the American Revolution, usually waved about on a stick, called a Liberty Pole. The Sons of Liberty in New York, before the Revolution, were professional Liberty Pole putter-uppers. They’d put ’em up, the Brits would tear ’em down. It was zany, madcap revolutionary fun. With occasional violence!

Hence, several early American coins pictured Liberty wearing the cap or waving it about on a stick. Unfortunately, our available pool of Revolutionary-era artists was not so hot, and the caps look hilariously like panties. Panties! On her head! Waved about on a stick! Allegorical Girls Gone Wild!

The cap still appears in the official seals of the US Army and the US Senate (which also features a bonus pair of crossed fasces). Plus the state flags of New York, New Jersey and West Virginia.

The panty craze swept Southward, with Phrygian caps appearing on the coins of Mexico and the flags or coats of arms of Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Colombia, Haiti, Argentina and Paraguay. ¡Caramba!

And then there’s the Smurfs. Really, I have no smurfing idea what that’s all about.

March 28, 2007 — 9:56 am
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