French Symbols - The Phrygian Cap
Quite recently, the mascot for the Olympic Games of 2024 (which will be hosted in Paris) was unveiled. And it is set to be (drumroll please)... The Phrygian Cap. Many are questioning the decision as it seems atypical for a playful mascot, so let's take a P'Niche peek at some history to see how the selection committee might have arrived at these jolly looking caps.
By now, us P'Nichers know that France is steeped in rich symbolism.
Together, we've already explored the history of the fleur de lys, and Paris' city motto, the Napoleonic Bee as well as the French Tricolore flag we will see proudly waved throughout the Olympic Games.
But what about the Phrygian Cap)? psst - it's called a Bonnet Rouge in French...
First, let's take care of phonetics. The name itself and its particular sound. It is pronounced "fri·gee·uhn".
Gotta sound "in the know," right?!
To get to the roots of this headgear, we are going to have to go wayyyyyy back in history and enjoy a transcontinental voyage.
Much like Harry Potter's Sorting Hat (trademark, Warner Bros.), let's use some magic and put on our own Time Travel Phrygian Caps and transport ourselves around the world and back in time...
Picture it: Phrygia (now modern day Turkey) from around 1200 - 700BC.
We were seeing mass migrations of Indo-Europeans from the Balkans. Their worship was centered around the goddess Cybele, also called "Mother Mountain."
Cybele's discipleship was composed entirely of eunuchs (who willingly castrated themselves) to follow her. Ouch, fellas!
Even Mother Mountain's consort, Attis, was castrated and by this point, we start to notice that the cap itself had come to be seen as a phallic symbol of sorts, as this style of hat was worn by these eunuchs.
It is worth noting as well that by the 4th century BC, this Phrygian Attis group had become Graecified (meaning, they adopted of the Greek language).
Now, we're going to move a bit forward to Ancient Rome and a bit of a fashion question. Did continuously migrating people confuse the Phrygian cap with the Roman Pileus cap?
The Roman Pileus cap (typically made of white wool to represent an egg shell) was a hat given to Roman slaves, upon them receiving their freedom.
This Roman cap is seen to be tied to the legend of Castor and Pollux (twin half brothers from Greek and Roman mythology).
The hat also was said to denote the egg that Castor and Pollux hatched from, (they were part swan) just as the slave was seen as born a new man into his freedom.
So, although there may have been some initial fashion confusion, the thread between freedom from enslavement and the Pileus Cap (now: Phrygian Cap) was established and fixed firmly in our minds.
Let's keep going forward a bit it time...
You might be surprised to know that before becoming the French symbol for freedom, it was... America's.
Yep! Born from the thought of escape from governmental tyranny, the idea of the "Liberty Pole" was born.
Most commonly shown with a depiction of Libertas, the Roman Goddess of Liberty, she is typically displayed holding out a red Liberty Cap and carrying a pole or rod.
Psst, if you are ever in the US Capitol, you can see several depictions of the liberty Cap and/or Liberty Pole.
Let's jump just a few more years forward...
Tired of time travel? Ok, ok - we've finally arrived for France in time for the French Revolution, featuring none other than our own hero...
(or as I like to say, P'Niche's incredibly dashing pretend boyfriend. The heart wants what it wants!)
While the wearing of the bonnet rouge or Phrygian cap in France was first officially documented in May of 1790, it was likely Lafayette who invented the Tricolore and circular cockade which soon came to be pinned to the red cap.
The hat was the accessory for the busy French revolutionist, looking to fight the tyranny of the times. As so many were spotted in the cap, the Duc de Valmy tried to lower the uprising, penning an essay that stated that, as a sacred symbol, it could only be worn by those with true merit. Yeah, good luck with that, Duc...
It is also worth noting that such the revolutionary was Lafayette, that when it came to restyle and refurbish his own chateau (as one does,) in 1791, he worked with architect Ambroise Laurent Vaudoyer (assisted by the painter Albert Ancica).
His newly established grand salon was carefully furnished in the style of "des philosophes", a shining reminder of time times and ideas of the Enlightenment.
Further, in the spirit of his revolutionary heart, Lafayette had a stone from the Bastille, now adorned with a relief of the Phrygian cap of liberty, replace the Lafayette coat-of-arms over the main door.
Talk about "upcycling!"
Quite often, you will see the red Phrygian cap atop the head of Marianne.
Marianne is female personification of France, and has been since the times of the French Revolution.
She, as the a portrayal of the Goddess of Liberty, represents: liberty, equality, fraternity, and reason. Her image reminds us of her battle against all forms of oppression and tyranny.
To this day, Marianne appears front and center on the official French government logo, has been seen on postage stamps, as well as the French euro (coins). It was in 1792 that the newly formed National Convention first created a new state seal, depicting a woman (Marianne) holding a spear with a Phrygian cap aloft.
Since the French Revolution, the Phrygian cap has had a seemingly exclusive tie to France.
It has come to represent ideas and ideals we still cherish so dearly today, and as such, it is no surprise that the selection committee chose this cap as a "first look" into the French spirit as they will welcome athletes and guests from around the globe.
Also exciting to note, as Paris will host the Olympics and Paralympics in 2024, is that the Olympics Games as we recognize them was a French undertaking!
Oui! Baron Pierre de Coubertin was the brain power and founder of the modern Olympic Games.
He took his inspiration from the ancient Olympic Games (formerly hosted in Olympia, Greece). While the ancient games closed in 393 AD, his dream to bring back this worldwide sporting event is what we will celebrate very soon. We owe him a big merci! It's also why French is one of the official languages of the games. The more you know!
Looking to get a head start on your purchase of Olympic gear? Here you go:
Looking to shop a bit more local and support small businesses? Yay and Merci! P'Niche's (non-sponsored) faves are:
We still have some time before the games commence and from it sounds like, we have a LOT to look forward to, including a historic opening ceremony, where the Parade of Nations takes place along the Seine River - P'Niche simply cannot wait to see that!
What are you looking forward to in the 2024 Olympic Games and Paralympics Games? Sound off in the comments below et à bientôt!