I have never known my husband without his beard, a fact that disturbed me in the early years of our relationship. What was he hiding: a weak chin, a saber scar, a slothful nature, a psychological need for a barrier between himself and the world? But as time passed, I no longer felt the need to ask these questions. I now know my husband, and the beard is part of who he is. This seems to me to relate to the question that the anthropologist Gregory Bateson raised about the old man with the cane: Where does the one end and the other begin? Impossible to say, Bateson concluded, since the two cannot be functionally separated. A beard may seem less functional than a cane, but the choice to grow a beard has a function, though it may not be singular or simply articulated.

You might think a 2,300-year-old sex scandal would eventually lose some of its bite. But when it comes to paragons of masculinity such as world conqueror Alexander the Great, it doesn’t. With his 2004 film Alexander, writer-director Oliver Stone outraged stiff-necked military types with his depiction of the macho Macedonian king, history’s most brilliant warrior, flirting with his boyfriends up and down the Khyber Pass. In between gore-splattered battles, Alexander (played by Colin Farrell) flounces about in makeup at drunken Babylonian banquets, shoots suggestive glances to his male entourage, and indulges in a passionate kiss with one of his officers — all the sort of behavior that would be frowned upon in the U.S. military today, for example. But according to Paul Cartledge, professor of Classics at Cambridge University, the film is actually very coy about Alexander’s busy homoerotic life: There is no real doubt that he took a young… More…