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Synesius, A Eulogy of Baldness 1


Mosaic depicting an angel. Museum of Ptolemais. Photo Marco Prins.
Mosaic depicting an angel. Museum of Ptolemais
Synesius of Cyrene (c.370-c.413) was a Neo-Platonic philosopher who became bishop of Ptolemais in the Cyrenaica. He left behind a small corpus of texts that offer much information about daily life in Late Antiquity, about the christianization of the Roman world, and the military crisis at the beginning of the fifth century.

The Eulogy of Baldness shows a lighter side of Synesius, who had a reputation as a sophist. In this text, published in c.402, he defends his baldness against the speech In Praise of Hair by the sophist-philosopher Dio Chrysostom ("tongue of gold"). It was accompanied by Letter 1 and Letter 74.

Summary

1: Introduction: people like long hair
2: Continued
3: Dio's speech
4: Dio is too artful; Synesius will reply without too much art
5: Wild animals are hairy; bald animals are intelligent
6: The most intelligent of all people, the philosophers, are all bald
7: Hair is like lifeless shells or pods
8: A sphere is a perfect, even divine form
9: Portraits of hairy gods are incorrect
10: Hairy stars predict evil
11: The glimmer of a bald head is a source of light
12: Bald people are healthier
13: Bald skulls are stronger
14: Not everybody agrees with Dio that long hair is beautiful
15: None of the hairy Spartans survived the disaster at Thermopylae
16: An anecdote about Alexander the Great
17: Bald helmets are awe-inspiring
18: Dio misquotes Homer
19: Homer's evidence about Hector's long hair is contradicted by his statue
20: Other evidence from Homer
21: Vicious people like adulterers and prostitutes have long hair
22: Evidence from proverbs
23: Conclusion: Dio is not to be taken seriously
24: Envoy: may this text be useful

The text is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald. The green four-digit numbers are page numbers of the Migne edition.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

[1168] A book was written in praise of hair by Dio of the Tongue of Gold, so brilliant a work that the bald man, in the face of its arguments, must be covered with shame. The argument, indeed, uses nature to its own advantage, for by nature we all desire to be beautiful - to which end, in large measure, the tresses with which Nature has rendered us familiar since childhood, contribute. For my own part, I was wounded to the heart,[1] when the terrible thing began, and my hair began to fall off.

When it proceeded further, and one hair went after another -then two at a time, and finally several- and the war became keenly contested, my head being plundered, then indeed I esteemed myself to suffer more harshly than did the Athenians at the hands of Archidamus when their groves at Acharnae were destroyed,[2] and soon I appeared as one of those benighted Euboeans who, according to the poem,[3] made the expedition to Troy with hair hanging from the back of their heads. Which one of the gods, which of the demons did I pass over without accusation in this matter? I was even inclined to write something eulogistic of Epicurus, not as one holding the same opinions as he concerning the gods,[4] but as one prepared to get my teeth in them in turn as far as I could.

[1169]And so I said: "Where is the action of Providence to be found in that which is contrary to each men's deserts? What wrongdoing have I committed that I should appear more unsightly to the fair sex?" No great matter this, in the case of the women of the neighborhood, for in what concerns Aphrodite I am the most righteous of men, and I could dispute the palm with Bellerophon in continence.[5] But even a mother, even sisters, they say, set some store on the beauty of the men of their household. And Parysatis made this clear, for she lost her love for Artaxerxes the King, all on account of the handsome Cyrus.[6]

>> to part two >>

Note 1:
Plato, Symposium, 281A.

Note 2:
Reference to the Spartan invasion of Attica at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War in 431 BCE. The story is told by Thucydides, 2.19-22.

Note 3:
Homer, Iliad, 2.542.

Note 4:
Epicurus stated that the gods had no concern for human beings.

Note 5:
Homer, Iliad, 6.156-195.

Note 6:
Parysatis was the wife of the Achaemenid king Darius II Nothus. They had two sons: Artaxerxes and Cyrus. According to the Greek historian Xenophon, she loved the handsome Cyrus more than Artaxerxes, the lawful king (Anabasis, 1.1.4 with 1.9).
Online 2006
Revision: 13 August 2007
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