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Synesius, A Eulogy of Baldness 2


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, he defends his baldness against the speech In Praise of Hair by the sophist-philosopher Dio Chrysostom.
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

[1169] Thus then I lamented aloud, and thought my misfortune no small  matter. But when time had made me more accustomed to it, reasoning entering in its turned struggled against my discomfiture, and it gradually retired. I thus became easier in my mind and recovered.

But this very Dio has now himself retaliated with another torrent, and has resumed the attack on me accompanied by a supporter. Against two adverseries, even Heracles, the proverb says, was of no avail, for he could not resist the sons of Molione [1] when they fell upon him from out their ambush; and also, when he fought the Hydra, for they were engaged in single combat some time, but when the Crab came to her rescue, he might have renounced the struggle had he not invoked the alliance of [his nephew] Iolaus against her. Of a truth it seems to me that I have suffered a similar experience at the hands of Dio, and -alas!- I have no Iolaus for nephew. For long, now, forgetful of myself and of my arguments, I have been writing elegies and dirges concerning my hair.

Yet one might say to me: You then, since you are the noblest of the bald, and seem to be a man of generous character -one, moreover, who troubles not about the misfortune, but who even fancies himself over it, as if in good fortune, when pea-soup is laid on the table and the scrutiny of brows begins[2] - cannot you, I say, endure this essay of Dio? Nay, keep your soul in calm, as the saying goes, even as Odysseus remained undainted in the face of the dissoluteness of women.[3] Make a struggle to suffer nothing at its hand. What! You would not be able, you say? Nay, you will be quite able. Only listen to this. You need not unroll the volume at all, for I will myself hold forth. It is not multi-linear, it is withal polished in style and its beauty abides in the memory, so that I could not forget it even if I would.

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Note 1:
Eurytus and Cteatus were the sons of Poseidon and Molione, and ambushed Heracles. The two enemies Synesius has in mind, are the opinions of women and the treatise by Dio.

Note 2:
An unexplained allusion. Perhaps it was a way to decide, on the basis of age, who should be served first.

Note 3:
At the beginning of Book 20 of Homer's Odyssey, we read how Odysseus' acted when he noted, not without some irritation, that his maids abandoned their work to meet their lovers.
Online 2006
Revision: 25 Nov. 2006
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