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Synesius, A Eulogy of Baldness 4


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.

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[1172] There you have the words of Dio. Nevertheless, as I am no mean prophet, I knew that I should see Thrasymachus blush.[1] In my own case no such calamity has as yet happened. True, I was at first vanquished by the argument, but I think now that Dio was a man clever enough in speech, though one who had nothing to say, and yet went on speaking through a superfluity of power; [1173] and that he would have shown himself to far greater advantage of he had chosen to praise the very opposite case - namely, that of my own head!

For what might not a man resourceful in difficulties have accomplished, if he had fallen in with a subject suited to his powers? But now that he has both hair and skill, he employs his skill on his hair. How roguishly he has insinuated himself in this essay! For in this discourse of his, there is no other lover of hair who beautifies it with a reed save only himself, and it is with this very reed that he has written his discourse. But if I in turn am bald and withal able to speak, and if the one subject is found more noble than the other, or if I am inferior to Dio, why, then, should I not strip for the contest and make trial both of myself and of my argument, to see if after all I could transfer the reproach to the men adorned with hair?

I will speak then, neither making a vigorous and trenchant preface such as orators arm their fighting speeches with, as men arm triremes with beaks, nor first sounding, like Dio, a clear measured prelude to the speech like a harpist's overture, such as "After rising in the morning and praying to the gods, as is my custom, I attended to my hair; I happened to be in poor health at the time, and it had been too long uncared for." While he is thus going through the evidences of carelessness, he is bringing us, without being conscious of it, to the point of praising him for the care he takes of his hair.That is what the clever fabricators of speeches do to us; at one moment they charm us, at another they astound us.

Now I can grasp facts as well as any other man, but am not addicted to rhetoric. I have been practicing two arts all my life, the culture of plants and the training of dogs against the most fearless of wild beasts, and these fingers of mine have been rubbed against shovels and hunting-spears rather than reeds; unless by reed you should mean the reed that is an arrow, instead of the author's.

So now it is not to be wondered at if my fingers have clung to that one. I shall never disgrace my ancestral rusticity, nor shall I come on the scene rounding off little periods, forewords, and preludes or the like. I shall pursue what I consider the best course, even for the nature of a rustic, by setting the naked expressions of thought in full view. I shall fight, with facts as weapons, only by turning the pitch of my voice from argument to vehemence, from the Dorian note, as they say, to the Phrygian. But I need breath adequate to my undertakings, breath which, I prophesy, my heart will render me in abundance.

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Note 1:
Plato, Republic, 350D.
Online 2006
Revision: 4 December 2006
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