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Synesius, A Eulogy of Baldness 5


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

[1173] My argument, then, will lay it down that of all men a man who is bald has least reason to feel ashamed. For what matter it if his head is bald, so long as his mind is shaggy, as was the case with the descendant of Aeaceus, whom poetry sang of? This man cared little for his locks of hair, which, actually, he presented to a corpse; they are indeed a sort of corpse, a lifeless portion attached to living beings.[1]

[1176] Thus those animals who are the more deprived of intelligence, are clothed with hair all over their bodies, whereas man, inasmuch as his lot in life is more brilliant, is the most bare of this natural burden. But that he may not boast of having no taint of fellowship with what is mortal, he is covered with hair in a few places. He, therefore, who has no hair anywhere is to the normal man what man is to the brute.

And just as man is the most intelligent, and at the same time the least hairy of earthly creatures, conversely it is admitted that of all domestic animals the sheep is the stupidest, and that this is why he puts forth his hair with no discrimination, but thickly bundled together. It would seem that there is a strife going on between hair and brains, for in no one body do they exist at the same time.

And huntsmen also must needs contribute something to the argument, for these men are dear to me as also the art they pursue. The cleverest hounds are those whose ears and bellies are bare; the hairy ones are stupid and rash and are better kept away from the chase; and if Plato, the sage, speaks of the unjust soul, attached to the chariot driven by the soul, as being deaf and with ears covered with hair, how can he think any good of hair? [2] Of  course, even if Plato did not tell us so, it would of necessity follow that he would be deaf who had hair in that organ by which we hear, as one would also be blind who had hair in the organ by which we see.

That would be a monstrosity, if it ever came to pass. Already cases have occurred of the growth of a double row of eyelashes, and it seems the last of calamities that hair has made its home close to the eye, and against such hairs every violent means is set in motion lest they should precipitate the undermining of the eye. Nature does not permit the baser elements to grow with the nobler, and the noblest parts of the animal are his perceptive faculties, for in these parts of the body most of all resided the principle of life, and to these first the soul has distributed its own powers. Now sight is the most divine of all faculties,[3] but at the same time the least hairy.

Again, as in an individual the nobles parts are the baldest, so must the best elements of the race itself be related to the race itself. This was shown a little while ago to be the case throughout the human race, which is as far removed from the brutes as it is from hairs. Now if man is really the most sacred of all animals,[4] of men who have had the good fortune to lose their hair, the bald man would be the most divine thing upon earth.

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Note 1:
Homer, Iliad, 23.141-3. The descendant of Aeaceus is Peleus' son Achilles.

Note 2:
Plato, Phaedrus, 253E.

Note 3:
Plato, Phaedrus, 250D.

Note 4:
Plato, Laws, 766A.
Online 2006
Revision: 25 Nov. 2006
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