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Synesius, A Eulogy of Baldness 8

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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13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

[1181] With regard to such part of the divine nature as is hidden, why should anyone trouble about it, since it is unwilling to be revealed?[1] Be that as it may, all that is seen consists of exact spheres, the sun, the moon, all the stars, both that are fixed and the planets. Whether they are greater or less, they are all of like shape. Now, what could be balder than a sphere, and what more divine?

There is a saying too, that the soul wishes to imitate God. This is the third god, the soul of the world which its own father [2] and demiurge of the bodily cosmos brought into the cosmos, having completed it, perfect and whole, out of seeds and bodies, giving it on this account also a figure the most comprehensive of figures.

Of those figures that have equal perimeters, that which has the most angles is always the greater, and the circle exceeds in superficies any angular figure, just as the sphere exceeds amongst those who have solidity. This is known to experts in geometry and mensuration of solids. Wherefore the entire soul animates the whole cosmos, which is a sphere, and the souls which pour out of the entire cosmos and have become fragments of it, desire, each one of them, that which the entire soul wishes, to wit, to control bodies and to be moving spirits of universes, the very thing which was the cause of their partition. In this wise Nature stood in need of particular spheres; so then above were molded the stars, and below the heads, that these might be the mansions of souls, small universes in the universe.

For it was necessary, I think, that the cosmos should be a living thing, should be composed of living creatures. To the simpler souls it is a matter of indifference that they must take up their abode in a hairy head, far removed from the clearly defined pattern, but each wise soul according to its own deserts has received as its portion - one a star to dwell in, another a bald head. For if nature here below is weak at producing perfect precision, nevertheless she does not tolerate the part of us which looks upward and towards heaven to be formed otherwise than as a universe in its shape.

Baldness, then, appears plainly to us as also a heaven, and as many praises a one might sing of a sphere, so many does one relate of baldness also.

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Note 1:
Plato, Laws, 821A.

Note 2:
Plato, Timaeus, 33B, 34B.
Online 2006
Revision: 29 Nov. 2006
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