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Synesius, A Eulogy of Baldness 12


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

[1188] So much then in behalf of the divine nature of this thing and of its dedication to the most brilliant of the gods in the air. And if health is also a fair thing, nay, the fairest of fair things, it is for its sake that I see many men possessed of hair fleeing for refuge to the razor, and to the pitch plaster, so as to be bald and at the same time free of disease.[1] Moreover, if ophthalmia, catarrh, and dullness of hearing and all other troubles that afflict the head itself, were removed together with this burden, even this would be a great result, and a much greater one still if both the feet and the intestines benefited. There are those who, unfortunate in this respect, are compelled by the physicians to submit to so-called circles, and of these the beginning, the middle, and end is the pitch plaster, which attacks our hairs with more precision than iron.

Surely it is a reasonable idea that from a higher position, as from a citadel, namely from the head, the cables of disease and health should be attached to the whole body. [1189] We, bald people, therefore, have a share of health not equal to other men, but, if God permit, be it said, even greater. And it would seem that those wooden images of Asclepius,[2] denuded of hair, as the Egyptian manner is, hint darkly of this very thing.

There may be a lessen here for us all, and the most salutary prescription in the realm of medicine, and it seems almost to say that whoever desires to be in good health, should imitate the discoverer and champion of medicine [the Egyptian Asclepius]. A cranium which is free from hair, that basks in the sun and is exposed to all the seasons, would not excite your wonder should it be turned quickly from bone into iron.

In this state it would be most proof against the inroad of all diseases. Thus of spearhandles those made of marsh-grown trees and trees of the plain, are inferior, and the mountain-grown wood is stronger. Inquire the cause of Homer, and you will hear him say that these last are reared and trained by the wind.[3]

Again, do not imagine that the wise [centaur] Chiron was acting to no purpose when he cut the lance for Peleus from the neighborhood of Tempe, not from any hill slope or ravine where they grow smooth and tall, but from the summit of Pelion, where it was exposed to the impact of the winds. For these reasons the wood was good, and sufficient even to his succeeding line. The same is true of these two heads, the shaggy and the smooth. The one is of the marsh, for it is grown in the shade, the other is of the mountain, where it is exposed to all winds, and therefore the latter is strong, but the former is easily pliable.

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Note 1:
Plato, Phaedrus, 244E

Note 2:
A reference to Imhotep, a deified doctor like Asclepius.

Note 3:
Homer, Iliad, 11.256.
Online 2006
Revision: 30 Nov. 2006
Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other