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Synesius, A Eulogy of Baldness 14


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

[1192] Now as to the man who thinks with Dio that hair is much more fitting to men than to women, is he not taking up a position quite opposed to the evident facts of the case?

For what sort of reason is there in allotting to the destiny of the stronger what weakens its very possessors? Assuredly a distinction had been made both by nature and by custom. By custom, inasmuch as hair is not esteemed beautiful in all males nor in all places, nor all times in the same males; for the Argives, before Thyrea, wore their hair long.[1] There are plenty of nations who have not adopted it in the past, nor do they today.

But always and in every place it has been thought a beautiful thing for each woman to make the care of her hair a most serious affair. The woman does not exist, nor has ever existed, who has submitted her head to a razor, unless on account of some ill-omened and horrible calamity, if so be that time has brought such misfortune. For my part I have never seen or heard of such an one.

Then again nature is in harmony with custom: for no woman who ever lived has shown herself as bald. And do not tell me that their hair-nets conceal this, for our comedies pierce all such subterfuges; and if any woman has lost her hair, this is a result of some illness, and with a little care she returns to her natural condition.

But of men worthy to be called men it is not easy to recall one who has not first reached this natural state. [1193] For this very thing seems to be the fulfillment of nature, even if it does not fall to the lot of all. And just as the sons of husbandmen, understanding from the vigorous growth of healthy sapling that it is their desire and nature to grow straight upward; just as these men, I say, prop up with stakes and supports as many of them as are not strong enough of themselves to accomplish this growth; so, since all those whose nature is best appear to be in a condition (of baldness) approaching my own, we must correct with the razor those not in such a state and thus assist nature.

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Note 1:
During the legendary battle of Thyrea, the story of which is told by Herodotus, Histories, 1.82, the Argives were defeated by the Spartans and lost control of the eastern coast of the Peloponnese.
Online 2006
Revision: 2 December 2006
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