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Synesius, A Eulogy of Baldness 17


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

[1196] Hair neither makes men terrible nor makes them seem so, unless they be boogies to frighten children with; for we see soldiers, at the moment when they desire to intimidate the enemy, cover their heads with helmets. And the helmet, both in its name and its function, is nothing else than a brazen cranium. And if these are bedecked with horsehair, anyone who has ever put on a helmet must know what this is designed for.[1] But we ought to teach those who do not know that it is behind that they arrange it with hair fixed in rows between the felt lining and the helmet proper, nor could even Hephaestus himself manufacture the curved exterior as a support for hair. Standing as it does, it presents the clearest possible image of baldness, and in this way it is the most terrible of all things that soldiers wear.

Achilles, therefore, says that the Trojans again plucked up courage, not because they no longer saw this horsehair plumes floating in the wind, but - how does he put it?

Because they see not the front of my helmet
flashing near them...[2]

Its shining surface, its smoothness, this precisely would be baldness and a bugbear. And if Achilles had long hair (for this also he asserts), we must remember that he was young, at the age which inclines to sudden anger, a time of life which has not yet reached perfection either of soul or of body. And it is natural that a young man's head should surge with hair, and his heart with wrath. Bus just as anger in the soul is not praised because of Achilles, so in the body hair is not commended as a marvel.

None the less I admit that, as he was born of [the goddess] Thetis, he was by nature the best endowed for the development of every virtue, and I express my belief concerning Achilles that, had he survived, he would not have been without his share both of baldness and of philosophy. When he was young he was in some way versed in music and in medicine, and moreover, he held in so light esteem whatever hair he had, that he purified it and dedicated it to a sacred tomb.[3]

Then again, Aristoxenus [4] says the very same thing about Socrates, namely that he was rough by nature to the point of anger, and that when overcome by passion he ran the gamut of all unseemliness. Socrates, however, was not yet bald at that time, for he was only twenty-five years of age when Parmenides and Zeno had come to Athens, according to Plato, to see the Panathenaic festival.[5] [1197] If anyone later had spoken of Socrates as harsh or as a long-haired man, I think that the speaker would have raised a great laugh at his own expense amongst those who knew the man, for of all men who had pursued philosophy up to that time, he was at once the baldest, and at the same time the gentlest.

Do not therefore condemn the hero to a head of hair, for at the time to which you refer he was only a springal who, a short time before, had not passed out of adolescence. Moreover, you could instance nothing as a proof that Achilles' hair would have remained until his old age. But I have many things which prove that it would not have remained, namely the case of his father and his grandfather, for I have actually seen their statues. He came from the race of the gods, and what has once been said concerning the form of the gods is sufficient.

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Note 1:
Synesius refers to the felt cap under a helmet.

Note 2:
Homer, Iliad, 16.70-71.

Note 3:
Homer, Iliad, 23.141ff. The tomb was of Patroclos.

Note 4:
Aristoxenus of Tarentum was a pupil of Socrates' disciple Spintharus and Aristotle.

Note 5:
Plato, Parmenides, 127B.
Online 2006 
Revision: 3 December 2006
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