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Synesius, A Eulogy of Baldness 20


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

[1200] Again, if Menelaus had a fair-headed head, he was not long-haired, at least as far as we can learn from the narration, nor is that an encomium on hair. The poet only shows things as they existed, nor when Homer mentions a thing must this mention be regarded as of the nature of praise. But to Dio a mention of hair and a eulogy of it are one and the same thing for the sake of his own volubility. He proceeded on the one hand to attribute to the poetry what is not there, and on the other to deprive it of what is there, and this he has done with such boldness that in order to convince us by his argument that hair is much more becoming to men than to women, he says

of the deities Homer has other ways of praising the females, as when, for instance, he speaks of "ox-eyed" Hera, and "silver-footed" Thetis, while in the case of Zeus he praises most of all his hair.

Perchance his copy of Homer had been mutilated of many good line such as these,

Apollo king whom fair-haired Leto bore [1]

or

Place him at the fair-haired knees of Athena.[2]

And concerning Hera's plot to put Zeus to sleep,[3] he says that the goddess beautified herself in all other ways, and that in this she will have need also of her girdle, which, of its many powers, possesses one, the greatest of all, namely, of stealing away the mind from its possessors. Then in the same passage he says that she anointed herself with sweet oil and that

                                                                                 her hair
she combed, and bound up with her hands her shining tresses
fair, ambrosial.[4]

This is worthy then of a host of praises. It would also be quite worth while, now that the argument touches upon Zeus, of anyone would quote the many passages overlooked by Dio, and especially those which he knew quite well but pretended not to know.

[1201] I too know these passages, and I do not drag in false ones for the sake of my argument, nor could I admit that any one of the dwellers in heaven is hairy. The argument is the same alike for male and female. Zeus is not merely defined in his spherical shape than is the Aphrodite who dwells among the stars. And this has been said in like sense concerning Zeus also, whom Dio has brought in as the finishing touch to his argument, namely that of the things Homer relates concerning the gods, the greatest part are in accordance with popular opinion, and few in accord with truth. One single point is in accordance with popular opinion, to wit, those hairs which gather strength from the head of Zeus and together shake the very heaven, a conception which has received the assent of the masses and the sculptors. But apart from Homer and the Lacedaemonians there is not a shred left of Dio's argument.

And even they be present, he has not, as I observed just now, found anything to say that is worth while concerning the nature of hairs, either by discovery of his own or by borrowing from them. He has not said of what sort they are, he has not taught their nature, he has not shown how they are beneficial to those who possess them, nor how they are evil to those who do not possess them. The present argument, examining the real nature of the facts, has discovered that baldness is divine and related to the divine, that it is the fulfillment of nature, and a real shrine to the god through whom we have wisdom.

I pass in review other innumerable benefits which it brings to body and soul, what their character is and their cause; and thus our argument has brought forth nothing which is unsupported by a luminous exposition. And it has become clear, moreover, that hair has all the opposites of these things, lack of reason, animal propensities, and all that is of the part opposed to God. Locks have been shown to be as it were awns and pods of the animal, the playthings of nature, mere excrescences of imperfect matter.

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Note 1:
Homer, Iliad, 1.36.

Note 2:
Homer, Iliad, 6.273.

Note 3:
Homer, Iliad, 14.159.

Note 4:
Homer, Iliad, 14.175-177.
Online 2006 
Revision: 4 December 2006
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