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Synesius, A Eulogy of Baldness 21


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

[1201] Now I think it is befitting to divide all men according to their races and pursuits, and to show which the one argument praises, and which the other. The adulterers certainly come from the men who care for their hair. Homer depicts the seducer as one fingering his shining locks,[1] in the sense that his hair was adorned for the ruin of women. And assuredly this man is himself an adulterer, the prince of adulterers, he against whom the reproach was uttered.

This one race of men is the most treacherous and the most hostile within the homes of his own countrymen. And those in defense of whom we take the field in war, for whom we incur danger, that they may bot be outraged -I speak of our daughters and wives- those very ones, if the occasion arises, some fashionably dressed young man seizes upon and carries away to whatever quarter of the sea or land he desires, and if not to the sea or land far distant, to some dark corner or hiding place. Yet the heart of a wife who has been made a prisoner in wartime might remain true to the man who had married her. But the adulterer is that very thing which has first plundered her good will from the soul of him who is the partner of her life, and the loss of his erring wife is not merely half a loss. With justice then do the laws arm the executioner against these men, and the gardeners grow Attic radishes with which the first punishment is meted out to them as soon as they are taken in the act. It is this one class of men of the sort that has ruined many homes, [1204] and already certain cities also. And adultery became the pretext for a clash of two continents one against the other and for the crossing of the Greeks against Priam's realm.

There is another vice which is much worse than this, one which exposed Alexander to our censure, and to which were addicted people like Cleisthenes,[2] the Timarchi, and all who dispose of their beauty for money, or if not for money then for something else, and if for no other end, simply for their abominable pleasure. In a word, let it be said that these effeminate wretches all make a cult of their hair. There are some who are to be found openly in the brothels, and yet they think they are gaining their end, since it is the best way to display fully the effeminacy of their character. And whoever is secretly perverted, even if he should swear the contrary in the marketplace, and should present no other proof of being an acolyte of Cotys save only in a great care of his hair, anointing it and arranging it in ringlets, he might well be denounced to all as one who has celebrated orgies to the Chian goddess and the Ithyphalli. For Pherecydes covered himself with his cloak, said, 'It is evident from my skin,' and showed the malady on his finger. But we can recognize by his hair a young man under influence of unnatural passion.

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Note 1:
Homer, Iliad, 11.385.

Note 2:
Cleisthenes is mentioned in three comedies (Acharnians 117, Clouds 355, Thesmophoriazusae 574-564) by Aristophanes as a well-known pathicus, a man who liked to play the passive role (being penetrated) during homosexual intercourse. The Alexander referred to is Alexander of Abonutichus.
Online 2006 
Revision: 4 December 2006
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