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Synesius, A Eulogy of Baldness 23


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

[1204] But although this is the case, it is wonderful what an argument Dio has brought in favor of hair. What further need have we of a Plato to refute this, when the rhetorician has made it evident that rhetoric is merely a hair-dressers' art? Or does it seem likely to you that the hair-dyers would make locks of hair lovelier, because a pure Greek praised such a possession before a crowded house?

I think that those who have been emasculated in [1205] the rites of Cybele will give him [Dio] abundant thanks for his discourse, and also the man who looks upon his neighbor's wife with unholy eyes. Assuredly he has drenched the head of everyone of these with his discourse, as though with perfumed oil. It is inevitable that what is in popular esteem should be zealously aimed at, and most of all when he who distributes praise happens to be a man of distinguished reputation. And it follows from this, that such a man is quite capable of augmenting in our city the list of these most baleful creatures.

But as to baldness, what types of men does it oppose to these? What men have we praised in place of adulterers? Those evidently from whom spring men who live in hallowed precincts, priests, prophets, and acolytes; again, in the schools, schoolmasters and guardians of youth; and those in the ranks of the army in prosperous circumstances, namely generals and colonels; and those esteemed everywhere by the majority of men to have superior intelligence. And I think that the bard also whom Agamemnon left behind him as guardian of Clytaemnestra was of our race.[1] For he would never have entrusted to a long-haired man a wife who came of a family already discredited.

Painters also furnish us with excellent testimony in favor of our argument, when they do not paint from the original, but also profess that they have found a model appropriate to the task. For should one of them be given a commission to paint an adulterer or effeminate wretch on a panel, if he selects a long-haired man to pose for him, he has fulfilled his order. If you order of him a philosopher or acolyte, a dignified bald man will certainly take his place on that panel, for this the device on the coin.

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Note 1:
Homer, Odyssey, 3.267.
Online 2006 
Revision: 3 December 2006
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