Synesius, Eulogy of Baldness (1)

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, and about the christianization of the Roman world.

The Eulogy of Baldness shows Synesius' lighter side: he defends his baldness against the speech In Praise of Hair by the sophist-philosopher Dio Chrysostom ("tongue of gold").

The text is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald. The green four-digit numbers are page numbers of the Migne edition.

Introduction: people like long hair

[1] [1168] A book was written in praise of hair by Dio of the Tongue of Gold, so brilliant a work that the bald man, in the face of its arguments, must be covered with shame. The argument, indeed, uses nature to its own advantage, for by nature we all desire to be beautiful - to which end, in large measure, the tresses with which Nature has rendered us familiar since childhood, contribute. For my own part, I was wounded to the heart,note when the terrible thing began, and my hair began to fall off.

[2] When it proceeded further, and one hair went after another - then two at a time, and finally several - and the war became keenly contested, my head being plundered, then indeed I esteemed myself to suffer more harshly than did the Athenians at the hands of Archidamus when their groves at Acharnae were destroyed,note and soon I appeared as one of those benighted Euboeans who, according to the poem,note made the expedition to Troy with hair hanging from the back of their heads. Which one of the gods, which of the demons did I pass over without accusation in this matter? I was even inclined to write something eulogistic of Epicurus, not as one holding the same opinions as he concerning the gods,note but as one prepared to get my teeth in them in turn as far as I could.

[3] [1169] And so I said: "Where is the action of Providence to be found in that which is contrary to each men's deserts? What wrongdoing have I committed that I should appear more unsightly to the fair sex?" No great matter this, in the case of the women of the neighborhood, for in what concerns Aphrodite I am the most righteous of men, and I could dispute the palm with Bellerophon in continence.note But even a mother, even sisters, they say, set some store on the beauty of the men of their household. And Parysatis made this clear, for she lost her love for Artaxerxes the King, all on account of the handsome Cyrus.note