Synesius, Eulogy of Baldness (9)

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.

Portraits of hairy gods are incorrect

[1] [1184] And do let Homer write and let Phidias model, if he pleases, proofs in support of Dio, granting to Zeus his clustering locks, and thick hair at that, wherewith he may shake the heaven when he desires. For as to the Zeus seen in heaven, we all know what he is like: but supposing that there is some other Zeus, though I know not whether there is some other bodily one, but granting this, if anybody holds such an opinion, in any case he must be either the first one, or the one subsequent to him. Whether one or the other, he is such as that one who is evident to all men, as far as the condition of his nature permits of resemblance. But the poetic and plastic arts and indeed all mimetic arts seem, least of all, truth-loving, but merely as plausible as may be, and such as seek to create what they create according to appearances, not according to truth.

[2] By the ignorant hair is held in honor, for the opinion of the mob admires all external things, such as landed possessions, carriages, houses, and groups of dwellings, all that are not part of the nature of those possessing them but, like hair, an alien element to their nature. For the ignorant are far from mind and from God, and in place of mind and God, Nature and Fortune direct them.

[3] Now this matter is still more alien: for the foolish congratulate the recipients of Fortune's and Nature's gifts. Whoever therefore writes and speaks to the masses, must of necessity be plebeian in opinion, in order to model his style and deliver his speech in a manner pleasing to them. And inasmuch as they are uninstructed, they are obstinate and are determined champions of their absurd opinions, to such an extent that if anyone disturbs any point of their ancestral notions, he will before long drink the hemlock.note What penalty do you think Homer would have suffered from the Greeks, if he had told the very truth itself concerning Zeus, and had said nothing of those portentous things with which children are terrified?