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Discourse 80

This webpage reproduces
miscellaneous small texts by
Dio Chrysostom
as published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1951

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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(Vol. V) Dio Chrysostom
Encomium on Hair


A Greek text of the work and a facing translation by H. Lamar Crosby appear in pp331‑343 of Vol. V of the Loeb Classical Library's edition of the works of Dio Chrysostom, first published in 1951. They are now in the public domain pursuant to the 1978 revision of the U. S. Copyright Code, since the copyright expired in 1979 and was not renewed at the appropriate time, which would have been that year or the year before. (Details here on the copyright law involved.)

 p331  Loeb Edition Introduction

This short composition — preserved embedded in Synesius' Encomium on Baldness — like Dio's Praise of the Gnat and Praise of the Parrot, whose titles alone have come down to us, is clearly a sophistic exercise. Its opening sentence bears some resemblance to the proem of Or. 52 and might suggest as the time of its composition the same general period in Dio's career. The abruptness with which the composition closes is indeed striking, and that, together with what has been regarded as rather inadequate handling of an attractive theme, has led to the supposition that we have but a fragment of the original work. However, Synesius seems to view it as complete and himself remarks that "it does not contain many lines."

Synesiusa was born at Cyrenê about A.D. 370 and cannot be traced beyond the year 413. He was a pupil of the learned Hypatia at Alexandria, and told that he inherited a library from his father. His interest in Dio Chrysostom is attested, not only by his Encomium on Baldness, but also by reminiscences of Dio in a speech delivered at Constantinople about the year 400 and by his Dio, composed about five years later, a considerable portion of which will be found on pages 365‑387.

 p333  Encomium on Hair

Synesius' Encomium on Baldness: Dio of the golden tongue has composed a discourse entitled An Encomium on Hair, which is a work of such brilliance that the inevitable result of the speech is to make a bald man feel ashamed. For the speech joins forces with nature; and by nature we all desire to be beautiful, an ambition whose realization is greatly assisted by the hair to which from boyhood nature has accustomed us. In my own case, for example, even when the dreadful plague was just beginning and a hair fell off, I was smitten to my inmost heart, and when the attack was pressed with greater vigour, hair after hair dropping out, and ultimately even two or three together, and the war was being waged with fury, my head becoming utterly ravaged, then indeed I thought myself to be the victim of more grievous injury than the Athenians suffered at the hands of Archidamus when he cut down the trees of the Acharnians,1 and presently, without my so intending, I was turned into a Euboean, one of the tribe which the poet marshalled against Troy "with flowing locks behind."2

 p335  At this stage what god, what spirit, did I pass by without arraignment? I even set myself to composing a eulogy of Epicurus, not that I held the same views about the gods as he,3 but rather because I aimed to make them smart for it to the best of my poor powers. For I said, "Where are the tokens of their providence in treating the individual contrary to his deserts? For what crime of mine dooms me to appear less comely in women's eyes? It is nothing terrible if I am to appear so to the women of the neighbourhood — for so far as love is concerned I might with fullest justice lay claim to the prize for continence, even against Bellerophon4 — but even a mother, yes, even sisters, I am told, attach some importance to the beauty of their men. And Parysatis made this plain by growing cold toward Artaxerxes who was king because of Cyrus who was beautiful."5

Thus, then, I cried aloud in indignation, and I made no light matter of my misfortune. But when time had made it more familiar and reason, too, entering as contender, rose up to give battle against my suffering, and when little by little that suffering was yielding ground, then at last for these reasons I was more at ease and beginning to recover; but now this very Dio has caused the flood of my distress to flow afresh, and it has returned to attack me in company with an advocate. But against two adversaries, as the saying is, not even Heracles could contend, since when the Molionidae6 fell upon him from  p337 ambush he did not endure the attack. Nay, even in his struggle with the Hydra, though for a time they were locked in single combat, yet when the crab came to her aid Heracles might even have cried quits, had he not enlisted Iolaüs against them as ally. I too, methinks, have had much the same experience at the hands of Dio, though I have no nephew Iolaüs. Once more, therefore, quite forgetful of myself and my reasonings, I am composing laments, mourning my lost head of hair.

But since you are the most excellent of bald-heads and are apparently a man of mettle, seeing that you do not even give a thought to your misfortune but, when pease porridge has been served and an inspection of foreheads is in progress,7 even call attention to yourself, as if priding yourself, forsooth, upon some blessing, therefore endure with patience Dio's discourse and, as the saying goes, keep your heart in obedience,8 just as Odysseus when confronted with the misconduct of the women remained undaunted; so do you too endeavour to be undismayed by Dio. Ah, but you couldn't. What's that you say? You will indeed be able? Well then, listen. But there is no need to unroll the parchment; instead I will recite the speech myself. For in fact it does not contain many lines; yet it is a polished composition, and its beauty lingers in my memory, so that not even if I wished to do so could I forget.

Dio's Encomium on Hair:º "Having arisen at dawn and having addressed the gods, as is my wont, I proceeded to attend to my hair; for in truth my health, as it happened, was rather feeble and my hair had been too long neglected. At any rate, most of it had become quite matted and tangled, as happens  p339 with the knots of wool that dangle about the legs of sheep — though these, of course, are far more stubborn, having been twisted together out of strands that are finer.

"Well, my hair was a wild and grievous sight to behold, and it was proving difficult to get it loosened up, and most of it threatened to tear out and resisted my efforts. Accordingly it occurred to me to praise the hair-lovers, who, being beauty-lovers and prizing their locks most of all, attend to them in no casual manner, but keep a sort of reed always in the hair itself, wherewith they comb it whenever they are at leisure; moreover — the most unpleasant thing of all — while sleeping on the ground they are careful never to let their hair touch the earth, placing a small prop of wood beneath their head so as to keep it as far as possible from the earth, and they are more concerned to keep their hair clean than they are to enjoy sweet sleep. The reason, it would seem, is that hair makes them both beautiful and at the same time terrifying, while sleep, however sweet it be, makes them both sluggish and devoid of caution.

"And it seems to me that the Spartans, too, do not disregard a matter of such importance, for on that memorable occasion, on their arrival before the great and terrible battle, at a time when they alone among the Greeks were to withstand the attack of the Great King, three hundred in number as they were, they sat down and dressed their locks.9 And Homer, too, methinks, believed that sort of thing deserved fullest attention. At least he does not often praise his beauties for their eyes, nor does he think that by so doing he will best set forth their beauty. Accordingly, he praises the eyes of none of his heroes  p341 except Agamemnon, just as he praises the rest of his body also;10 moreover, he applies the term 'flashing-eyed,' not to the Greeks alone, but just as much to Agamemnon himself, using the epithet common to the Greeks in general; on the other hand, he praises everybody for his hair. First of all take Achilles, of whom he says,

She seized Peleides by his flaxen hair,11

then Menelaüs, whom he calls 'blonde'12 for his hair. And Hector's hair he mentions in these words,

And all about his blue-black tresses swept.13

Indeed, on the death of Euphorbus, the most beautiful of the Trojans, Homer mourned nothing else of his, for he said,

His locks, so like the Graces', were wet with blood,

His braids with gold and silver tightly claspt.14

The same is true of Odysseus, when the poet wishes to exhibit him rendered beautiful by Athena; at any rate he says,

Blue-black his locks had grown.15

And again of the same person,

Down from his head she caused the curly locks

To fall, like bloom of hyacinth.16

"Moreover, the adornment afforded by the hair, to judge by Homer, seems to be more suited to the men  p343 than to the women. At any rate, when descanting on feminine beauty, he is not found to mention hair so often; for even with the gods he praises the female deities in different fashion — for it is 'golden Aphroditê' and 'great-eyed Hera' and 'Thetis of the silver feet' — but with Zeus he praises most of all his hair:

And toward her streamed the god's ambrosial locks."17

There you have the words of Dio.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Acharnae, largest of the Attic demes, situated about seven miles north of Athens, suffered severely in the first year of the Peloponnesian War (431 B.C.). Thucydides (2.19‑22) records that the Spartan king Archidamus camped there for some time and laid waste the countryside. Aristophanes in his Acharnians mentions especially the destruction of the vineyards.

2 Iliad 2.542: τῷ δ’ ἅμ’ Ἄβαντες ἔποντο θοοί ὄπιθεν κομόωντες. The peculiarity here referred to consisted not in wearing long hair — the Achaeans frequently are termed κάρη κομόωντες — but in shaving all but the back hair. This, of course, is the point in Synesius' allusion.

3 While not denying the existence of the gods, Epicurus held that they dwelt far off and had no concern for mortals.

4 The Bellerophon story appears for the first time in Iliad 6.156‑195. It is the Greek counterpart of the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife.

5 Parysatis, wife of Darius II, was the mother of Artaxerxes and Cyrus. Xenophon states (Anabasis 1.1.4) that she loved Cyrus more than Artaxerxes, but he does not tell why. One might conclude from his obituary of Cyrus (op. cit. 1.9) that character rather than physical beauty determined her preference.

6 Eurytus and Cteatus, sons of Molionê and Poseidon and nephews of Augeas, who was responsible for their conflict with Heracles. According to Pindar, Olymp. 10.29‑38, Heracles attacked from ambush and slew them both.

7 Apparently for the purpose of deciding, on the basis of age, who should help himself first.

8 A reminiscence of Odyssey 20.23, τῷ δὲ μάλ’ ἐν πείσῃ κραδίη μένε τετληκυῖα, referring to the behaviour of Odysseus as he noted with irritation that his maidservants were on their way to meet their lovers among the suitors.

9 Herodotus (7.208) relates that a Persian scout, sent to spy out the Greek camp before the battle of Thermopylae, was amazed to find some of the Spartans combing their hair.

10 Iliad 2.478‑479; ὄμματα καὶ κεφαλὴν ἴκελος Διὶ τερπικεραύνῳ, Ἄρεϊ δὲ ζώνην, στέρνον δὲ Ποσειδάωνι, "in eyes and head like unto Zeus who delights in the thunder, in waist to Ares, in chest to Poseidon."

11 Iliad 1.197. Athena checks Achilles' rage.

12 One of the commonest epithets applied to Menelaüs.

13 Iliad 22.401‑402.

14 Ibid. 17.51‑52.

15 Dio must have Odyssey 16.176 in mind, but he has substituted ἔθειραι for γενειάδες (beard). Odysseus' hair was blonde; cf. Odyssey 13.399.

16 Odyssey 6.230‑231.

17 Iliad 1.529.

Thayer's Note:

a A good readable introduction to the Cyrenean bishop, prefacing an English translation of what looks like all of his extant writings, may be found at Livius.Org, and another excellent synopsis of Synesius' life and works is given by the article Synesius of Cyrene in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

A complete French translation of his works is also online: H. Druon, Oeuvres de Synésius (Paris, Hachette, 1878), in which the translation proper is preceded by a book-length biography and critique of his works. At least three other book-length biographies of Synesius may be found online, two of them bent on presenting him rather ahistorically as a Christian bishop according to the standard piety of later centuries:

Alice Gardner, Synesius of Cyrene, Philosopher and Bishop (London, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1886)

J. C. Nicol, Synesius of Cyrene: His Life and Writings (Cambridge [UK], E. Johnson, 1887)

William S. Crawford, Synesius the Hellene (London, Rivingtons, 1901)

It is to be regretted that the Loeb editors did not see fit to reproduce the entirety of Synesius' essay — A Eulogy of Baldness — which is just as Greek as Dio's, not very long, and twice as entertaining.

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Page updated: 25 Jun 17