Five Ancient Consolations for Baldies.
I know. I know. There is nothing that rams home the loss of your youth more brutally than the sight of your ever-balder scalp in the morning mirror. It is the daily reminder – as if you needed one – that you are not the man that once you were, your diminishing crop of hair acting as a metaphor for vitality that is ebbing away and opportunities that are long past and lost forever.
Baldness, of course, has afflicted mankind since the dawn of civilisation and before, and it has always been a painful thing, leaving us feeling diminished and vulnerable. Just witness the experience of the prophet Elisha.
And he went up from thence unto Bethel, and so he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.
At least he was able to take revenge:
And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.2 Kings 2 23 – 24, KJV
The infirmity does not discriminate; indeed, even the most powerful men of all time – the Roman Emperors – fell victim. Julius Caesar (100 – 44BC) conquered Gaul, but this was not sufficient to shield him from the crushing effects of male pattern baldness:
He regretted most bitterly the loss of his looks through baldness and was often the butt of jokes on the subject from his detractors. For this reason he was in the habit of combing his thinning hair upwards from his crown, and, out of all the honours decreed to him by the senate and the people, he accepted and took advantage of none so willingly as the right to wear his laurel wreath in perpetuity.Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, Julius Caesar 45
Rather than disguise it, Caligula (12 – 41 AD) passed laws to deter people from noticing his lack hair up top or passing comment.
His hair was sparse, his crown being completely bald while the rest of his body was hairy. Because of this he pronounced it a crime meriting death if, when he was passing, anyone should look down on him from above, or if, for whatever reason, the word goat was mentioned.Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, Caligula 50
There is, however, much to be said for the counsel of the Emperor Domitian (51 – 81 AD), who was also extremely sensitive to his hair loss.
He was so annoyed by his baldness that he took it as a personal insult if anyone else was teased or mocked on that account. However, in an essay on hair care, which he published and dedicated to a friend, he added the following words, as a consolation to his friend and himself. “Do you not see how tall and handsome I am, too.’ Yet the same fate lies in store for my own hair. With fortitude I endure the ageing of my hair when still young’ Be sure that nothing is more pleasing than beauty or more transient’Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, Domitian 18
Sad, but there are some consolations for those who can find such acceptance, which have as ever been pointed out for us by the ancient philosophers and poets. Chief among these is the Neo-Platonic Synesius of Cyrene (c.373-c.414 AD) whose Eulogy on Baldness, has provided succour and hope to baldies for centuries. Do read the whole thing over on livius.org.
Baldness is health and strength
“We, bald people, … have a share of health not equal to other men, but, if God permit, be it said, even greater. A cranium which is free from hair, that basks in the sun and is exposed to all the seasons, would not excite your wonder should it be turned quickly from bone into iron.”Synesius of Cyrene, Eulogy of Baldness
OK, this observation does not have the force of science behind it, but nonetheless I cannot help but think it might contain a grain of truth. After all, to go out into the world as a baldie is to experience the benefits and ravages of nature more fully, – the heat of the sun, the chill of the wind, and the pelting rain. If that does not produce strength and resilience, nothing will.
Baldness is wisdom
You may look at the pictures in the Museum, I mean those of Diogenes and Socrates, and whomsoever you please of those who in their age were wise, and your survey would be an inspection of bald heads.Synesius of Cyrene, Eulogy of Baldness
An argument from anecdote, clearly (what about Einstein?), but in the world of Roman portraiture baldness was considered a signifier of wisdom and gravitas, and who would not want such attributes? Indeed, during the republican period, some patrons chose to be presented with their baldness emphasised, along with their wrinkles, to show off their wisdom and the years they had dedicated to the state. (This wasn’t compensation enough for the emperors, but perhaps they would have lived longer if it was) The dictum may – just may – hold true today, also, as a study from a few years ago suggested that baldies were generally perceived to be more intelligent, dominant and successful than those with full heads of hair. There is a catch though: to achieve this effect you have to be completely bald up top, as this suggests a pro-activeness rather than mere acceptance. Those sporting a simple humble bald spot were – surprise surprise – considered less high-powered and less successful. Alas you still need a razor!
Baldness is honesty
‘‘But avoid men who profess elegance and good looks and who arrange their hair in their proper place. What they tell you they have told a thousand women; their fancy wanders and has no fixed abode.”Ovid, Ars Amatoria Book III
The baldie is in no danger of arranging his hair in the proper place – indeed hair grows anywhere but the proper place – and thus there is clearly no chance of his being one of those men of which Ovid advises women to be wary. Synesius backs him up on this. Vicious people, he says, have long hair. “Homer,” he points out “depicts the seducer as one fingering his shining locks”. A stereotype perhaps, but there is an honesty about baldness. No possibility for affectation. It is just you. Bald.
Baldness is security
A Macedonian with hair unusually long and a thick drooping beard, was attacking a Persian, but the Persian… seizes him by the beard and hair, and thus throws the soldier, who had not struck a blow, to the ground, drawing him to himself by the hair like a fish, and once fallen slays him. Some other Persian also saw this, and another and another, and soon they were … in full pursuit of the enemy through the plain. No one probably of Alexander’s phalanx stood his ground except that portion which was bald.Synesius of Cyrene, Eulogy of Baldness
Simple one this. Who can deny that hair-pulling can be a potent means of attack?
Baldness is Simplicity.
Your hairs are carefully disposed /Lest your bald pate should be disclosed/ But winds lift them in wavy drifts/Moved in a blur of constant shifts/How can you have so little hair/ Yet have it show up everywhere?Martial, Epigrams, 10.83
To conceal the truth of your baldness is to embark on endless adjustments as you sort your comb-over or put your hairpiece in place. To attempt to correct the problem and restore your hair can be a long drawn-out, costly and sometimes painful process. And in the end futile. Baldness, by contrast is simple and straightforward