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Chrysippus' Beard

I should like to return once more to the Stoics, and in particular to Chrysippus' beard. But first, a word about philosophers' beards in general. As we have seen, Athenian intellectuals of the fourth century, like all other adult men, wore a beard. Shaving first came into fashion with Alexander the Great. In Athens, it was thus probably the pro-Macedonians who were the first to adopt the fashion, while traditionalists and democrats did not. By the early third century, when being clean-shaven had become the norm, a beard must of necessity have taken on connotations such as "conservative" and "political outsider." The Hellenistic kings and their courts, I believe, all adopted the new fashion.[16] But the philosophers had an additional reason for wearing a beard. It is a law of nature that hair grows on a man's chin, and to shave it off is a denial of the natural order of things. A man who shaved, so they believed, also gave himself a soft and unmanly appearance. The clean-shaven look was effeminate and raised suspicions of sexual lust and a weakness for luxury. Significantly, Alcibiades had been one of the first to shave and also wore his hair in long locks.[17] By chance, we know verbatim Chrysippus' own argument on this point, from his treatise On the Good and Pleasure:

"The custom of shaving the beard increased under Alexander, although the foremost men did not follow it. Why, even the flute-player Timotheüs wore a long beard when he played the flute. And at Athens they maintain that it is not so very long ago that the first man shaved his face all round, and had the nickname Shaver." "For really, what harm do our hairs do us, in the gods' name? By them each one of us shows himself a real man,


unless you secretly intend to do something which conflicts with them."—"Again, Diogenes, seeing a man with a chin in that condition, said: 'It cannot be, can it, that you have any fault to find with nature because she made you a man instead of a woman?' And seeing another person on horse-back in nearly the same condition, reeking with perfume and dressed in a style of clothing to match these practices, he said that he had often before asked what the word horse-bawd meant, but now he had found out. At Rhodes, although there is a law which forbids shaving, there is not so much as a single prosecutor who will try to stop it, because everybody shaves. And in Byzantium, although a fine is imposed on the barber who has a razor, everybody makes use of one just the same." These, then, are the remarks of the admirable Chrysippus.
(Ath. 13.565, trans. C. B. Gulick)

In the face of the new fashion for shaving, which the visual evidence suggests quickly spread throughout the Mediterranean,[18] the philosophers clung to their now old-fashioned beards, as far as we can tell, without exception. In the early years of the third century, a poet of New Comedy, Phoinikides, already speaks of "the philosophers who wear beards [pogon' echontes ]" (frag. 4),[19] implying that the majority of men were by this time clean-shaven.

It was in these circumstances that the wearing of a beard, combined with certain hairstyles, clothing, and modes of behavior, first came to symbolize the "otherness" of the philosophers. Their appearance clearly defined them as a conservative group, standing in opposition to their own age and legitimating their stance with an appeal to the "customs of old." They make claim to a higher (because older) form of wisdom and use this to challenge their contemporaries. This appeal to the past was to become a consistent element in the imagery of ancient philosophers, reaching all the way to late antiquity.

At the same time, the beard becomes the favorite object of ridicule. In principle society recognizes the role of the philosopher as moral authority, yet in times of doubt or crisis that authority is always questioned. Does the beard really suit the philosopher? In other words, does he really practice what he preaches? The decree for Zeno had explicitly asserted this congruity between the claims of the educator,


on the one hand, and a moral way of life, on the other. During the Roman Empire, the beard became the symbol of the philosopher's moral integrity. In the time of Marcus Aurelius, the Athenians had reservations about awarding a chair in philosophy endowed by the emperor, to an otherwise eminently qualified Peripatetic, simply because he had difficulty growing a beard. The situation was considered so grave that the decision had to be left to the emperor in Rome (Lucian Eun. 8ff.).[20]

Though all philosophers wore beards, they wore them in different styles: trimmed or not; full length, half, or short; carefully tended or unkempt. Already in the third century, it seems, one could recognize what school a philosopher belonged to, and his way of thinking, by the state of his beard and hair. From here on, one's beard and hairstyle became a statement of the philosophical teachings one accepted and, as a rule, by extension, of a certain way of life. The symbolic values of hair and beard that arose in the third century B.C. remained in effect well into the Imperial period. Alciphron, a writer of the second century A.C. , describes the appearance of a group of Attic philosophers at a birthday party, at which they would later behave rather badly:

So there was present, among the foremost, our friend Eteocles the Stoic, the oldster, with a beard that needed trimming, the dirty fellow, with head unkempt, the aged sire, his brow more wrinkled than his leathern purse. Present also was Themistagoras of the Peripatetic school, a man whose appearance did not lack charm and who prided himself upon his curly whiskers. And there was the Epicurean Zenocrates, not indifferent to his curls, he also proud of his full beard, and Archibius the Pythagorean, "the famed in song" (for so everybody called him), his countenance overcast with a deep pallor, his locks falling from the top of his head clear down to his chest, his beard pointed and very long, his nose hooked, his lips drawn in and by their very compression and firm closure hinting at the Pythagorean silence. All of a sudden Pancrates too, the Cynic, pushing the crowd aside, burst in with a rush; he was supporting his steps with a club of holm-oak—the cane was studded with some brass nails where the thick knots were, and his wallet was empty and hung handy for the scraps.
(Alciphron 19.2–5, trans. A. R. Benner and F. H. Forbes)[21]


The preserved portraits in general bear out Alciphron's witty characterizations, though we must bear in mind that the particular features of each individual school may have changed in the course of time. The Stoics are regularly described as being unkempt, with short and uncombed hair. It is not, however, explicitly attested that they wore their beards close cropped, like Chrysippus. But this is easily explained by the same reasoning that the Stoic Musonius gives for cropping the hair as a "pure functionality." That is, one interferes with a natural process only when, for whatever reason, it becomes a hindrance (Diatr. 21). In contrast to the Peripatetics, who wore carefully trimmed beards, the Stoics rejected the very idea of such attention; likewise any other kind of care for the body, as in the tradition of the Cynics, because this represented a distraction from thinking and exalted the body. It is better to cultivate one's understanding than one's hair, according to Epictetus, who cites Socrates in this context (Diss. 3.1.26; 42). Since neatly styled hair and trimmed beard were of great concern to the Peripatetics, the Academics, and the Epicureans, the close-cropped and uncombed hair and unkempt beard of the Stoics were a polemical statement and made clear that they despised as unmanly any kind of attempt to beautify the body. This may indeed be the meaning of Zeno's untended and jagged beard with its exaggerated angles (cf. p. 96).

In the case of Chrysippus, however, the beard has a more particular ethical message that seems to allude to a specific element of Stoic teaching. What I have in mind is a seemingly incidental detail that was overlooked by some ancient copyists, as well as by modern scholarship. The close-cropped beard not only gives the impression of being unkempt, like his hair, but it seems to grow rather irregularly. In some places it is quite sparse, yet ugly bushy patches grow in other places where one would not expect any growth (fig. 60).[22] This peculiar pattern had a set of quite specific connotations and associations among Chrysippus' contemporaries that are distinctly negative.

Pseudo-Aristotelian physiognomic writers compared men whose beards grew like this with apes, "disgusting, ridiculous, and evil animals." For this reason, as H. P. Laubscher has pointed out, fishermen, peasant farmers, and slaves—in short, all those who were looked down


Fig. 60
Chrysippus. Rome, Vatican Museums.

on by a society of freeborn citizens—are depicted with such irregular growth of beard (fig. 61), as also, in the mythological sphere, the wild and uncivilized satyrs.[23] In this way they are characterized as morally inferior. Thus for Chrysippus to emphasize his irregular growth of beard by cutting it short, instead of trying to conceal it, and for his friends to have him portrayed after his death with such a morally loaded imperfection, in the context of these well-established physiognomic conventions, could imply only a deliberate response to the prejudices of society. Slaves and peasants are human beings too, the beard proclaims; social categories are purely random and do not exist for the philosopher. Furthermore, nature makes a man's beard grow one way or another; however it grows is right and has nothing to do with his character or morals. The first portrait of Socrates had similarly represented an opposition to the norms of kalokagathia (p. 38). Chrysippus' attitude assigns hair and beard and everything associated with them to the adiaphora, that is, things that in Stoic doctrine are neither good nor bad in and of themselves.


Fig. 61
Head of the "Old Fisherman." Roman copy of a
third-century B.C. statue. Paris, Louvre.

The very fact that well-known Stoic teachings and ways of life were incorporated, in such detail, into the portrait itself must mean that knowledgeable people had some say in determining the conception of this statue. Evidently Chrysippus' pupils used the portrait as a vehicle for propagating the missionary work of their teacher.

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