Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Beards and Philosophers

The Maverick Philosopher reminds us of the proverb "Barba non facit philosophum, neque vile gerere pallium" (A beard does not a philosopher make, nor does wearing a shabby cloak). I once tried to trace the source of this proverb, without much success.

I recently happened on some poems from the Greek Anthology (tr. W.R. Paton) which mock beards, especially beards on the faces of philosophers.

11.156 (Ammianus):
Do you suppose that your beard creates brains and therefore you grow that fly-flapper? Take my advice and shave it off at once; for that beard is a creator of lice and not of brains.
11.157 (Ammianus):
"Good Sir" and "Can it be?" and "Whence, sirrah, and whither?" and "Right off" and "Go to" and "Quite so" and "Hie ye" and cloakie and little lock and beardie, and "Keep your shoulder bare" -- that is what present-day philosophy flourishes on.
11.158 (Antipater):
The wallet laments, and the fine sturdy Heracles club of Sinopian Diogenes, and the double coat, foe of the cold clouds, befouled all over with encrusted dirt, lament likewise because they are polluted by your shoulders. Verily I take Diogenes himself to be the dog of heaven, but thou art the dog that lies in the ashes. Put off, put off the arms that are not thine. The work of lions is one thing, and that of bearded goats another.
11.368 (Julian Antecessor):
You have such a heavy crop on your hairy face that you ought to have it cut with scythes and not with scissors.
11.430 (Lucian):
If you think that to grow a beard is to acquire wisdom, a goat with a fine beard is at once a complete Plato.
If I'm not mistaken, the Maverick Philosopher once sported a stylish beard. Whether he still does so in his desert retreat, I don't know.

For a magnificent set of whiskers, look here.

Laura Gibbs writes:
Here's a rhyming medieval Latin one - it's about saints, not philosophers, but it's the same idea!
Si omnis barbatus
foret in orbe beatus,
in mundi circo
non esset sanctior hirco.
I've got all kinds of fun goat proverbs here:

E.J. Moncada writes:
The proverb (Re: Beards and Philosophers) you report trying to trace down may be a Latin version of a remark by Plutarch (Mor. 352 C): "...having a beard and wearing a coarse cloak does not make a philosopher." Of course this does precious little about locating the Latin.
Plutarch's remark occurs in the treatise on Isis and Osiris. According to L.D. Reynolds and N.G. Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 2nd edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), p. 154, Guillaume Budé published a Latin translation of three treatises of Plutarch into Latin in 1505. Reynolds and Wilson don't say which treatises. In 1560-1570 Guilielmus Xylander (i.e. Wilhelm Holtzman) published a complete Latin translation of Plutarch, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

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