Monday, August 16, 2010


The Comb-Over

About a month ago, on The Writer's Almanac, Garrison Keillor read Hymn to the Comb-Over, by Wesley McNair:
How the thickest of them erupt just
above the ear, cresting in waves so stiff
no wind can move them. Let us praise them
in all of their varieties, some skinny
as the bands of headphones, some rising
from a part that extends halfway around
the head, others four or five strings
stretched so taut the scalp resembles
a musical instrument. Let us praise the sprays
that hold them, and the combs that coax
such abundance to the front of the head
in the mirror, the combers entirely forget
the back. And let us celebrate the combers,
who address the old sorrow of time's passing
day after day, bringing out the barrenness
of mid-life this ridiculous and wonderful
harvest, no wishful flag of hope, but, thick,
or thin, the flag itself, unfurled for us all
in subways, offices, and malls across America.
Not only is the comb-over popular across modern America, but there is also evidence of it in ancient Rome. See Suetonius, Life of Julius 45.2 (tr. J.C. Rolfe, emphasis added):
He was somewhat overnice in the care of his person, being not only carefully trimmed and shaved, but even having superfluous hair plucked out, as some have charged; while his baldness was a disfigurement which troubled him greatly, since he found that it was often the subject of the gibes of his detractors. Because of it he used to comb forward his scanty locks from the crown of his head, and of all the honours voted him by the senate and people there was none which he received or made use of more gladly than the privilege of wearing a laurel wreath at all times.

circa corporis curam morosior, ut non solum tonderetur diligenter ac raderetur, sed uelleretur etiam, ut quidam exprobraverunt, calvitii vero deformitatem iniquissime ferret saepe obtrectatorum iocis obnoxiam expertus. ideoque et deficientem capillum revocare a vertice adsueverat et ex omnibus decretis sibi a senatu populoque honoribus non aliud aut recepit aut usurpavit libentius quam ius laureae coronae perpetuo gestandae.

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