Marginalia, no.157

Beware thou meddle not with timber trees but either at the change or full of the moon.  Tiberius the Emperor observed likewise the change of the moon for cutting the hair both of head and beard.  And yet M. Varro gave a rule, that to prevent baldness and the shedding of hair, the barber should be sent for always after the full moon.

~ Pliny the Elder, Natural History (Philemon Holland trans.)

My wife cuts my hair, but I’m always begging for a trim long before she’s ready to give me one. If I could marshal the authority of classical antiquity, perhaps I could fix her to a regular schedule. But whose prescription is more reliable?  Tiberias Caesar, to judge by his statuary, was acceptably well-coiffed. The Oxford Classical Dictionary calls him an orator, a poet, and a connoisseur; but then it goes on to say that while ‘stories of vice on Capreae can be discounted, real defects, a cultivated sense of superiority, relentlessness and lack of affability, meditated ambiguity of language, remained.’ Marcus Varro’s habits of analysis, it says, were ‘sometimes carried to unhelpful lengths.’  Really, there’s nowhere to turn for good advice anymore.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Marginalia, no.157

  1. Ian, after reading this, I consulted a Medievalist/Classicist colleague of mine. She looked into an 1855 edition of Pliny and found a foot-note to this passage indicating that superstitions relating hair-cutting to phases of the moon (as the editor of that volume reported) had persisted in France. We thought: Maybe in the early 19th century, but what about now?

    So, I consulted two French friends here in Kyoto and can indeed confirm that this is true even now. In some cities hair-salons stay open late on the night of a full moon to accommodate the influx of customers. One of my French friends indicated that he *avoided* having his hair cut when the moon was full. Why? Because if his hair were to grow back in too fast, well, he’d have to visit the hair-cutter more often, and empty his wallet. But then again, he’s a very young man with a fine head of hair.

  2. Ian Wolcott

    Wow – that’s really fantastic. Thanks, Mark. I’m still waiting for a hair cut right now – my wife isn’t in the mood yet. I’ll have to press my case at the next full moon.

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