Beards and Philosophers

Norm links to the bearded philosophers page at Cambridge and quotes the saying that “A beard does not a philosopher make” (“Barba non facit philosophum”, from over here). It’s a terrific topic. We have a report of this exchange from antiquity, involving the Stoic Epictetus:

“Come now, Epictetus, take off your beard.”
— If I am a philosopher, I answer, I will not take it off.
“Then I will take off your head.”
— If that will do you any good, take it.

And John Sellars tells this story in his book on The Art of Living (2003, p.15):

“In AD 176 the Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius created four chairs of philosophy in Athens, one for each of the major schools. When, a few years later, the holder of the Peripatetic Chair died, two equally well qualified candidates applied for the post. One of the candidates, Diocles, was already very old so it seemed that his rival, Bagoas, would be sure to get the job. However, one of the selection committee objected to Bagoas on the grounds that he did not have [a] beard saying that, above all else, a philosopher should always have a long beard in order to inspire confidence in his students. Bagoas responded by saying that if philosophers are to be judged only by the length of their beards then perhaps the chair of Peripatetic philosophy should be given to a billy-goat. The matter was considered to be of such grave importance that it was referred to the highest authorities in Rome, presumably to the Emperor himself…”

Over the page, Sellars suggests that it was the mission of the three philosophers to Rome in 155 BCE which created the popular link between philosophers and beards. That was the famous occasion (which haunts Grotius scholarship down to the present day) when the Sceptic Carneades made a speech in favour of justice one day, and a speech against it the next, very much annoying Cato the Censor in the process. But these were bearded Greeks in clean-shaven Rome, and the Romans remembered the beards.

ADDED A FEW MINUTES LATER: Sellars also goes on to note (pp.18-9) that there’s evidence from the ancient sources to suggest that the philosophies of the Greek philosophers shaped the ways in which they wore their beards:

“For example, the Cynics, who preached strict indifference to all external goods and social customs, sported the longest and dirtiest beards. The Stoics, who argued that it is acceptable to prefer certain external goods so long as they are never valued above virtue, also sported long beards, but engaged in occasional washing and trimming for purely practical considerations. The Peripatetics, who following Aristotle believed that external goods and social status were necessary for the good life together with virtue, took great care of their beards, carefully trimming them as appropriate for a member of the traditional Greek aristocracy.”

Presumably this is some kind of ancestor of the debate in the Eastern Orthodox Church about whether holiness resides in a beard, but maybe that only ever existed in my imagination.

Final thing, final thing: I think the Stoics were the ones who were most gripped by the idea that philosophers should have beards, and it’s interesting in this regard that when eighteenth-century French writers were compiling their surveys of women philosophers in antiquity (which were sometimes appended to editions of Diogenes Laertius, presumably for consumption within salon culture, but I don’t really know) that they were able to find evidence of women philosophers belonging to all the different sects except the Stoics. (Lots of good women scholars of Stoicism these days, but that might not be quite the same thing.)

The October 2007 General Election?

If Mr Brown wants an election on 25 October (the last Thursday before the clocks go back, and also incidentally St Crispin’s Day), he has to call it early next week, which neatly allows him to steal the headlines away from the Conservative Party conference.

But where does the requirement that an election be called (at least) seventeen working days before polling day come from? Is it just custom and practice, part of the unwritten British Constitution, or is it encoded in statute somewhere?

(Similarly: why always Thursdays? I approve of holding elections on Thursdays, as lots of children get the day off school, and this, among other things, helps to persuade them that parliamentary democracy is a good idea, but have elections always been on Thursdays in this country for ever and ever, and if so, why?)

For what it’s worth (bugger all), I’m thinking that there probably will be an election. I used to think that there wouldn’t be, as the Labour Party didn’t have enough money; but now people tell me that the Tories are planning to flood marginals with cash in the period between now and whenever an election is called, which seems to make it sensible to go sooner rather than later. (Unless the cupboard really is completely bare, but if it were, then presumably the Party would have killed this talk of an early election much much sooner?)

Iguana Smuggling

Until this week I had been completely unaware of the iguana smuggling issue. But first there was the story of the woman who tried to smuggle an iguana into Blackpool in her bra, and now the story of the man who tried to smuggle three iguanas into Fiji in his artificial leg.

(There’s a lot more iguana news than I think I had expected, in fact. Iguanas have also been surprising gardeners in Swansea over the Summer: “Obviously he was surprised to see it and realised it wasn’t a native species of the Mumbles.” And we have at least one iguana here in Oxfordshire.)

Iraqi Employees, Again

After a flurry of stories earlier in the Summer, the papers have quietened down a bit about the ongoing question of whether Iraqis who worked for the British in and around Basra are going to be given sanctuary in this country. The Government says it’s looking at the matter, and we expect to hear something later in the Autumn, but nothing has been done yet, many people are at risk of lethal attack right now, and we don’t have any reason to think that the Government will end up honouring the key demand that all those who have worked for the UK Armed Forces in Southern Iraq be granted asylum over here.

The papers aren’t entirely silent, though. You can read here about the grim situation in Basra and here about the violent death of Moayed Ahmed Khalaf.

And you can continue to do your bit for the cause: write to your MP, if you haven’t already; reply to your MP to emphasise your on-going concern, just in case you think he or she might be thinking that the issue has gone away; and, in particular, try to encourage your MP to go along to Committee Room 14 (St Stephen’s Entrance) on Tuesday 9 October, 7-9pm, for a cross-party meeting organised by the on-line campaign, and supported by Amnesty International and other groups. And if you’re in London that day , you might want to pop along yourself.

PARTLY UPDATED [20.9.2007]: See also here for a recent radio snippet, in which Mark Brockway presents some pretty grim details; here for Dan H’s most recent posting; and here, which is where you should send any details of MPs’ responses. But they can be crap: my local Lib Dem MP Evan Harris, for example, still hasn’t replied to the letter I sent him on 24 July.

I’m Back

And I’ve just acquired a copy of The American Musical and the Formation of National Identity by Raymond Knapp, so – as you can imagine – I’m quite happy.

(Favourite snippet from the Preface: “I have often been asked what this project has to do with my other work, which has centered on such figures as Brahms, Haydn, Beethoven, Mahler, Wagner, and Tchaikovsky. While I might hope some day to be asked what these others have to do with my work on the American musical, it seems for now to be a fair question…” [p.xvii])