Monday, December 20, 2010

Hail, Bald Guys! 9th Century Poem Celebrates Hair Loss

A very rare book praises  the follicle-challenged.

by Stephen J. Gertz

MEMO TO: Larry David

FROM:  Hucbald, 9th C. Benedictine monk

CC: All bald men; Dr. Bosley; Hair Club for Men; Toupees R Us.

Pursuant to our broken phone call (connections in the ninth century notoriously unreliable; can you hear me now?), I present you with a charming little comb-over I wrote  to put the peachy-keen in alopecia, if not the peach fuzz on your spartan pate.

My De Laude Calvorum ad Carolum Calvum Imperatorem is "the only philosophic treatment of the subject which  has ever been produced,"  so sayeth F.J.E. Raby in A History of Secular Latin Poetry in the Middle Ages (1934). Don't blame me for the title; the publisher thought it was catchy but just because your name is Heironymous Wellaeus doesn't mean you have a gift for titles as tongue music.

Speaking of which, I'm known primarily as the man who wrote the first systematic work on Western music theory. Yet here I am pitching a poem I wrote c. 880 CE, first printed c. 1496, and here in its second edition of 1562 to a guy who appears to have no appreciation at all for The Blessed Tonsure From God and the gifts thereby bestowed. The ways of our Lord are indeed mysterious; go figure. Were I not already a monk I'd turn away from this world wherein scholarship is unrewarded unless it's got a gimmick that sells.

"I tawt I taw a tautogram!"

Yeah, I've got one; my genius editor's big idea. The poem is 148 lines long and EVERY SINGLE FUCKING WORD OF IT BEGINS WITH THE LETTER "C"! It's a literary device known as "paramoion," more commonly known today as a tautogram. Incomprehensible incoherence indicates inane  incorrigible  ignorance / Instances  inordinate inconceivable inconvenience / Inconsiderate  idiots insipidly intone In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. You think it's easy? Try working it into a script for the show, I dare you, without seriously herniating a declension or two.

You'll be dazed by a maze of alliterations that set out to prove, conclusively and once and for all, "that the best and greatest men have had the honor of being bald - dignitaries of the Church, saintly eremites, men of learning, poets, kings, soldiers [keep that helmet on; when asked, don't tell] and physicians, to say nothing of Elisha and Paul. [Okay, I'll say nothing of Elisha and Paul]. Perhaps the best passage is that in which Hucbald sets forth the skill of bald physicians" (Raby, again. I generally don't read reviews but this one's good).

There you have it; the most important thing you'll take away from my poem: When shopping for a doctor, bald is the way to go - and Jewish, too. Bald, Jewish doctors, the prescription for health. L'chaim, bubelah!

By the way, it is an ugly rumor that I wrote and then dedicated the poem to my cousin, Holy Roman emperor Charles the Bald, as a buss to his buttocks. They don't call me Hucbald because of my luxurious mane. I prefer to think of the poem as an exercise in developing self-esteem, and if works for cousin Chuck, too, so much the better. Decent sinecures are hard to come by; sue me.

Need I add that Gaius Julius Caesar was spare on the skull yet ruled the world and had sex with Cleopatra. There's hope for you yet.

Some interpret the cognomen Caesar to refer to those men of the House of the Julii who were blessed with long though less hair, more scalp. The letter "C" in Latin is pronounced as a "k," and "ae" is pronounced "i," so when the Western Empire shrunk and all that survived was, essentially, Germany and environs it's no surprise that the emperor was known as Kaiser.

And so it is with great affection that you have been to your  fans and shall always remain the Kaiser of your domain. Curb thine enthusiasm.

HUCBALD of St. Amand. De laude calvorum ad Carolum Calvum Imperatorem, mirabile opus centum triginta trium versuum, in quo omnia verba a litera C incipiunt...Louvain: Heironymus Wellaeus, 1562. Second edition, of extreme rarity with no records in RILN, KVK, COPAC, or OCLC. 12mo. [8] pp. Roman letter, woodcut initials.  Hain 8971. Goff H501.

First published at Mainz c. 1496 by Peter Friedberg.

Images of De laude calvorum ad Carolum Calvum Imperatorem courtesy of Bernard Quaritch Ltd, with our thanks. Collectors may inquire  here.

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