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Remedy against baldness

Remedy against baldness

Do you suffer from hair loss? Then try this recipe recorded in manuscript 11 F 1 KL of the Athenaeumbibliotheek in Deventer. In this twelfth- or early thirteenth-century manuscript with The war against Jughurta of the Roman historian Sallustius (86-35 BC), we find at the end of the book a recipe against baldness, written in verse form with inner rhyme. In the margin of fol. 70v is a heading in red ink: ‘Confectio contra calvicium’; ‘Remedy against baldness’. According to the anonymous author, ‘new hair will sprout in abundance on your head’, as soon as this concoction is applied to bald spots. Yet one should not expect too much from this miracle cure. The ingredients are rather difficult to obtain: a black egg from a white hen, the left eye of a mole, rays from the moon, three jumps from a magpie, a phantom from an old grave, oil from hard marble – none of them ingredients that are lying around, waiting to be taken. This recipe is no serious remedy, then, but a satire. The author mocks bald-headed readers and presents them with an impossible cure. The bald reader who has struggled through Sallustius’ account of the war against Jughurta and who has finally reached the end of the book, finds him- or herself confronted with a bit of gentle mockery to top it all off.

Deventer, Athenaeumbibliotheek, hs. 11 F 1 KL, 12th or 13th century, fols. 70 v and 71r

Deventer, Athenaeumbibliotheek, hs. 11 F 1 KL, 12th or 13th century, f.1r

This satirical recipe against baldness has survived in a few manuscripts, of which this Deventer manuscript is the oldest. It was probably produced in Flanders and has been in the Athenaeumbibliotheek since 1700. The book contains other remarkable additions. For instance, in the front we find a world map drawn on the blank side of the first leaf, and a poem about chess. The last legible text in the manuscript is a eulogy for the Count of Flanders, Baldwin, a descendant of Emperor Charles the Bald (sic). Among Baldwin’s ancestors and namesakes were Baldwin ‘with the beautiful beard’ and Baldwin II the Bald. Apparently, this family had a thing for hair, or rather, with lack of hair.

For more information on this manuscript and for a translation of the satirical recipe against hair loss, visit the website of the Athenaeumbibliotheek.

Irene van Renswoude
Jeroen Benders, ‘Wereldkaart’, in Suzan Folkerts, Garrelt Verhoeven (red.), Deventer Boekenstad. Twaalf eeuwen boekcultuur aan de IJssel (Zutphen, 2018), pp. 22-23

Irene van Renswoude, ‘In praise of bald men: the cultural significance of baldness’ in Martin Mulsow (ed.), Das Haar als Argument: zur Wissensgeschichte von Bärten, Frisuren und Perücken, Stuttgart 2022, pp. 161-176.

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