[PW] Like bald men fighting over a comb (Thanks for help in 2018)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com
Mon May 27 07:13:49 PDT 2019

Many thanks to Sue Watkins who off-list sent QI a link to a webpage
displaying an etching dated 1809 called "Two Bald Men Fighting Over a
Comb" by Karl Russ of Austria. (Presumably this title was originally
in Austrian German.)


The Quote Investigator website now uses a content delivery network, so
copies of the website are geographically distributed. When I make a
change to the content of a webpage it takes time for the new
information to propagate to the caches around the world. If you
visited the webpage about the two bald men fighting over a comb you
may have seen an old version


The latest version includes a fable about two bald men finding a comb
ascribed to the ancient Roman fabulist Phaedrus. The two men did not
fight in the ancient fable.

The lead from Watkins caused me to search more diligently for
belligerent bald men in the 1700s, and I found that Eighteenth century
French writer Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian had published a pertinent
story. A tale of two bald men fighting over a piece of ivory appeared
in 1792. The winner of the fisticuffs unhappily determined that the
prize was a comb:

[ref] 1792, Ouvres de M. de Florian (Works by M. de Florian), Fables
de M. de Florian: De l'Académie Françoise de celles de Madrid,
Florence, etc. (M. de Florian's Fables: From the French Academy of
Madrid, Florence, etc.) by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian, Livre 5,
Fable 7: Les deux Chauves, Quote Page 172, De l'imprimerie de P.
Didot, Paris, France, Chez Girod et Tessier, Paris, France. (Google
Books Full View) link [/ref]


[Begin excerpt]
Un jour deux chauves dans un coin
Virent briller certain morceau d'ivoire:
Chacun d'eux veut l'avoir; dispute et coups de poing.
Le vainqueur y perdit, comme vous pouvez croire,
Le peu de cheveux gris qui lui restoient encor
Un peigne étoit le beau trésor
Qu'il eut pour prix de sa victoire.
[End excerpt]

In 1860 W. R. Evans published a more elaborate fable titled "The Two
Bald Men" which he acknowledged was based on the tale from Florian:

[ref] 1860, A Century of Fables: In Verse, For the Most Part
Paraphrased or Imitated from Various Languages by W. R. Evans, Fable
30: The Two Bald Men (Imitated from Florian), Quote Page 41, Robert
Hardwicke, London, England. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]


[Begin excerpt]
Two bald old scavengers, who saw a bit
Of ivory gleaming in the dust they swept,
Each strove at the same time to seize on it,
But neither could the other intercept.
In fact, their bald pates meeting with a bump,
They fell to fighting for the half-hid prize;
And while exchanging many a heavy thump.
One got a broken nose, one two black eyes.
This conquer'd, but he lost the only tuft
Of hair still left on his corporeal dome;
And when he clutch'd the prize for which they'd cuff'd,
Oh, mockery! it was a small-tooth'd comb!
[End excerpt]


On Sun, May 26, 2019 at 12:00 PM ADSGarson O'Toole
<adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:
> Way back in July 2018 I asked for some help with a simile attributed
> to Leo Tolstoy and Jorge Luis Borges. The topic was more complex than
> I had anticipated. Now the QI website has an entry.
> Like Two Bald Men Fighting Over a Comb
> https://quoteinvestigator.com/2019/05/23/comb/
> [Begin acknowledgement]
> Great thanks to researcher Nigel Rees who discussed this topic in his
> April 1992 newsletter and his recent Kindle book “The Best Guide to
> Humorous Quotations”. Rees presented citations beginning in 1938 and
> noted the ascription to Borges. Special thanks to Peter Reitan who
> located an 1888 citation. Several people kindly offered to help QI
> with the Russian text: Gerald Cohen, Jay Dillon, Ivan Van Laningham’s
> friend, and imwitty. QI is responsible for all errors.
> [End acknowledgement]
> Feedback welcome,
> Garson

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