Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Life of Constantine with Orations of Constantine and Eusebius.: Section 3
§3. Physical Characteristics.
A graphic picture of his personal appearance is drawn by Cedrenus (p. 472–3). “Constantinus Magnus was of medium height, broad-shouldered, thick-necked, whence his epithet Bull-necked. His complexion was ruddy, his hair neither thick nor crisp curling, his beard scanty and not growing in many places, his nose slightly hooked, and his eyes like the eyes of a lion. He was joyous of heart and most cheery of countenance.” 3040 Many points in this description are confirmed by others, some apparently contradicted. Taken in detail, his Height was probably above medium. Over against this statement of Cedrenus (p. 472) that he was of middle height is that of the earlier Malalas (13. 1), who, while confirming the ruddiness of complexion, characterizes him as tall, and the explicit testimony of Eusebius, that among those with Diocletian “there was no one comparable with him for height” (V. C. 1. 19), and likewise among those present at Nicæa (V. C. 3- 10). But a “thick-necked” form hardly belongs to the strictly “tall” man, and a thick neck and broad shoulders would hardly belong to a form of “distinguished comeliness,” if it were short (Lact. c. 18). It may be supposed therefore that he can be described as above medium height. Moreover, there would naturally have been more mention of height by Lactantius and Panegyrists if it had been very extraordinary. In respect of Countenance he was undoubtedly handsome. The “majestic beauty of his face” mentioned by Theophanes (p. 29; cf. V. C. 1. 19; 3. 10) is confirmed by suggestions in the Panegyrists (e.g. Eumen. c. 17; Naz. c. 24), and all general testimony, and not belied by the coins. His Complexion was ruddy; “reddish” in the expression of Cedrenus (p. 272), “fiery” in that of Malalas (13.1). His Hair, rather thin and straight, scanty Beard, and “slightly hooked” Nose are shown also by the coins, where the nose varies from a pronounced Roman or ungraceful eagles beak to a very proportionate, slightly aquiline member. His Eyes were lion-like (Cedren.), piercingly bright (Paneg. 313, c. 19; also Eumen.). His Expression was bright and joyous (Cedren.), characterized by “noble gravity mingled with hilarity” (Naz. Paneg. c. 24), by “serenity” and “cheerfulness” (cf. Euseb. V. C. 3. 11). In brief, he seems to have been a type of the sanguine temperament.
Added to his beauty of face was an unquestioned beauty of form. His distinguished comeliness of Figure (Lact. c. 18) is a favorite theme with his enthusiastic friend Eusebius, who says, “No one was comparable with him for grace and beauty of person” (cf. Eumen. c. 17; V. C. 1. p. 422 19; 3. 10), and that his figure was “manly and vigorous” (1. 20). The broad Shoulders and thick Neck prepare one for the testimony to his great bodily Strength. The feats of personal valor in combat with the Sarmatian champions and the wild beasts (cf. above), his personal energy in battle (e.g. before Verona; cf. above), much special testimony (e.g. Eumen. Paneg. c. 4) and all the general testimony, show that the superlative language of Eusebius is well grounded, and interpreted with conservative imagination is to be taken as fact. According to him, “he so far surpassed his compeers in personal strength as to be a terror to them” (V. C. 1. 19), and in respect of Vigor of body was such that at the Council of Nicæa his very bearing showed that he surpassed all present in “invincible strength and vigor”; while at the age of sixty or upwards, “he still possessed a sound and vigorous body, free from all blemish and of more than youthful vivacity; a noble mien and strength equal to any exertion, so that he was able to join in martial exercises, to ride, endure the fatigues of travel, engage in battle,” &c. (Vict. 4. 53). In Bearing he was “manly” (V. C. 1. 20), self-possessed, calm (V. C. 3. 11), dignified (“noble gravity,” Naz. c. 24; of. Eumen. &c.), with “majestic dignity of mien” (V. C. 3. 10) and serenity (V. C. 3. 10). In Manners he was “suave” (ἐπιεικής) (V. C. 3. 10) and “affable to all” (V. C. 3. 13). This singular affability was such, according to Lactantius (c. 18), as to endear him greatly to his soldiers. Over against this, however, must be set the statement of Victor, Epit. that he was “a scoffer [irrisor] rather than suave [blandus]” (Vict. Epit. 51). But this seems founded on a false exegesis (cf. above) and withal there is no absolute contradiction. Moreover, all his intercourse with bishops, deputies, soldiers, citizens, barbarians, seems to have generally made a favorable impression, and such success without affability of manner would have been marvelous. In Dress his taste, late in life at least, became somewhat gorgeous. If he were reigning to-day, the comic papers would undoubtedly represent him, like some other good and great men, with exaggerated red neckties and figured waistcoats. He “always wore a diadem,” according to Victor, Epit. (p. 51), and according to many (Malal. 13. 7–8; Cedren.; Pseudo-Leo, &c.) “none of the emperors before him” wore the diadem at all. Eusebius description of his appearance at the Council of Nicæa would do credit to a Washington reporter on wedding-toilets; he was “clothed in raiment which glittered, as it were, with rays of light, reflecting the glowing radiance of a purple robe, and adorned with the brilliant splendor of gold and precious stones” (V. C. 3. 10).
Cf. Vict. Epit. p. 51, where “bull-necked” is rendered as equal to “scoffer,” “such according to physiognomical writers being the character of stout men,” Liddell and Scott, Lex. p. 1569. But the very proverb on which Victor bases this interpretation would seem to make it refer to energy and obstinate force of character, which is altogether better fitting the word and the physiognomical characteristic.
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