War and the Muses - "The Bald Horseman"
For many centuries during the Roman Republic and even into the Empire, each year on the Ides of July (the 15th), there would be a muster of the traditional cavalry. Held to commemorate the Roman victory over the other Latin cities at the Battle of Lake Regillius on that date in 496 B.C., the troopers would engage in various evolutions on the Campus Martius – the “Mars Field” – just north of the city and then stage a grand parade.
Flavius Avianus, a late Roman fabulist, tells a tale that seems to relate directly to the annual event. Although offered as one of his “Aesopic fables,” the story seems likely to have been taken from life.
There was a bald cavalryman who was wont to wear a wig on his head, using other people's hair to cover his bald pate. One day he came to the Campus Martius, and put on a great display of his prowess wearing splendid armor. He led his horse through the exercises, easily guiding him with the bridle. But quite suddenly, a blast of the north wind blew against him and made his head a source of laughter for all of the on-lookers: the wig was blown awry, revealing the sheen of his bald head, which was an entirely different shade from the hair that had been there before.
Now the fellow was quick-witted, and when he saw that he was being laughed at by thousands of people, he ingeniously deflected this public derision by making a joke, “It's no surprise that the wig that was put there ran away, since my natural born hair already deserted me once before!”