Synesius, Dio 12

Synesius of Cyrene (c.370-c.413) was a Neo-Platonic philosopher who became bishop of Ptolemais in the Cyrenaica. He left behind a small corpus of texts that offer much information about daily life in Late Antiquity, and about the christianization of the Roman world.

In his speech Dio, named after Dio of Prusa, Synesius presents his cultural ideal. Paideia or general education (which means: study of the arts) is a preliminary or an initiation to philosophy, comparable to the development of Dio, who was (according to Synesius) a sophist first, but later converted to philosophy (which means knowledge of the Divine).

The text is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald. The green four-digit numbers are page numbers of the Migne edition.

Ancient text

Synesius, Dio 12

[1] [1152] And indeed some authors of philosophical books might be presented as grammarians who combine and separate syllables very well, but never succeed in bringing to birth anything of their own. Whatsoever they have actually brought forth is blinded by rashness and is empty; for a man cannot cherish the word within him, who must perforce vomit it out every day. Negligence in high seriousness, the employment of seriousness where it is uncalled for, makes all in vain. Birth pangs of the souls take place to the accompaniment of words just as happens in births of bodies; and whosoever accustoms himself to the untimely birth of souls, suffers for the rest much as those who suffer in the body, and the state of that man slipping to a premature delivery can bring to birth nothing sound of limb or likely to live. Thence comes the one ready to speak before the mob, incapable of establishing any point, or when he takes up a question unable to carry it through to its perfected end, as one would finish a statue by polishing it.

[2] Nor do I esteem it a happy existence to submit to giving accounts, both to the pupils themselves and on behalf of the pupils themselves, to their relatives in regard to the daily lessons. The man who is their instructor would like to shine amongst his pupils and to make these boys break out in applause at his words. This is then another theater much more unlucky than the first.

[3] As matters are, I converse with as many as I please, on as many topics as I please; I choose the topics, the times, the places, and the manner. My interlocutor confers a benefit but he also receives it; for my part I should prefer to listen to those who have anything worth saying than to talk myself. To every man it is in every way happier to fall in with his betters than with his inferiors.