Synesius, Letter 051

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.

The addressee of this letter, offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald, was Synesius' brother, who lived in Ptolemais. About a quarter of the entire correspondence was directed to Euoptius: except for this letter, the oldest of the collection, they are Letters 55, 56, 54, 136, 135, 110 (all 396), the long letter 4 about a shipwreck in 397, 120, 104, 113 (401), 3, 35, 39, 32, 52, 65, 92, 106, 114, 109, 36 (all in 402), 127, 50, 18 (404), 125, 132 (405), 108, 107, 122, 95 (407), 53, 82, 84, 85, 86, 105 (409), 8, 87, 89 (411).

Written in 394, this letter offers an account of a young Synesius crossing the Aegean Sea.

Ancient text

Letter 51: The Aegean Sea

[1] To his Brother

Starting from Physcusnote at early dawn, late in the evening we stood in the Gulf of Erythra. There we stopped only a sufficient time to drink water and to take in a supply. Springs of pure, sweet water gush forth upon the very shore.

[2] As our Carpathiansnote were in a hurry, we took to sea again. The wind was light, but it blew continually on our stern, so that where we expected to make nothing of a run each day, we made all we needed before we were aware of it.

[3] On the fifth day we perceived the beacon fire lit upon a tower to warn ships running too close. We accordingly disembarked more quickly than it takes to relate, on the island of Paros, a poor island where there are neither trees nor fruit, but only salt marshes.