Synesius, Letter 069

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, Theophilus,was patriarch of Alexandria from 384/385 to 412. He is generally considered a Christian "hardliner" and was responsible for the destruction of the Serapeum in 392. In 409, he appointed Synesius bishop. Other letters to Theophilus are 9, 66, 67, 90, 68, 76, and 80.

The desperate Letter 69 was written in 412 and is offered here in the translation of A. Fitzgerald.

Ancient text

Letter 69: The Horrors of War

[1] To Theophilus

You care even for Pentapolis, you do indeed. You will, therefore, read the official correspondence, but further than this you will learn from the words of the messenger that greater and more numerous misfortunes have already come to pass than those which the letters menace.

[2] For he was sent to solicit military co-operation from thence, but the enemy did not wait even for his departure, and they have already spreadĀ en masse over the country. All is lost, all is destroyed. At the moment of writing, there is nothing left but the cities, nothing. What may befall tomorrow, God alone knows.

[3] In the face of this calamity your prayers are needed; I speak of such prayers as wont to stir the Almighty. As to myself, many times in private and in public have I already prayed in vain. Why do I say "in vain"? Everything is turning against me, so many and so heavy are our sins.