Synesius, Letter 099

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.

Writing in 403, Synesius directed this letter (and letters 98, 97, 133, 148, 149, 96, and 45) to a wealthy Christian from Syria, who was a close friend and (probably) a fellow-student. It is offered in the translation of A. Fitzgerald.

Ancient text

Letter 99: Recommendation of a Poet

[1] To Olympius

This is a new practice of mine in use of letters. I have written not to recommend the bearer of this to your friendly offices, but rather to give you the benefit of the acquaintance of a man who will be very useful both to you and to your beloved friend the great Diogenes. Do not be angry with me if I believe, and if I say, that the advantage will be on your side, and not on Theotimus'.

[2] But this is the case, since this man is the most inspired poet of our times, and since everyone needs the power of the poet, in order that he may be famous for posterity, and may not escape the notice of those who are distant. Great actions, if they do not gain his clarion notes, disappear from men's memories, and are clothed in oblivion. They blossom only at the moments in which they are accomplished amongst those who witness them. Therefore this godsend ought to be honored by you, and ought to be welcomed above everything, quite apart from any personal interest, for out of reverence for the Muses one should honor their priests, and never hold them in less esteem than those who know how to dispense flattery at your gates.

[3] Let there be also a third reason why you should give honor to Theotimus. It is that Synesius is an admirer of all his good qualities, of all those for which men praise men and deem them happy. May you pass your life in good health, you whom I honor for every reason!

[4] All who live in my house send greetings to your illustrious person, and above all your own Ision. I send greetings to all those who are with you, and above all to my dear Abramius. You yourself shall judge whether or not you ought to hand over what I have written to the Count.