Synesius, Letter 124

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 text of Letter 124, dated to c.401 although 411-412 is also possible, is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald. It is addressed to Synesius' former teacher Hypatia of Alexandria,note to whom he also sent letters 33, 15, 154, 81, 10, 16.

Ancient text

Letter 124: A City in Wartime

[1] To the Philosophernote

Even though

there shall be utter forgetfulness of the dead in Hades, even there shall I remember thee,note

my dear Hypatia. I am encompassed by the sufferings of my city, and disgusted with her, for I daily see the enemy forces, and men slaughtered like victims on an altar. I am breathing an air tainted by the decay of dead bodies. I am waiting to undergo myself the same lot that has befallen so many others, for how can one keep any hope, when the sky is obscured by the shadow of birds of prey?

[2] Yet even under these conditions I love the country. Why then do I suffer? Because I am a Libyan, because I was born here, and it is here that I see the honored tombs of my ancestors. On your account alone I think I should be capable of overlooking my city, and changing my abode, if ever I had the chance of doing so.