Synesius, Letter 142

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, Herculian, was a fellow-student of Synesius and an intimate friend. He also received letters 137, 138, 139, 145, 140, 141, 146, 143, and 144.

This letter is offered in the translation by A. Fitzgerald.

Ancient text

Letter 142: Reproaches and Encouragement

[1] To Herculian

On reading over your letter, I recognize Odysseus at once. Many traits of character therein recall that hero to my memory, but I do not recognize Proteus.note It is not improbable that a man like you might approach the demigods; but for my part, although wise in a way, although knowing myself, in accordance with the Delphic injunction, I condemn the feebleness of my own character, and I disclaim an affinity with heroes. My whole ambition would be rather to imitate their taciturnity, the very thing which, like the Spartan Menelaus, you have muddled; so well indeed that you seem to belong no longer to Odysseus alone, but to a pair of heroes.

[2] But enough of all this. While you blame your own lack of taste for writing, you have no right to ask me for an abundance of letters that would only weary you. I have therefore reduced the length of this one, so that you may not give yourself more trouble by reading more. Take care of your health and live on in cheerfulness. Work at philosophy, my admirable friend, and it will conduct you to the divine.

[3] Give my regards to the noble Count; we have not allowed ourselves a personal interview with him; for the words of the poem are:

Commence, you are the younger.

[4] Thus he allows the younger the right to begin war and strife, and the elder benevolence. But the man is honored by me and is in every way worthy, for he alone of our time has conducted to the same goal education and military science, once walled off from each other by formidable barriers, and has discovered some ancient affinity in these callings. Proud as no other soldier, he turns away from the arrogance that dwells on the border of pride. Such a man as this I love, even if I do not write to him, and if I do not court him, I honor him.