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Synesius, Catastasis


Mosaic depicting an angel. Museum of Ptolemais. Photo Marco Prins.
Mosaic depicting an angel. Museum of Ptolemais
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 presented here, the Catastasis, or Downfall of the Cyrenaica, is a long lament on the barbarian incursions that had destabilized the region since c.404 (the chronology is unclear). It is unclear for what purpose Synesius wrote this text, although the tone suggests that it was not meant to be published. Perhaps it is a letter with information that could be used in a speech at the imperial court. What is certain, however, is that the Catastasis was composed after a military intervention by Anysius and his unit of Unnigardae, who had offered the Cyrenaicans some respite in 411.


The text is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald. The four-digit numbers are page numbers of the Migne edition.
1-2 3-4 5-6 7-8 9-10
[§5]Quite otherwise have matters turned out for Pentapolis. For what possession is fairer to the Ausurian than wife and child, that the former may bear him sons, and that the latter, when of age, may serve in the army? For the children become fond of those who filled the place of parents in their upbringing. Alas for the ill-fated colony that we are sending out! Our youth is being carried off captive to augment the armies of our foe; a people will come with enmity against their native land.

A young man will devastate the land which when still a stripling he cultivated with his father. Now he is on the march, now he is led away. Now the youth of Pentapolis is still in chains. Not one comes to the rescue or is able to do so. And yet they say that the general is full of zeal, but the Alexandrians [1] who direct the campaign there, with evil destiny for Pentapolis, do not allow him to act.

[§6] After all, who would blame the guiltless, for whom the burden of years and chronic attacks of disease have invoked our mercy? It would have been easy, no doubt, if we had been fortunate in our generals, to convict of impiety an army insolent and at war with God. What sort of sacred thing have they spared? Have they not in many a place in the plain of Barca destroyed newly-dug graves? Is it not by them that the churches of our district of Ampelus have everywhere been burnt and ruined? Did they not employ the sacred communion tables for the distribution of meat, as though they were profane? The holy vessels, solemnly used for the public libation-ritual, they take away now for the demons of the enemy country.[2]

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Note 1:
An army unit.

Note 2:
Such as those venerated at Slonta.
Online 2006
Revision: 11 Nov. 2006
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