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Synesius of Cyrene


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 known as Constitutio might also be called "In praise of Anysius", or "Celebrating a victory". Its occasion was that in 411, Anysius had defeated a group of barbarians roaming through the Cyrenaica. The Unnigardae are a corps of cavalry men.

Constitutio

Inasmuch as I have not chosen a philosophy that stands aloof from public life, and inasmuch as the religion that most cherishes humanity urges us to acquire a character devoted to the common weal, I have given ear to your summons, and I am glad to know the reason which have brought the two cities so speedily into agreement. For I think it will be profitable to them, both now and in the future, that they are at once grateful and show their gratitude towards those who initiated kind actions.

I welcomed therefore the united expressions of the people and at the same time I extolled all individual speakers with praise. But I too must needs be of the company of eulogists, and this also becomes me more than all others. I even consider that I myself owe thanks to those who have conferred any benefit, on behalf of everyone, whether an individual or city. For how can the man whose duty it is to pray for the common good, fail in gratitude to him who has added to it by his military service and the rest of his administration? How can I fail to treat with all honor the man who has throughout labored with the sweat of his brow, that I may obtain the object of my prayers, that the accursed barbarians should perish evilly, in evil wise?

It was I indeed that prayed to God, but it was the hands of Anysius that carried out God's will. Of the cavalry who attacked us the other day, over a thousand in number, not the fifth part survives, say those who have suffered. They themselves yet live and have counted the fallen. These results, too, have been attained with no great army to lead the way; but the men who fought along with them numbered forty.

I will say nothing derogatory to the cavalry and infantry we are supporting, but he, Anysius, thinks that we ought to use the Unnigardae for everything. The rest of his forces, numerous as they were, he did not even lead out to be spectators of the prowess of others. These men can carry out the military plans of this chief only. He is their comrade in arms and captain; he is their fellow-soldier and general. With them as an armed guard he runs a course through the country. He appears quickly everywhere, and he conquers wherever he appears. If there were more of these troops in addition to the two hundred that we have, I boldly declare that with the help of God this young leader would transfer the war to the enemy's country. We shall have to ask for two hundred Unnigardae, with Anysius as general, if we are to bring back our kinsmen from the land of the barbarians.

Would that I might live to see as division of spoils taken from their bodies, and the erstwhile master of barbarian captives doing his turn as a slave! It was easy enough to pray for this a day or two ago, but now we may even hope for it. Trustworthy facts before our eyes have become pledges of our expectations.

To achieve this, therefore, Anysius must take the field at the head of two hundred Unnigardae. This many has both the nature and the training which fit him to handle the Unnigardae. He had the faculty of equipping them completely and of keeping them in hand. The Unnigardae with Anysius are the hands of Rome.

The forty we have with us I could praise for their strength quite apart from him, but I would not answer for their judgment. Let an ambassadorial report be sent concerning him, requesting troops and an extension of time for this noble fellow.

And what a man, too, in other respects! Was it not he who brought to an end the war we had in time of peace, one almost more severe than the barbarian war, proceeding as it did from the indiscipline of the soldiers and the cupidity of the officers? To him alone as of the many generals is it due that a civilian who has been wronged can now raise his voice louder than a soldier's.

Who can be described as incorruptible? Is it not he who makes a small case even of lawful gains of his own? Who could be more religious than he who makes a beginning with God in every word and deed? In return for all these gifts we may all of us here present pray that a long and comfortable old age may be continued to him, and that his virtue may increase as the years go by.
Online 2007
Revision: 20 August 2007
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