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Synesius, Dio, 2


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, about the christianization of the Roman world, and the military crisis at the beginning of the fifth century.

In his speech Dio, named after Dio of Prusa, Synesius presents his cultural ideal. The speech is summarized here.

The
text is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald. The green four-digit numbers are page numbers of the Migne edition.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

[2] [1117] Now when Dio betook himself to philosophy, then indeed and then most of all did the power of his nature become manifest. For as though his natural bent of mind had recognized late in the day its true sphere of action, he was drawn away from his profession of sophistry, not by degrees, but suddenly and with all sails set; and then indeed he handled the rhetorical parts of his arguments no longer with the powers of a rhetorician, but in the  manner of a statesman.

If anyone is ignorant of the difference between the statesman and the rhetorician in the same subject of discourse, let him go over intelligently the funeral oration of Aspasia in Plato, and that of Pericles in Thucydides.[1] Each one is far more beautiful than the other if judged according to its own canons.

Now Dio does not seem to have persevered with the systematic propositions of philosophy, nor to have continued to devote his attention to the tenets of natural science, for he had made the change late in the day. But he profited, it seems, by the teachings of the Stoa in so far as ethics are concerned, and showed virility of mind beyond any of his contemporaries; he set himself to admonish mankind whether kings or private citizens, speaking as well to the individual as to the masses, and to this end he devoted his long reserved training in oratory.

On account of this it would be well, I think, to inscribe on each discourse of Dio whether it was written before his exile or after it, as the case may be, not merely on those in which there is some allusion to the exile, as some have already done, but on all without exception. In this way we should be enabled to separate those works which are philosophical from those which are in essence sophistic, keeping them apart, and we shall not have to encounter him as though engaged in a night battle, at one moment attacking Socrates and Zeno with Dionysiac jeers and demanding that their disciples should depart from every land and sea, as being the curse of towns and states; and at another crowning them with wreaths and holding them up as examples of a noble and temperate life.

But Philostratus, without taking the trouble to think about it, assumes that the 'Eulogy on the parrot' and the 'Euboean' belong to the same line of thought, and then devotes himself impartially, in behalf of both these works, to the defense of Dio, that the latter may not appear to have devoted serious hours to trifles. Now this is only to give greater importance to one of the works in question. For while proclaiming his place to be amongst those who have passed their whole lives in philosophy, he not only admits, as he develops the argument, that Dio has done some work of the sophistic sort, but defrauds the man also on things that really exist in virtue of the philosophical side of his nature, by assigning these to the sophistic works.

Now if anyone denies that the 'Euboean' is a serious work and has been written in defense of serious views, [1120] he would not easily, I think, accept anyone of Dio's works in such wise at least as to call it philosophical. The treatise is an outline of a happy life, and is one most worthy of perusal for the poor and the rich alike, for it tends to repress the temperament swollen with riches by showing that happiness lies in another direction, and it awakens the nature beaten down by poverty and frees it from humiliation.

On the one hand this is a tale that would soothe the ears of all men and might have persuaded Xerxes himself, even that Xerxes who led the great expedition against the Greeks, that on his diet of millet a huntsman in the mountains of Euboea was a happier man than he. On the other hand it is in accord with the best precepts, and in his own practice of these no one is ashamed of poverty, even if he cannot escape it. For these reasons they are the better judges who have placed this work next in order of excellence to his last 'On Kingship', in which he presents four lives and their demons, taking in turn the lover of possessions, the lover of enjoyment, thirdly the lover of honors, and above all the benevolent and industrious one. All these he describes and arranges in their true proportion, then brings the book to an end after promising that he will at once give us the rest when he shall be permitted by the gods to do so.

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Note 1:
Plato, Menexenus, 236e; Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, 2.35-46.
Online 2008
Revision: 21 March 2008
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