Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other

Synesius, Dio, 5


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

[5] [1125] Now this speech would define as an artist and an expert the man who cuts off for himself any one branch of knowledge, one such man belonging to one divinity [Muse], another to another; but it would call philosopher that one who has been fitted together from the harmony of all, and has made the multitude of arts into one. Or rather he has not attained this yet, for this must be added to him also, namely, that he have a task of his own superior to that of his company. Thus the story goes that Apollo sings at one time with the Muses, leading off himself, and giving the time to the band, and at another sings by himself; but the first would be the sacred and ineffable melody.

So our philosopher will commune, now with himself, and now with the god through philosophy, but he will commune with men by the subordinate powers of speech. He will possess knowledge indeed as a lover of literature, whereas he will pass judgment upon each and everything as a philosopher. But these immovable men who despise rhetoric and poetry [1] do not seem to me to be what they are of their own free will, and owing to the poverty of their natural gifts they are incapable of even small achievements. You may more easily see such men than see anything in their minds, [1128] and their tongues are unable to interpret any thought. I, for one, even wish to distrust them, nor would I say that they are concealing something hidden like the Vestal Virgins,[2] first because it is not even in the divine order that a man should be wise about great things who is ignorant about small ones, and further because, just as God has conceived clear images of his secret powers, tangible bodies of the ideas, thus a soul possessing beauty and fruitful of the noblest things, possesses the force which is transmissible even to things outside, for no one of the divine agencies is willing to be the last removed.

If then the man who refrains from talk in all sorts of ways is best to conceal the inviolable doctrines, and also acquires the power of dealing with assemblies of people at his will; of necessity must that man fall short who has not been initiated in the inner circle beforehand nor has celebrated the rites of the Muses. For one of these two experiences overtakes him; either to be silent, or to say what the law commands to be kept in silence. Thus he will either take as subjects of his discourses the fortunes of the town, and will associate with men on terms of vulgar familiarity, which no freeborn man would deign to do, or if he desires to be a leader in  philosophy he will live in idleness.

Now it is possible that this he would not, even if he could, but certain that he could not if he would. For my part I admire Proteus of Pharos [3] also, for, being wise in great things, he had thrown about himself a cloak of wondrous @sophistic discourse, and associated with chance comers in every way. For they departed in amazement at the display surrounding him, without investigating the truth of the things concerning which they were troubled. Now let there be some vestibule of the temple for the uninitiated, but the man who once gives himself solemn airs does not dissemble but rather irritates and fans the flames of greediness in nature by which everyone busies himself overmuch with that which is sacred. If Ixion had not grasped the cloud [4] instead of Hera, and if he had not been satisfied to embrace the mere image he would never willingly have abandoned his mad chase.

>> to part six >>

Note 1:
Cf. Synesius, Letter 154.

Note 2:
These Roman priestesses kept several ancient statues in their house, which people were not supposed to see.

Note 3:
Homer, Odyssey, 4.351ff.

Note 4:
Pindar, Pythian Odes, 2.36.
Online 2008
Revision: 21 March 2008
Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other