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Synesius, Dio, 10


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.

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[10] [1144] All this has been directed not more against those of the other school than against those amongst ourselves who are grandiloquent although illogical, the very men who have furnished the present work with an occasion for coming to the rescue of preliminary education. Whatever anyone might be inclined to give for these worthless and brainless fellows, they would be dear at three for an obol. I give thanks both to skilful poets, good rhetoricians, and to anyone who has constructed history in memorable fashion, and in general I should like no one of those who have helped to contribute the good in the possession of each, the common stock of the Greeks, to go unrewarded. It is they who, taking us to themselves at the period of infancy, nursed us when we were still weak in intellect, [1145] mingling for us the sweet with the beneficial, for no one would have accepted these things unmixed, because of their acidity and of the delicacy of his perceptive faculties at the time.

And in this way by strengthening us and passing us on, one though one subject and another through another, they gave us over to the sciences; and they prepared us for fitness to aspire to the heights, and once there, whenever they perceive our souls besprinkled with sweat, and our nature growing weary, they call us gently back. And [the Muse] Calliope, receiving us as we had come, parched with drought, gave us rest, conducting us to the flowery meads, that we should not be consumed with our labor, and set before us a complete banquet of her Athenian far-fetched phrases and poetic piquancy, by which she first unmanned us, then spurred us on, ourselves the while unaware of this, and little by little brought us round in some wise, and finally made us again strip for the coming contest.

Now he who does not regard the Muses merely as a preliminary ceremonial of initiation, but thinks that the actual force of wisdom is in them, and does not wish to understand them, if perchance they speak enigmatically of something unusual and only hint at their meaning; he, I say, who admires the beauty that lies in them, and gapes at it, and is enthralled by this, such a man, it is true, has accomplished nothing extraordinary. But may many good things still be his, if he be a man of culture and graciousness!

In the same way, although we do not admire swans with the amazement which we bestow upon eagles when their flight is aloft, far above anything visible; nevertheless we take pleasure in looking at them and delight in their song, and may none of them through act of min ever sing for the last time! Now though the others are royal birds, and live beside the scepter of Zeus,[1] nevertheless a certain one of the gods [Apollo], himself the offspring of Zeus, was allotted these, and they are not deemed unworthy of his tripod. To be an eagle and a swan at the same time, and to possess the advantages of both, nature has not granted to birds. But to man God has given it, granting him both success with his tongue and mastery over philosophy.

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Note 1:
Pindar, Pythian Odes, 1.6.
Online 2008
Revision: 21 March 2008
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