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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.

Hymn 4 is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald.

Hymn 4: To the Supreme Being

To Thee I sing, when the sacred day beginneth,
to Thee while it waxeth, to Thee when it toucheth the meridian,
to Thee when it declineth, and when cometh wondrous night;
to Thee, Creator, Healer of souls, Healer of limbs,
Giver of wisdom, Banisher of diseases,
Giver to souls of a life free from trouble,
a life which earthly care, mother of griefs,
mother of sufferings, trampleth not under foot.

May my life remain to me purified of these,
that in song I may tell of the hidden root of all things,
nor be turned away from God by delusions that lead astray.

Thee, Blessed One, I sing to,
Lord of the universe, and let earth be silent.

Let all that the universe possesses keep sacred silence,
while hymns and prayers are addressed to Thee,
for they are Thy works, O Father.

Let the whistling winds be still, the rustling of trees, the song of birds;
let the ether be at peace, let the air be at peace, listening to the strain,
and let the gushing waters be noiseless now throughout the earth.

Let the demons now flee from my pure prayer,
they that delighting in the realm of darkness and haunting the tombs,
impede holy songs, but the good,
the happy servants of the all-understanding Creator,
as many as occupy the depths and heights of the universe,
let those hear benignly the hymns that are of the Father,
and benignly let them bear my prayers on high.

Unity of units, Father of fathers, the Good of good things,
Star of stars, Universe of universes, Idea of ideas,
profound Beauty, hidden Seed, Father of ages,
Father of unspeakable words of Mind,
whence a divine breath ever distilling,
floating over the masses of body, it now kindleth a second universe.

Thee, Blessed One, I sing to with my voice,
and I sing unto Thee alike with silence,
for as many things as Thou hearest of the voice,
Thou hearest also of the silence of the mind.

And I sing to the Offspring, the First-born, the First-appearing,
Most glorious Offspring of the ineffable Father,
Thee, Blessed One, I hymn, together with the great Father,
and the travail of the Father over Thee,
that Counsel of generation, the medial Beginning,
the Holy Spirit, Center of the Creator, Center again of the Son,
Mother, Sister, and Daughter to Thyself, delivered of the secret Root.

For in order that the Father might be poured out upon the Son,
that very outpouring found a shoot, and stood in the midst,
God, descended from God, in a Son who was God,
and in the renowned outpouring of an immortal Father,
the Son, found a shoot.

Thou art Unity, Trinity withal, Unity that dost endure,
and a Trinity in very truth Thou art.

And the intellectual division retains still undivided that which is partitioned,
but the Son, though he hath leaped forth, remains with the Father
and yet conducts, without, the Father's business,
bringing down to the worlds the beatitude of life,
whence the Word Himself has it.

This Word I hymn, in unison with the great Father.
The Mind of the ineffable Father brings Thee to birth,
and Thou, so conceived, art the Word of the Creator,
first to leap forward from out the primal Root,
and the Root of all things that came after Thy illustrious birth.

And ineffable Unity, the Seed of all things,
hath begotten Thee, the Seed of all things;
for Thou art in all things,
and through Thee the highest, the medial, and the lowest nature,
enjoy the good gifts of the generative life from God the Father.

For Thee an ageless sphere rolls its untroubled course.
Under Thy direction the seven planets dance in harmony
in the powerful revolutions of the great vault,
and the many lights of the universe adorn
the one dome of the sky by Thy Will,
most renowned Offspring;
for Thou, running round about the heavenly deep,
holdest together unbroken the course of ages,
and under thy sacred ordinances, Blessed One,
in the cavities of the unsoundable ether,
dwells the company of gleaming stars.

Thou dost apportion their tasks in the heavens and the air,
on the earth and in the world below,
and Thou allottest unto them their life.

Thou art the Master of Mind,
and to the gods their Ordainer,
as to morals also,
as many as have quaffed
the showers of Mind's destiny.

Thou art the Giver of Soul
to those whose life is dependent on the soul,
and art tireless in nature.

A blind offspring of soul hangs from Thy chain,
and as many things as are deprived of all breath
pluck from Thy bosom a bond of union,
carried by Thy power from the ineffable Fatherly Bosom, the hidden unity,
whence the stream of life flowing onwards is carried off
by Thy power even unto the earth, through trackless worlds of mind.

Thence the visible cosmos, the form of the world of mind,receives it,
a descending stream of blessings. This (visible cosmos) had a second sun,
the progenitor with shining eyes of a later shining light,
the guardian of that matter which comes into being and perishes,
a Son who is the perceptible impression of Mind,
the purveyor of what good things are born in the universe,
born through thy will, most august Offspring,
Father unknowable, Father ineffable,
Unknowable to Mind, Unutterable in speech.

Thou art the Mind of minds, the Soul of souls, the Nature of natures.
Lo, I bend the knee before Thee, a servant,
I cast myself upon the ground, a blind suppliant;
but do Thou, the Giver of light, the light of Mind,
take pity, O Blessed One, on a suppliant soul;
chase away diseases, chase away cares that gnaw the soul,
and chase way the shameless hound of the netherworld, the demon of earth,
from my soul, from my prayer, from my life, from my works.

Let the demon remain outside of my body,
of my spirit, and of all that is mine.
Let him flee, let him leave me, the demon of matter, the power of sufferings,
who builds his fortress wall against the path that leadeth above,
who violateth the aspirations that seek God;
and give me a companion, O King,
a partner, a sacred messenger of sacred power,
a messenger of prayer illumined by the divine light,
a friend, a dispenser of noble gifts,
a guard of my soul, a guard of my life,
a guard over prayers, a guard over deeds,
and one to save the body purified of disease
to save the spirit purified of shame.

And bring my to my soul oblivion of its passions,
that the soul's winged flight may also enrich
the earth-nourished life with hymns of Thee,
to the end too that I may complete the life
that comes with destiny after the chains
that weighs us down to the earth,
a life purified of matter,
even unto thy courts and unto thy Bosom
whence outdwelleth the fountain of the soul.

And do Thou extend to me thy Hand;
do Thou call, Blessed One,
do Thou lift up from matter a suppliant soul.
Online 2007
Revision: 21 August 2007
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