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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.

Letter 1, written in 402, is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald. Cf. Letter 74.

Letter 1: The "Eulogy of Baldness"

To Nicander

I have begotten children in my books, some from most august Philosophy, an from Poesy who dwelleth with her in the Temple, some again from Rhetoric of the public place. But anyone can see that they are all from the same father, who inclines now to the serious and now to the lighter side. This book [1] therefore shall give its own pledge as to which category it belongs.

So far as I am concerned, it is exceptionally dear to me that I would most gladly graft it on to Philosophy, and would rank it amongst my legitimate offspring, but this the very laws of the City refuse me, "for they are terribly stern guardians of noble birth". Notwithstanding this, it has whatever bounty I am able to bestow upon it in secret, and I have put much of the sterner side into it also.

If, therefore, you agree with me as to its merit, make my work known to your Greek friends, and if its reception be unfavorable let it be returned to the sender. After all, love of offspring is so great a force in nature that, according to the fable, the very apes when they bring forth their young gaze upon them as idols, and are lost in admiration of their beauty, but those of their fellows they see just as they are - the offspring of apes. Hence we should leave to others the task of appraising the value of our creation, for partiality is quite capable of warping our judgment. It was for this that [the sculptor] Lysippus brought [the painter] Apelles to see his pictures, and for the same reason Apelles brought Lysippus to see his own.

Note 1:
A Eulogy of Baldness.
Online 2007
Revision: 13 August 2007
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