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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 47, offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald, was probably written in 411. As a bishop, Synesius was allowed to intervene in legal procedures. Cf. Letter 91, which also refers to Martyrius.

Letter 47: A Recommendation

To Theotimus

Regard Peter also as the scorn of Pentapolis, a fellow who sets about breaking its laws without method, and for my part I detest the man who proceeds about a thing in that way. God knows this, and Dioscurides as well. But this man is much more impudent than the latter, for he first seizes whatever possession he may desire, and makes them his own; then he goes to the law about it, and if the verdict is given against him, he takes them by force.

This is how he behaved recently. He possessed himself a wine jar; someone summoned him before the court for this; he was condemned, but he refused to give up the object, and threatened the police agents with blows. As I am much annoyed about this, and I think that life would be insupportable in a city where some private persons have more powerful hands than the laws themselves, I have exhorted the most conspicuous men here to rally to the call, and to come to the help of the constitution. For if this man succeeded, in a little while we should see numerous Peters.

The worthy Martyrius fully shares my indignation, and I am very grateful to him for this, and for assisting me more zealously than any one else. May some blessing come to him from God for this! I only hope that he will not encounter any evil at the hands of Anthemius, to whom Peter threatens to appeal. To prevent this, I beg of you, and I make this request, through you, to the renowned and wise Troilus - I beg you, I say, to make it impossible for such a sin-stained creature as this to use the law against the law.

I have first the interests of Pentapolis at heart, and second, I should not like to be the cause of misfortune to a friend. How can the intrigues of this wretch be checked? It is not my province to find the answer, but rather yours, O most ingenious of all men in noble purposes.
Online 2007
Revision: 18 August 2007
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