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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.

The text of Letter 50, which is a sequel to Letter 44, is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald. It was written in 404.

Letter 50: The Assassination of Aemilius

To his Brother

They say that Joannes killed Aemilius. Another says this is a calumny that his political enemies have put in circulation. Justice only knows the truth, and time will discover it, but although the case is an obscure one, I think all these people should be held in detestation; the one because, even if he did not commit the crime, he is just the sort of man to commit it; the other because, if they did not invent the stories, at all events were quite capable of doing so, and the attempt to slander is theirs.

But if only a man has a nature that does not lend itself to suspicion, even all the evidence of a multitude of conspirators will not injure his reputation. He would be laughed to scorn who assailed Ajax on the charge of unchastity. But Alexander, even if not debauched, at all events was effeminate, and laid himself open to that imputation. As for Sisyphus and Odysseus, I detest them. Even although they spoke the truth in exceptional cases, they were, nevertheless, the sort of men who generally lie, and in whatever way I may be unlucky, I am very lucky to get rid of such citizens, whether they be friends or enemies.

Let me be fortified against all such, and may I have no dealings with any of them! I would rather live a stranger amongst strangers.

Our way of life separates us more than country. I mourn over the famous site of Cyrene, in the past the abode of the Carneadae and of the Aristippi, but now of the Joannes and the Julii. In their society I cannot live with pleasure, and I live away from it with pleasure. Do not write again to me therefore about any occurrences there. Do not recommend to my good graces anybody who is engaged in a lawsuit, for in future I do not wish to interest myself in any one of them.

I should indeed by unfortunate if I were deprived of good things of my beloved native town, but had to take part in its quarrels and those affairs that drag me away from my ease in philosophy, unfortunate if, when I have chosen poverty as a guerdon from leisure, I should interfere without reward in other men's evil concerns.
Online 2007
Revision: 15 August 2007
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