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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 54, written in 396, is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald. It throws some light on the rivalry between the philosophical schools of Athens and Alexandria. Cf. Letter 136.

Letter 54: Athens

To his Brother

A great number of people, either private individuals or priests, by moulding dreams, which they call revelations, seem likely to do me harm when I am awake, if I do not happen with all speed to visit sacred Athens. Whenever, then, you happen to meet a skipper sailing for the Piraeus, write to me, as it is there I shall receive my letters.

I shall gain not only this by my voyage to Athens - an escape from my present evils, but also a relief from doing reverence to the learning of those who come back from Athens. They differ in no wise from us ordinary mortals. They do not understand Aristotle or Plato better than we, and nevertheless they go about among us as demi-gods among mules, because they have seen the Academy, the Lyceum,[1] and the Poikilê where Zeno gave his lectures on philosophy. However, the Poikilê no longer deserves its name, for the proconsul has taken away all the pictures, and has thus humiliated these men's pretensions to learning.

Note 1:
Aristotle's school was the Lyceum; Plato's school was called the Academy.
Online 2007
Revision: 11 August 2007
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