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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 62, written in 413, is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald.

Letter 62: Death of Synesius' Son; a Recommendation

To the General

Praise is the reward of virtue, which we offer to the most illustrious [1] Marcellinus at this moment when he is leaving his post, at this moment when suspicion of every flattery is in abeyance. When he arrived here, he found our cities attacked from without by the multitude and rage of the barbarians, from within by the lack of discipline of the troops and the rapacity of their commanders. Marcellinus appeared in our midst as a god. He vanquished the enemy in a single day's fighting, and by his continual alertness he has brought our subjects into line. He has thus out of both calamities brought peace to our cities.

Nor did he claim any of those profits that usage has made to appear lawful; he has not plotted to despoil the rich or ill-treat the poor. He has shown himself pious towards God, just towards his fellow citizens, considerate to suppliants.

On this account a philosopher priest is not ashamed to praise him, a priest from whom no one ever received a testimonial bought by favor. We wish that the courts of law also were present with us, so that, collectively and individually, all we inhabitants of Ptolemais might have presented him in return with such a testimonial as is in our power, however inadequate, for words are somehow far inferior to deeds. I would most willingly have made a speech on the occasion in behalf of us all.

But since today he is beyond the frontier, we wish at all events to dedicate to him our testimony in the form of a letter, not as those from whom a favor is solicited, but as those who have solicited one.

Note 1:
A translation of clarissimus, the title of a man of senatorial rank.
Online 2007
Revision: 20 August 2007
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