Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other

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 79 has been written in 411 and is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald.

Letter 79: Andronicus

To Anastasius

I have not been able to do anything for the presbyter Evagrius any more than for any other of the wronged. We have Andronicus of Berenice for ruler, a wicked fellow, whose soul and tongue are equally detestable.

It is of no consequence that he hold me in small esteem, but, which is more grave, he appears to me to be ashamed to reverence those things which are divine. In his pride he strikes heaven with his head.

I swear by your dear and sacred head that he has wound a web of suffering about Pentapolis. He has invented thumb-screws and instruments of torture for the feet, and other strange machinery for inflicting punishments, which he employs, not against any guilty people, for everyone is now free to do evil, but rather against those who pay property-tax, or who owe money in any shape or form. He is a clever fellow at finding pretexts for so doing, worthy of his own nature and of that of Thoas, the jailer, whom he has directed to collect sums of money which he needs for army purposes, the so-called tirocinium.[1]

He is also exacting a sum for the needs of the court. Ever he finds some new evil to add to an old one, whereby torture may be inflicted on whole tribes and peoples. You may be as rich as you please and have plenty of money to pay with; nevertheless you will not escape his lash. Sometimes, while the slave is dispatched to the house to seek his master's ransom, the master is cudgelled, and runs the risk of losing several of his fingers.

When Andronicus is without a pretext for making a banquet of cruelty, he falls back upon Maximinus and Clinias, and gratifies his passion upon them. A man so evil as this must, I think, be under the special protection of evil spirits, who pour honors and wealth upon perverted souls whom they use as their tools for the persecution of mankind. For all these reasons they grant him celebrity, as though to a noble character.

Now is it fair to exalt the exalted and to humiliate the humble? Suppose that a man is of a simple and gentle nature; in the eyes of Andronicus he is of Carian destiny [2] and dishonorable. The only persons who are powerful in his eyes are Zenas and Julius. Zenas is the man who imposed a double tax last year, and who threatens to prosecute and to condemn my brother Anastasius, on the pretence that he carried out his ambassadorial duties dishonestly. At all events, he is in power by the will of Andronicus.

Julius, on the other hand, has grown stronger against his will, nay, notwithstanding his complaints, and against no one is Julius more violent than against this very Andronicus. He has raised his voice against him two or three times, reviled him like a carter, threatened him with everything, saying all thing such as I should have taken credit to myself for saying about the man.

He [Julius] has shown this castaway as a mouse instead of a lion, and thus he treats him as a slave, nor does the man dare to whisper even in corners against his master - the common privilege, I suppose, of menials. Andronicus dare not even do this, for a fool is never courageous. He shows himself in turn cowardly or rash, but he is ever contemptible.

Now the noble Hero will tell you in a manner worthy of himself what has happened to himself, if, after all, he survives. For he has suffered so from mere contact with the wickedness of this man, and from daily affliction through the dreadful things he has heard and endured, that he can scarcely hope to recover his own life, although he has been with difficulty saved from this fatal association.

At that time Thoas was not yet home from that celebrated journey of his. But now that he has returned, he has raised in his own person a very fortress of Decelea, to prevent all people of birth from departing. He brought with him the mysterious dream of the prefects, which signifies that some of those here should die, while others should be put in prison. Thus, because of the mysterious dream, some among us are manacled, others without any apparent cause are dying - and if they have not already died, they will die at once. As far as the rod could do it, they have perished, and if they still live today, it is only the robustness of their condition which has saved them.

"The great Anthemius will not recover, nor shall the Roman prefect get rid of his fever, unless Maximinus and Clinias are put to death": this is the story which Thoas whispers in the ears of everyone. On this account Andronicus refuses to allow Maximinus to contribute, and holds off by threats those who wish to purchase the property of Leucippus. It is not a question of replenishing the public treasury, bit of giving back health to the prefects.

The prefects made Thoas alone come home, he says, and, without any other witness of their interview than the sophist himself, they disclosed the dream to him. Then, as Thoas declares on oath, the harbors were closed until he should first have sailed out and communicated the secret to Andronicus, in order that none of those that deserved to die in place of Anthemius might escape in secret.

Therefore, as the result of a dream seen by another, or rather said to have been seen, Pentapolis fares evilly in a waking state. Andronicus, who has been entrusted with the information, and is to be the benefactor of the prefects' prosperous house, "now rages madly, trusting in" Thoas. "He no longer" knows how to "respect

- or gods or men, wild frenzy holds him fast.[3]

In the sad state into which our city has fallen, Evagrius had no need to consult a prophet to predict that he was bound to come off badly, if his case should come up before the courts. Andronicus himself announced his intentions beforehand, not to outsiders, bit direct to Evagrius himself. He bade him to be wise in time, and to take up the public duties of his own free will.[4] For he would certainly give his vote for condemnation.

Now I have made it my defense before God, the divine Dioscorides, and all men, that in worldly matters I myself am become more dishonored than I was honored, and weak instead of strong. When I was away, Andronicus courted my power, for that I twice saved him at Alexandria from prison. When I came back here, however, he showed himself quite another man to me; by your sacred head, I swear it.

When I was so unfortunate to lose the dearest of my children, I might even have rid me of my life, so crushed was I with grief, and grief has always found me too much like a woman, as you know well. If I ended by overcoming my grief, this was not by any effort of my reason. It was Andronicus who changed the whole current of my ideas, and compelled me to think about nothing except public disasters. Troubles have become for me a consolation for troubles, drawing me towards them, and pushing out grief by grief. All the sadness that I felt for the death of my boy has given way to another sort of sadness mingled with wrath.

You must know that my death had been predicted to fall upon a certain day of the year. That day turned out to be the one on which I entered on the priesthood. I felt a change in my life, I who up to the moment have held festal assemblies in it, and have enjoyed honor from me, and benevolence such as has been granted to no philosopher before me - no less outwardly than in the state of the soul.

Today I am conscious of the loss of all these things. But the greatest of all my afflictions, and one which makes my life actually one of despair, is that, while accustomed up to this moment to find my prayers listened to, I now know for the first time that I appeal to God in vain. I see my house faring ill. I am compelled to dwell in my native city at a time of distress. I am situated so that all come to me to weep and groan, each for his own troubles. Andronicus has put the finishing touch to my misfortunes; for because of him I never enjoy for a moment the leisure to which I am accustomed.

I am unable to be of any assistance to any of those who come to me for help, I am condemned to endure them when they reproach me for my helplessness. I therefore implore and supplicate both of you, but more especially you who are so dear to me, brother Anastasius, and who are said to be a protector of a demented man; if you possess any power, us it, as is only right, in behalf of Synesius rather than of Andronicus, and save Ptolemais from shame, I beg you, that city which appointed me its bishop against my own will - as the all-seeing eye of God knoweth.

I know not for what misdeeds I am paying so heavy a retribution. If we have incurred aforetimes the envy of any of the gods, as the saying is, we have made ample expiation. This statement is only just to make on behalf of Maximinus and Clinias also, for even the most savage of the demons would, it seems to me, hold them in pity, all except Thoas and Andronicus, for these men are the only implacable demons.

Note 1:
A tax paid by the owner of a house, who is freed from the obligation to furnish a recruit (tiro) to the army.

Note 2:
A synonym for despised.

Note 3:
Homer, Iliad, 9.238

Note 4:
Rich people were obliged to pay for certain public tasks. In late Antiquity, this burden was felt to be too heavy.
Online 2007
Revision: 18 August 2007
Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other