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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 81, written in 413, is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald. The death of Synesius' son is also mentioned in Letters 70 and 126.

Letter 81: Death of Synesius' Son; a Recommendation

To the Philosopher [Hypatia]

Even if Fortune is unable to take everything away from me, at least she wants to take away everything that she can, she who has "bereft me of many excellent sons".[1] But she can never take away from me the choice of the best, and the power to come to the help of the oppressed, for never may she prevail to change my heart! I abhor iniquity: for one may, and I would fain prevent it, but this also is one of those things which were taken from me; this went even before my children.

"Aforetime the Milesians were men of might".[2] There was a time when I , too, was of some use to my friends. You yourself called me the providence of others. All respect which was accorded to me by the mighty of this earth, I employed solely to help others. The great were merely my instruments. But now, alas, I am deserted and abandoned by all, unless you have some power to help.

I account you as the only good thing that remains inviolate, along with virtue. You always have power, and long may you have it and make good use of that power. I recommend to your care Nicaeus and Philolaus, two excellent young men united by the bond of relationship. In order that they may come again into possession of their own property, try to get support for them from all your friends, whether private individuals or magistrates.

Note 1:
HomerIliad, 22.44.

Note 2:
Aristophanes, Plutus, 1002.
Online 2007
Revision: 20 August 2007
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