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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 96, written in 410,  is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald. It resembles Letter 11.

Letter 96: Becoming Bishop; Spiritual Crisis

To Olympius

I call to witness that divinity whom both philosophy and friendship honor, that I should have preferred many deaths to the bishopric. But God has imposed upon me not what I desired but what He wished. I pray Him, therefore, who has been the giver of my life, to be its protector also, so that this office may not seem to me a descent from the realm of philosophy, but rather a step upwards to it.

Meantime, just as if any pleasure had come to me, I should have shared it with you, my dearest friend, so also I send to you the recital of my griefs, in order that you may suffer with me, and that after scrutinizing the matter in question with reference to my character, you may, if possible, express an opinion as to what I ought to do.

As it is, I am trying to tackle the matter at a distance. I have been for over six months in this dreadful position, far from the men amongst whom I shall be a priest. I am waiting to learn exactly what the nature of this office is. If it is possible, I will perform the duties with philosophy, but if it cannot be reconciled with my school of thought and sect, what better could I do than sail straight for illustrious Greece? For if I refuse the priesthood, I can no longer dream of returning to my own city either, unless I am prepared to be the most dishonored and accursed of all men, living amidst a crowd of enemies.
Online 2007
Revision: 17 August 2007
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