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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. The sarcastic text of Letter 110 is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald. It was written in 396.

Letter 110: Chilas

To his Brother

You remember Chilas, I suppose; I mean the one who kept a disorderly house. Probably few do not know him. He was quite celebrated in his walk of life. Andromache, the actress who was one of the prettiest women of our time, was part of his company. After having passed his youth in this honorable career, he took it into his head that it would be a fitting sequel to his past life to shine in his old age by military achievements. So he has just come to us, after obtaining from the Emperor the command of our brave Marcomans. Now that they are so happy as to have a really fitting leader, it seems to us that these soldiers, who have always been brave enough, cannot fail to distinguish themselves by the most brilliant feats of arms.

Chilas, then, told Syrianus, when he met him, - you know the latter, of course, a doctor, who is one of my neighbors, - and Syrianus repeated to me, the state of the camp of the Lord's anointed when he took his departure. Now as to other details that he gave me and to which I myself paid little attention at the moment, why should I trouble to mention them to you? There are, however, a few things which greatly tickle me and with which I would fain regale you in turn.

Our wonderful Joannes, in a word, is in the same position as ever. Fortune is showing herself as prodigal as possible to him, and is even seeking to surpass herself. He has the ear of the Emperor, and more important still, his good will to use for his own needs. Then, again, Antiochus does for him whatever he can, and Antiochus can do whatever he will. When I speak of Antiochus, do not confound him with Gratian's favorite, the sacred little man, honorable in character, but very ugly. The man I am talking about is young, has a paunch, was in great esteem with Narses the Persian and even after Narses. Since then his fortune has only gone on increasing. Under these circumstances it is probable that he will be in command among us as long as is a raven's life, this most righteous general, the near relation of the one and the intimate of the other.
Online 2007
Revision: 11 August 2007
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