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

Letter 126: Death of Synesius' Son

To Asclepiodotus

Alas! but why alas! Our lost is but mortal. The third of my sons, the only one who remained to me, has gone. I still, however, hold to the view that good and evil cannot be predicated of that which is not in our power. Or rather, this lesson which I learned long ago has now become a belief of a soul schooled in experience; the blow was of course more violent than my own suffering from it.

The evil spirit whose business it is to hurt me arranged beforehand also that you, always so dear to me, should not be present. Oh best, thrice dear and most loyal of friends, may you come yet!

I can bear witness that the noble Menelaus has a warm affection for you. For this reason I often spend a day with him, because he remembers you with something akin to veneration. Although he is very much occupied with the care of his soul, and has given himself up today to the guardians who are bringing him straight to Taucheira, he was well-disposed to the great Asclepiodotus, and he has continued to express gratitude to one to whom he owes so much.

I am searching for a marble pot or cask to keep fresh water in, the larger the better. It shall be placed in the river Asclepius,[1] for beside it I am building the monastery, and getting ready the holy vases. May God bless my enterprise!

Note 1:
A play on the name of the addressee. However, the name is also that of the pagan god of health; obviously, Synesius was converting an ancient shrine into a monastery, which was a common practice when Theophilus was patriarch of Alexandria.
Online 2007
Revision: 20 August 2007
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