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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 127, written in 404, speaks for itself and is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald.

Letter 127: A Greedy Governor

To his Brother

Beware of the asp and the toad, the snake and the Laodiceans.
Beware of the mad dog too, and again of the Laodiceans.[1]

After the most amiable and cultivated man, Pentadius, it is a Laodicean, Euthalius, who has obtained and holds the tablets which the state makes the token of the Egyptian government. You know the youth, for, if I am not mistaken, he entered service about the same time as we did, and it is impossible that you did not notice him, on account of his character and his surname. You have heard of a certain Balantas;[2] this dignified appellation did not come to him by inheritance from his father, but rather was a nickname which he acquired for himself. Having been appointed governor of Lydia in the days of Rufinus, I think, he so plundered the Lydians that Rufinus in great wrath condemned him to a fine of fifteen pounds of gold. He furthermore gave orders to some of his soldiers, the bravest and most faithful, as he believed, of his servants, to go and collect this sum of money by force from him and to bring it back faithfully to his bank.

What did our Sisyphus then? I shall not be so tactless as to spin out at great length the story which has been proclaimed on the house-tops. You have heard of course how he prepared a pair of purses much more like one another than the horses of Eumelus.[3] He filled one of these with bronze obols, the other with gold staters. Then he proceeded to conceal the first one, and to show the second. They counted up the gold, weighed it, and sealed it up with the public seal. Then he secretly effected an exchange of the two purses, and sent the obols instead of the staters. But those in charge had in an official dispatch acknowledged the receipt of the gold, and promised to convey it to the bank.

"Daphnis became henceforth the first of the shepherds".[4] It was this which raised Euthalius to the height of fortune. Nobody could feel sorry for the state, because all laughed so much. Rather did all long to see one who had worked wonders as no other man in history. They were always inviting him. He went in procession through the cities as though he were a benefactor of the Romans, seated in a state chariot. The fellow is more talkative, I know, than the idlers who deliberate in the vestibule of the council-chamber, and this man will at once replace our dear Pentadius.

Note 1:
Probably a quote from an unknown text.

Note 2:
"Purseman".

Note 3:
A reference to Homer, Iliad, 2.763.

Note 4:
Theocritus, 8.92.
Online 2007
Revision: 11 August 2007
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