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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 129, written in 403, is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald.

Letter 129: Various Matters

To Pylaemenes

In Plato we see Socrates already advanced in years seeking out his loves. "Do not be surprized", he says to them, "if after having given myself up to love with difficulty, I renounce it also with difficulty." Methinks I have experienced the same thing in my relations with you, and ought to ask the same forgiveness, I who have passed a whole year, it would not be right or true to say, without writing to you, but in writing to you in vain, since all my letters have come back to me.

Today, therefore, I am sending all of them to you at the same time. In saying so much to you, I not only pay what might be called the arrears of the debts, but seek to contribute something else as well. And yet I swear in the name of Him who presides over our friendship that I came down to the sea for this very purpose, "having given up the turf"', and made a bargain with the oarsmen of Phycus whom I enjoined to give you my letters and...

but why enumerate the presents which I sent to Pylaemenes, and which by an unfortunate voyage have been landed at Alexandria? I am very much disappointed on your account, but although Pylaemenes is the dearest to me of all my friends there, I swear by your beloved disposition that I am still more disappointed, because of many other friends, above all the admirable Proclus and Trypho, the only men from whom you sent me messages of greeting.

I am sending your honor ten pieces of gold, and to our comrade Proclus as noble Hesiod has prescribed, a third more than he lent me. Thus the matter stands. When abroad I accepted from Proclus sixty pieces of gold for the expenses of the voyage. On the bill he had written seventy, and I am sending him eighty. He would have had many more, if you had received the first letters I sent you, and if the ship had reached you with the cargo then sent.

Now I have, but some turn of fortune, set out for Alexandria. I thought that we should arrive at Crete into the Egyptian Sea, which we safely reached, through with difficulty. Had it not been for this, what would have prevented you from feeding ostriches like hens? The venerable Proclus should give my agents the receipt, when he has received the eighty pieces of gold and get my friend Troilus to send me quickly the books that you have given him; namely Nicostratus and Alexander of Aphrodisias.[1] If through your kindness those who are soon coming to take over our government show any friendship for us, you will for your part have done for us as much good to philosophy as, according to Plato, contempt for it has done harm.

Note 1:
Nicostratus was a comic poet; Alexander of Aphrodisias wrote comments on Aristotle.
Online 2007
Revision: 15 August 2007
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