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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 134, written in c.406, is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald.

Letter 134: Various Matters

To Pylaemenes

I have received your letter in which you again accuse Fortune of treating you no better than in the past. You are wrong, dearest of friends, for it is not meet to blame her, but rather to console yourself. In your difficulties you can always come to me; you will be in the house of a brother. We are not rich, my good friend, but all we possess is quite sufficient for Pylaemenes and for me. If only we dwelt together, perhaps we should even be wealthy. Other men with resources such as mine enjoy great comfort, but I am a bad steward. In the meantime my patrimony still holds out against absolute neglect, and is well able to support a philosopher. Do not imagine that chance carries foresight with it.

Well, then, do exactly as I tell you, unless meantime you have found fortune more favorable, and unless you again plan to raise the prostrate Heraclea. I am not writing to my habitual correspondents, on account of the difficulties of these times,[1] but I have written quite lately to all of them. I gave Diogenes a whole packet of letters. Diogenes is my cousin; he undoubtedly went in search of you, and if he had succeeded in finding you, the packet ought to have been given to you by this time, for it bears your name. If you have not yet received it, ask the captain to point out the young man to you, and when you have obtained the letters, take upon yourself the care of distributing them.

There are people whom I particularly ask you to salute in my name, the aged Proclus, Trypho, who has governed our province, and Simplicius, a most worthy man, an excellent magistrate, and a friend of mine. When you have brought him the letter, take advantage of the opportunity to make his acquaintance, for it is a beautiful thing to pass one's time with a poet-soldier.

We caught ostriches in the days when peace allowed us the pleasure of hunting, but we have not been able to send them to sea owing to the enemies' armaments, nor could we put upon our ships any part of the goods lying on the wharves. There is only a cargo of wine, and as to olive-oil, by your noble head, they have not succeeded in embarking a single measure, so far as I know. Accept them, so many pints of wine as I offer you. In order to get it, you have only to send Julius the order, which I append to his letter, for fear that it may go astray. I also wrote to the aged Proclus sending a like consignment.

Let him receive the letter by you, and the wine by Julius. We have prepared delicate presents for the golden Trypho (I must make use even now of the cold wit of a Gorgias), a great deal of silphium juice (even you know of the silphium of Battus), and the best saffron, for this is also a worthy product of Cyrene. However, it is impossible at the present moment to send all this. We would put it on board another vessel when we send the ostriches with it, and the olive-oil by itself.

Note 1:
A reference to the siege of Cyrene in the preceding year.
Online 2007
Revision: 15 August 2007
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