Synesius of Cyrene
Mosaic depicting an angel. Museum of Ptolemais
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
of the Roman world.
The text of Letter 136, which describes a visit to Athens in 396 (or 400?), is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald. Cf. Letter 54.
Letter 136: A visit to AthensTo his Brother
I hope that I may profit as much as you desire from my residence at Athens. It seems to me that I have already grown more than a palm and a finger's length in wisdom, and I can give you at once a proof of the progress I have made.
Well, it is from Anagyrus that I am writing to you; and I have visited Sphettus, Thria, Cephisia, and Phalerum.
But may the accursed ship-captain perish who brought me here! Athens has no longer anything sublime except the country's famous names! Just as in the case of a victim burnt in the sacrificial fire, there remains nothing but the skin to help us to reconstruct a creature that was once alive - so ever since philosophy left these precincts, there is nothing for the tourist to admit except the Academy, the Lyceum, and -by Zeus!- the Decorated Porch which has given its name to the philosophy of Chrysippus. This is no longer Decorated, for the proconsul has taken away the panels on which [the painter] Polygnotus of Thasos has displayed his skill.
Today Egypt has received and cherishes the fruitful wisdom of Hypatia. Athens used to be the dwelling place of the wise: today the beekeepers alone bring it honor. Such is the case of that pair of sophists in Plutarch who draw the young people to the lecture room - not by the fame of their eloquence, but by the pots of honey from [the Athenian mountain] Hymettus.
The Academy was the school of Plato, the Lyceum of Aristotle, the Decorated Porch ("Stoa Poikilê") of Zeno and Chrysippus.
The anecdote from Plutarch cannot be identified.
Revision: 27 Nov. 2006