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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 141 and Letter 140 were written together, in 402; they are offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald.

Letter 141: A Lost Text

To Herculian

Do not be surprised that I am giving two letters for you to the same messenger. First consider yourself undergoing punishment for your unreasonable reproach, and replenish yourself with my garrulity; in the next place, I wish my second missive to fulfill another object. I beg you to give me back the brief composition in iambics, in which the author holds converse with his own soul.[1] I thought that I should be able to piece this together again from memory, but now there seems every chance of its not resembling the one in question at all, and of my using my invention rather than my memory in attempting to write it down.

Perhaps it would be worse or perhaps better, but one should not in any case bring the same offspring twice into the world, when one may have the thing that has already been born. Send me back, then, a copy of the quatrain, in the name of the very soul that the sheet of paper seeks to adorn. But do this as quickly and as safely as possible, that is to say, by one of those who are certain to deliver it, for in erring in either way you will accomplish nothing at all. If you are slow in sending it, it will no longer find me here; and the same thing will happen if you give it to one who will not deliver it at all.

Note 1:
Unidentified; according to Letter 143, Herculian sent the poem back.
Online 2007
Revision: 14 August 2007
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