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Synesius' Egyptian Tale, 1.5


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, about the christianization of the Roman world, and the military crisis at the beginning of the fifth century.

Although The Egyptian Tale looks like a retelling of a part of the myth of Isis and Osiris, it is obvious that the two brothers Osiris and Typho represent good and bad government. The story, however, is not just a myth, because the man called Osiris can be identified as Aurelian, praetorian prefect of the Eastern Empire during the reign of Arcadius, and one of Synesius' benefactors. His counterpart in this ancient roman à clef, however, is less easy to identify. For some speculations, go here.

The text is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald. The green four-digit numbers are page numbers of the Migne edition.

Pr. 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9
1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18
2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8

[1.5] [1220] Everyone of these things his father beheld and understood, and he watched over the Egyptians, for he was king, priest, and philosopher. The Egyptian writings declare that he was even a god. The Egyptians believe that myriads of gods reigned over them, one at a time, before the land was ruled over by men, and that the kings traced their descent, a peiromis from a peiromis.[1] When, therefore, divine laws translated the king to the greater gods, and the statutory meeting of the assembly was at hand, the event having been announced in good time, there were gathered for it all the tribes of priests and the territorial army from every city of Egypt. All these came by the compulsion of law, but all the rest of the people might be absent, nor was anyone prevented from attending. They were there to watch the voting, though not to vote themselves.

Swineherds, however, were forbidden the spectacle, as also whosoever was either a foreigner, or a man of foreign extraction carrying arms as a mercenary in the Egyptian army. These two classes were forbidden to be present. Thus the elder of the sons had by far the less number of votes; for Typho’s faction was composed of swineherds and foreigners, a senseless and withal a large crowd. But they submitted to the custom nor attempted anything against the proceedings, deeming their disfranchisement nothing dreadful, but only befitting them, [1221] since the decision had been given against them by law, and it was in any case natural to their condition.

>> to section 1.6 >>

Note 1:
Herodotus, Histories, 2.143. According the Herodotus, peiromis meant something like "noble man"; in fact, it just means "human being".
Online 2007
Revision: 23 June 2007
Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other