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Synesius' Egyptian Tale, 1.7


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

[1.7] [1224] Osiris therefore remained, as was right, on the spot to which he had been conducted in the first instance. But the other was in convulsions of impatience, was tormented to know the details of the election, and finally could not restrain himself form an attempt at aggression, and at destruction of the votes. Careless of himself, therefore, and of the royal laws, and launching himself in the stream, he was carried down by it, swimming with the current, the while doing and suffering all manner of things, until finally, derided by all, he landed on the other side of the river. He thought that no one had seen him, save only such as he met on the way, and to whom he promised money; but everyone recognized him, and detested both him and his design. They did not, however, think fit to expose his misguided nature.

But this was his most calamitous experience, that in his own presence and in his own hearing he was rejected by the votes of all, and by the hands of all; nay, even the gods cast their curse upon him; and Osiris, the one who had not concerned himself about the matter, had merely come when sent for. The gods, the priests, all in a word, bedecked with sacred garlands, and accompanied by the sound of holy flutes, met him at the bank of the river where the flat-bottomed boat from the Libyan shore, taking the young king on board, must needs touch; and lo, there were great signs from heaven and divine voices of good omen from the same place; and every vision by which the future is sought, great and small, announced a reign prosperous to the Egyptians. So far as the demons of the more evil order appeared likely to be restive, it seemed that they would not meekly endure the happiness of mankind either, but would attack it and cause is to fester; and a kind of plot was indicated.

>> to section 1.8 >>

Online 2007
Revision: 23 June 2007
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