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Synesius' Egyptian Tale, 1.17


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

[1.17] [1252] Typho was even now settling himself to eradicate in every way the memory of Osiris rule from the minds of men, [1253] and he pursued this end in many ways, not least in the following. He caused cases already settled to be tried over again, and it was inevitable that he who had been convicted should win the case. Again, he gave supplementary instructions to embassies in which he who had profited by the divine tongue of Osiris was an enemy, and that man must needs dwell with misfortune, himself, as also his city, and his race.

But, when in difficulties, there were two ways of dealing with 
Typho. One was, for any man to count out money to his wife. She was throning it conspicuously as on a housetop, employing dissolute courtesans to attend to her person and business affairs, and made what had of old been called by the Egyptians the court of justice, into a saleroom for lawsuits. One who had been picked out in this wise would always find Typho merciful, for he was not only tame and amenable to the woman’s side of the house, but moreover he felt gratitude to them for having gained him his kingdom.

This then was one method in the face of difficulties for those who found him difficult to manage, and there was another, namely to approach any individual of the pernicious band of Typho’s boon-companions. They were called ‘the great’ and ‘the happy’, these miserable and counterfeit specimens of humanity. The way then was to approach them, and to launch some cunningly contrived squib at Osiris’ head. The people who did this were those who cared least for virtue, and who were not ashamed to make profit from any source whatever. Thus they changed in opinion, for the witticism would reach the tyrant’s palace and would be famously received at his table. He was all favor to those who favored him. First one and then the other would do this, and they benefited by it. But they knew that they were hated

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Online 2007
Revision: 23 June 2007
Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other