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Synesius' Egyptian Tale, 2.4


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

[2.4] [1272] So much for what concerns Typho, since all this may be told; for what could be sacred and ineffable in an earthly nature? But the life of Osiris is alluded to as a sacred thing, and has been deified, so that it is dangerous to expose it to the risk of narration. His birth, his upbringing, his early and later education, his important posts and of leadership, and how the gods and inspired men elevated him to the highest rule, how he ruled in this, how the plot was formed against him, to what extent it succeeded, and how it ultimately failed, all this is not unworthy of general consideration, and has been told; I will only add that to this man, fortunate in all things, even his exile was not without profit. For in that time he was initiated into the most perfect mysteries of the gods above, saw the sacred visions, and waited patiently for the spectacle, once he had laid aside state affairs.[1]

Let mention be made here also of his auspicious return, and of the crowds of men crowned with garlands conducting him back amid the company of the gods, and pouring over the whole land to escort him in turn; and then the midnight revels, the torchlight processions, the distributions of prizes, the year named after him,[2] and also his second act of pardon to his hostile brother, mercy for whom he begged from the people boiling with indignation, and how he prayed to the gods for his brother’s salvation, acting in this case with more generosity than justice.

>> to section 2.5>>

Note 1:
Although it is possible the an initiation in the Christian mysteries is meant, Synesius' care to tell not too much, suggests that the Eleusinian Mysteries were intended. However, Aurelian is known to have been a Christian.

Note 2:
The Roman year was called after the consuls.
Online 2007
Revision: 23 June 2007
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