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Synesius' Egyptian Tale, names

Mosaic depicting an angel. Museum of Ptolemais. Photo Marco Prins.
Mosaic depicting an angel. Museum of Ptolemais
SynesiusEgyptian Tale, or, On Providence, looks like a retelling of a part of the myth of Isis and Osiris, but is more than just a myth, because it clearly refers to events in Constantinople during Synesius' stay in 397-400. However, it is hard to "decode" this ancient roman à clef.


The identification of Osiris and Aurelian (a friend of Synesius) appears to be certain. In 1.3 and 2.4, his career is outlined, and it closely matches Aurelian's:



"in charge of the audiences" magister officiorum 392/393
prefect of the city prefect of the city 393/394
president of the Council praetorian prefect 399-400
"supreme office" consul in 400
exile exile
returns in eponymous year return in 400


Typho, the brother of Osiris, can not be identified, although he obviously took power when Aurelian was sent into exile after a Germanic leader named Gainas had taken over power. (The story is told by Zosimus, New History, Book 5; and by J.B. Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire, 1923, chapter 5.4.) We can not identify Gainas' partner in Constantinople, who became military leader himself: Caesarius and Eutychianus have been mentioned, but they are not known to have been brothers. But perhaps, Aurelian's opponent was not really his brother, and perhaps he was not a Roman at all. Allowing for some artificial license - perhaps Gainas himself is the man behind Typho.


Synesius' code name for Germanic warriors who had settled in the Roman Empire. Many of had them lived north of the Danube, in the country that had once been the land of the Scythians, to the name is apt.


If Typho is Caesarius or Eutychianus, the commander of the Scythians is Gainas.


Synesius' name for Constantinople.


Synesius' code name for the Roman Empire.


In Synesius' story, the Nile is meant, but in reality, it is the Bosphorus.
Online 2007
Revision: 23 June 2007
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