Synesius, Letter 113

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, and about the christianization of the Roman world.

The addressee of the letter that is offered here, Letter 113 from the collection, was Synesius' brother Euoptius, who lived in Ptolemais. About a quarter of the entire correspondence was directed to him: letters 51 (394), 55, 56, 54, 136, 135, 110 (all 396), the long letter 4 about a shipwreck in 397, 120, 104, 113 (401), 3, 35, 39, 32, 52, 65, 92, 106, 114, 109, 36 (all in 402), 127, 50, 18 (404), 125, 132 (405), 108, 107, 122, 95 (407), 53, 82, 84, 85, 86, 105 (409), 8, 87, 89 (411).

The text of this letter, obviously a reply to a letter from his brother who must have been shocked by Letter 104, is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald.

LetterĀ 113: On Going to War

[1] To his Brother

How now? Shall we watch these foul fiends braving death so readily for the sake of others' property, that they may not have to give up to the owners what they may have plundered? And shall we be sparing of ourselves, and cling to our lives, when the question is one of defending our country, our altars, our laws, and our property, all the possessions that we have enjoyed for so many years?

[2] At this rate we shall no longer look like men. For my part, just as I am, I must go against these barbarians. I must make trial to see what these enemies are who stop at nothing, what sort of people they are who dare to laugh the Romans to scorn, even though faring as they do now. A dromedary with the mange, says the proverb, can shoulder the burden of many asses.

[3] Quite apart from all this, I see that in such cases all those who do not think of anything except saving their lives, generally succumb, whereas those who are ready to make the sacrifice escape the danger. I shall be among these. I shall fight as if I were at the point of death, and I have no doubt at all that I shall survive. I am a Lacedaemonian by descent, and I remember the letter which the magistrates addressed to Leonidas. "Let them fight as if doomed to die, and they will not die."note