Synesius, Letter 122

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 in the translation by A. Fitzgerald, 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).

Letter 122: A Successful Engagement

[1] To his Brother

May all good things befall the priests of Axomis! While the soldiers were hiding themselves in the gorges of the mountains to take care of their precious lives, these priests called the peasants about them, and led them straight from the very church door against the enemy, and then they called upon God, and erected a trophy in the Myrtle Valley!

[2] This is a long ravine, deep and covered with forests. The barbarians, when they found no resistance in their way, rashly entered this dangerous defile, but they had to meet the valiant Faustus, the deacon of the church. This man, unarmed, when marching at the head of his troops, was himself the first to encounter a hoplite. He snatches up a stone, not to hurl it, but, holding it in his hand and leaping upon him as with a clenched fist he strikes the other violently on the temple. He knocks him down, strips him of his armor, and heaps many of the barbarians upon him. If any other man gave proof of courage in that battle, it is to Faustus that credit is due, both on account of his personal bravery, and for the orders which he gave at the critical moment.

[3] For my part, I would willingly give a victor's wreath to all those who participated in the engagement, and I would have their names proclaimed by the voice of a herald, for they were the first to do brave deeds, and to show panicstricken souls that the barbarians are not Corybantes nor the demons who serve Rhea, but men like ourselves, who can be wounded and killed.

[4] And if only we are men in such a crisis as this, even the second prize will be honorable. Fate perchance might accord us even the first, if instead of being fifteen irregulars, hiking in a valley to forage, we were able to give battle in the open, in regular warfare, mass against mass.