Synesius' Egyptian Tale, or, On Providence


The essays and hymns of Synesius of Cyrene, including the Address to the Emperor Arcadius and the political speeches.

Translated into English with introd. and notes by Augustine FitzGerald. London: Oxford University Press, 1930


Text copied from:



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.


The Egyptian Tale, or, On Providence, is one part of his diptych on good kingship. (The other part is On Imperial rule.) 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.


    Synesius’ Egyptian Tale, names


    Prologue: A work in two parts

    (First tale)

1.1: Introduction of the two protagonists, Osiris and Typho

1.2: Youth of the pious Osiris and evil Typho

1.3-4: Their careers; death of their father

1.5-6: Procedure of electing a king

1.7: Osiris elected

1.8: Advice from the courtiers

1.9-11: Speech from his deified father: how to be a good king

1.12: Blessed reign of the virtuous Osiris

1.13: Typho’s wife

1.14: Typho’s illness

1.15: Typho’s wife creates a coalition with the Scythian mercenaries, who capture Thebes

1.16: Osiris leaves the city; Typho’s reign of terror

1.17: General corruption of Egyptian morals

1.18: A man from the country denounces Typho


    (Second tale)

2.1: The gods intervene; the Scythian mercenaries feel uneasy in the city and decide to build their camp elsewhere

2.2: An incident at one of the gates leads to an insurrection

2.3: A Council decides to dethrone Typho

2.4: Triumphal return of Osiris; he pardons his brother

2.5-8: Some reflections by Synesius

The text is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald. The (green) four-digit numbers are page numbers of the Migne edition.




 Synesius’ Egyptian Tale, names


Synesius' Egyptian 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:

Osiris Aurelian

"in charge of the audiences"

prefect of the city

president of the Council

"supreme office"


returns in eponymous year

magister officiorum 392/393

prefect of the city 393/394

praetorian prefect 399-400

consul in 400


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.



Synesius Egyptian Tale, or, On Providence


    (Prologue: A work in two parts)


    [1209] This has been written in the days of the sons of Taurus, [1] and the first part here presented was read as far as the riddle of the wolf, precisely at the moment when the inferior man was ruling, after coming into power through a division in the state. [1212] The ensuing part was woven into it after the return of the better men, who begged that this history should not remain incomplete amidst misfortunes; but that since those things which were foretold according to God seemed to be in course of fulfillment, it were better in dealing with the same subject to go on to more happy fortunes than those already recounted. From the moment, therefore, in which the overthrow of the tyranny was already in progress, the story followed the sequence of events. And it is worthy of no ordinary wonderment in all this that the handling suffices for many subjects. Many doctrines which up to this moment remained undecided, have found room for investigation in this story, and each has been examined in detail. Lives are described therein which are to be taken as examples of vice and virtue; the narrative contains a history of contemporary events; and this story has been fashioned and embellished throughout with a view to its utility.


Note 1: A reference to Aurelian, whose father was probably called Taurus.



            (1.1: Introduction of the two protagonists, Osiris and Typho)


    [1.1] [1209] The legend is Egyptian. The Egyptians are remarkable for their wisdom. Perhaps, therefore, this, which is only a legend, might signify, enigmatically, something more than a legend, for the very reason that it is Egyptian. And if it is not a legend, but sacred history, in that case it would be all the more worthy to be set forth in writing.


Osiris and Typho were brothers, and came of the same parents. Now the relationship of souls and that of bodies is not one thing and the same. It does not belong to souls to be born on earth from the same parents, but rather to flow from the same fountain. And the nature of the universe furnishes two kinds, one luminous, and the other indistinct, this last gushing forth from the ground, since its source is somewhere below, and leaping out of the earth’s cavities, if perchance it might so compel the divine law. But the former is suspended from the back of the Heavens; for it is indeed sent down that it may order the earthly lot, but it is enjoined upon it that when descending it should take great care lest, [1213] while it is arranging and ordering disarrangement and disorder, it should itself by propinquity be infected with dishonor and disorder. Now a law of Themis [1] has been established which announces to souls that, whichever one of them has been acquainted with the furthest confines of existence and has withal kept guard over its nature and remained inviolate, that such a one, I say, should flow back again by way of the selfsame road, and be commingled with its own source, just as it is a necessity of nature that those who have in some way set out from the other part, should be lodged in the abysses that are akin to them.

Envy and Anger there dwell, and there tribes of other misfortunes

wander about through the gloom in the meadow of infatuation. [2]


Note 1: Goddess of Justice.

Note 2: Empedocles, fr.121.



            (1.2: Youth of the pious Osiris and evil Typho)


    [1.2] [1213] Of souls there are those which are well-born, and those which are ill-born, in such a wise that it might befall a Parthian to be related to a Libyan, and that those whom we call brothers should be in no wise near to one another in kinship of soul, a fact which was indicated in the case of the two Egyptian boys from the moment of their birth, and when they were adult was shown quite clearly. For the younger [Osiris], born and brought up as by a divine destiny, even in childhood’s days was fond of listening, and fond of fables, for the fable is the child’s treatise on philosophy; and as he grew, he always desired training which was in advance of his years. He gave ear to his father, and whatever wisdom was known to each, all that he hungered after, eager to seize first upon al knowledge at once, in puppy fashion, as, of course, all natures do which promise great things. Such natures show impatience and start before their time, already pledging themselves to the beloved goal. Then, again, long before his adolescence, he was even more sedate than a well-bred man of mature age, and he listened with modesty, and when he himself had, on occasion, to speak, whether to ask about what he had been listening to, or with the other purpose, everyone would have noticed him hesitating and blushing. He always made way for the older Egyptians, and gave up his seat to them, and this although he was the son of the ruler of a great kingdom; and respect for those of his own age was ever with him, for it was pre-eminently in his nature to care for the feelings of men. It was indeed difficult at that period of his life to find a man in Egypt for whom the boy had not obtained at least one benefit from his father.


The elder brother, Typho, on the other hand, was, in a word, a downright boor. All knowledge he hated with his whole heart, both so much as was Egyptian, and also foreign learning, teachers of which the king had placed at the disposal of his son Osiris; and he laughed the whole business to scorn, as though it were idle and calculated to enslave the mind. When he saw his brother conducting himself in an orderly way, and leading a modest life, he thought this cowardly, inasmuch as no one saw him striking a man with his fists, attacking him with kicks, or running in a disorderly fashion, withal that he was nimble, without any spare flesh, and with a body that was a light burden for the soul therein. Then, again, Osiris did not gulp down drink, or give way to peals of vulgar laughter, [1216] which shook the whole body, such as his brother indulged in every day, for Typho deemed these the only acts worthy of a free man, namely to do whatsoever one chanced to desire at a given moment. He was like no one of his race in character, nor indeed like anything human, and he did not, to put it in a nutshell, even resemble himself, for he was a compound of every kind of evil. At one moment he seemed to be stupid, and a mere cumberer of the ground [1], only keeping from his sleep long enough to fill his belly and to take other provisions for the route of slumber; at another he would neglect the moderate necessities of nature to indulge in gross horse-play, and to annoy his own equals in age and his elders. He admired strength of body as being the ultimate good, but he used it ill, wrenching off doors, throwing clods of earth, and rejoicing if anyone was hurt thereby, or if he had done any other mischief, as though this bore witness to prowess. He flamed up with untimely lust, and was violent in seeking amorous encounters. Further, envy of his brother smoldered within him, and hatred of the Egyptians, because they, the people, gave honor to Osiris, both in speech and in song, and at home in their common religious rites, all, everywhere, prayed of the gods that every sort of good thing might be his. Such was the man and so regarded. Then again, Typho took to himself bands of senseless boys, for no other reason (since it was not his nature to care for anyone in his heart) than that he might have some partisans who did not hold the views of Osiris. It was easy enough for anyone to win this man’s good graces, and to get from Typho anything that young men desire, by merely whispering something tending to calumniate Osiris. So from childhood did the respective characters of the two foretell the difference of their lives.


Note 1: Homer, Iliad, 8.104.



            (1.3-4: Their careers; death of their father)


    [1.3] [1216] But just as of two roads the first cleft, diverging only a little, as it advances, ever adds something to the gap, so that finally the two come to be a vast distance apart; thus one may see in the case of the young, how a small tendency to differ separates them immensely as they advance in life. Now these lads turned in opposite directions, not little by little, but all at once, each receiving a separate lot, the one the perfection of good, the other the acme of evil. [1217] As they grew up the antagonism of their choice grew with them; more manifest evidences of this were offered, stamped as they were on their deeds.


Osiris from his earliest youth served as a general with those duly gazetted, although the law did not yet permit men so young to bear arms, but nevertheless he governed the judgment of his fellow generals, as though he were their intelligence, and made use of them as if they were merely his hands. Then, his nature growing like a plant, he brought forth fruit ever more perfect. He became commander of the guard, was entrusted with reports, was in charge of the audiences, president of the Council, and gave up each post in far greater repute than that in which he had received it.


But the other [Typho], when appointed minister of finance (for his father had thought best to make trial of his sons’ characters in lesser posts), brought shame upon himself and upon the man who had appointed him, for he was found guilty of embezzling public money, accepting bribes, and of instability in administration. When he was removed accordingly to another position of authority on the chance that he might be fit for it, he behaved still more disgracefully, and that part of the flourishing kingdom over which Typho was placed passed a whole year of unspeakable plight. He then betook himself to other men, and straightaway misfortune dogged him. Such was Typho as a leader of men. In private life, he danced the cordax [1], and collected about him the most disorderly of Egyptians and strangers, those who were ready to say and to hear anything, to submit to and to do anything, so that his banqueting hall became a factory for every sort of licentiousness. Even when awake he snored, and was delighted when he heard others so doing, thinking this practice a wonderful sort of music; and there was praise and honor to that one who should prolong the unruly sound, and should spin it out most roundly. And a certain one of these men, the most heroic, was quite lost to shame, and shrinking from none of the infamies, gained many prizes, and certain posts in the government came to him as a reward for his disgraceful effrontery. Such an one was Typho at home.


Note 1: A dance from Greek comedy, associated with drunkenness.



    [1.4] [1217] Now when he took his seat in the guise of one who conducts public affairs, he showed clearly that all evil takes every form, for it is at war both with virtue and with itself, and both the opposing forces are part of it. And this gaping idiot straightaway became downright mad, and barking more sharply than a Molossian hound, he would bring disasters, one on a private individual, another on a family, or again on a whole city, and he quite rejoiced in having worked a greater evil, a if thinking to wash away the dishonor of his indolence at home with the tears of men. One point a man might gain from this evil plight, that oftentimes when on the brink of doing a dreadful thing, or through perversion of judgment he would degenerate into odd suspicions so as to resemble the fanatics, and would bellow forth vigorously about the shadow at Delphi; and meanwhile the person in danger would make his escape without any further mention being made of him: or he would be overcome by lethargy, [1220] and his brain would be fuddled for some time, to such an extent that his mind was far away from his surroundings. Then, when he had pulled himself together, even so all memory of the recent incidents had escaped him, and he would dispute with members of his administration about how many ears of corn a medimnus contains, or how many cyathi a chous, giving evidence of a rare and amazing shrewdness. Many a time did sleep save a man from misfortune, for it would overtake Typho at a very opportune moment, and would even have pushed him headlong from his throne, had not an attendant dropped his lamp to support him.


Thus oftentimes a tragic night-festival would end in comedy, for he never transacted official business in the daytime, inasmuch as his character was averse to the sun and the light, and more akin to darkness. Though knowing well that everyone who had even a small share of sense accused him of the most complete ignorance, he did not blame himself for his eccentricity, but rather on this very account did he become the common enemy of those who had intelligence, as if they were wronging him in knowing how to pass judgment. The man was without resource in counsel, but most resourceful in plotting. Folly and madness were ever with him, evil destinies of the soul which gain strength from one another. Never have there been, nor shall there ever be, in nature other evils greater than these, and more calculated to extirpate the race of man.



            (1.5-6: Procedure of electing a king)


    [1.5] [1220] Everyone of these things his father beheld and understood, and he watched over the Egyptians, for he was king, priest, and philosopher. The Egyptian writings declare that he was even a god. The Egyptians believe that myriads of gods reigned over them, one at a time, before the land was ruled over by men, and that the kings traced their descent, a peiromis from a peiromis. [1] When, therefore, divine laws translated the king to the greater gods, and the statutory meeting of the assembly was at hand, the event having been announced in good time, there were gathered for it all the tribes of priests and the territorial army from every city of Egypt. All these came by the compulsion of law, but all the rest of the people might be absent, nor was anyone prevented from attending. They were there to watch the voting, though not to vote themselves.


Swineherds, however, were forbidden the spectacle, as also whosoever was either a foreigner, or a man of foreign extraction carrying arms as a mercenary in the Egyptian army. These two classes were forbidden to be present. Thus the elder of the sons had by far the less number of votes; for Typho’s faction was composed of swineherds and foreigners, a senseless and withal a large crowd. But they submitted to the custom nor attempted anything against the proceedings, deeming their disfranchisement nothing dreadful, but only befitting them, [1221] since the decision had been given against them by law, and it was in any case natural to their condition.


Note 1: Herodotus, Histories, 2.143. According the Herodotus, peiromis meant something like "noble man"; in fact, it just means "human being".



    [1.6] [1221] Now the king is appointed by the Egyptians in the following way. There is a sacred mountain near the great city of Thebes, and just opposite to it another. The Nile flows between the two. Of these mountains the one described as ‘opposite’ is the Libyan, and on this it is the custom that the candidates for the royal dignity should take their abode during the preparatory period, to the end that they may perceive nothing of the choice.


But the ‘sacred mountain’ is the Egyptian one. On the summit is a tent for the king, and by him are collected as many of the priests as are versed in the great wisdom. This arrangement extends to all that have precedence, for it distributes the positions at the ceremonies according to merit. A first circle is composed of these of which the king is as it were the heart. The soldiers occupy another circle next to this. These then still surround the peak, which on the widely extending mountain is another mount; it is like a nipple standing up, thus keeping the king in full view even of those encircling him at the farthest distance. And they to whom it is permitted to be present at the spectacle, surround him, taking possession of the ground at the base of the nipple. These are they who only applaud what they perceive; the others have authority over the election.


As soon as the king has been invoked, and those also to whose office this belongs, have moved the whole assembly of priests, as if the divinity were present and were assisting in the proceedings of the election, the name of one of the candidates for the kingdom then being announced, the soldiers raise their hands, while the priests, the acolytes of the temple, and the interpreters of the oracles register their votes. This is a smaller body of men, but it is far more powerful, for one of the interpreter’s vote is equivalent to one hundred hands, one priest’s is equivalent to twenty hands, and the acolyte counts as ten.


Then a second name of the candidates for the kingship comes up, and hands and votes are taken for him accordingly. Even if the number on each side is nearly equal, the king, by supporting one side, gives it a much greater majority, and if he throws his weight on the losing side, he equalizes the vote. Hence the necessity arises of suspending the election, and depending on the gods, both by watching patiently a still longer time, and by performing the sacred rites with greater precision, until such moment as not through any veil nor by any of the usual signs, but face to face they appoint the king himself, and the people hear the proclamation from the gods themselves.


The whole ceremony takes place at one time in one of these ways, and at another time in another, as the case may be. But in regard to Typho and Osiris, the gods were clearly seen from the first, without any action on the part of the priests, and took part themselves, arranging their own procedure; [1224] and each one marshaled his own votaries, so that it was evident to all with what intent they were present. Even if they had not been there, every hand and every vote would have awaited the name of the younger of the king’s sons. But great events here below are announced beforehand by greater preludes, and the divine element is clearly shown in things that are to turn out contrary to all probability, whether they be good or whether they be evil.



            (1.7: Osiris elected)


    [1.7] [1224] Osiris therefore remained, as was right, on the spot to which he had been conducted in the first instance. But the other was in convulsions of impatience, was tormented to know the details of the election, and finally could not restrain himself form an attempt at aggression, and at destruction of the votes. Careless of himself, therefore, and of the royal laws, and launching himself in the stream, he was carried down by it, swimming with the current, the while doing and suffering all manner of things, until finally, derided by all, he landed on the other side of the river. He thought that no one had seen him, save only such as he met on the way, and to whom he promised money; but everyone recognized him, and detested both him and his design. They did not, however, think fit to expose his misguided nature.


But this was his most calamitous experience, that in his own presence and in his own hearing he was rejected by the votes of all, and by the hands of all; nay, even the gods cast their curse upon him; and Osiris, the one who had not concerned himself about the matter, had merely come when sent for. The gods, the priests, all in a word, bedecked with sacred garlands, and accompanied by the sound of holy flutes, met him at the bank of the river where the flat-bottomed boat from the Libyan shore, taking the young king on board, must needs touch; and lo, there were great signs from heaven and divine voices of good omen from the same place; and every vision by which the future is sought, great and small, announced a reign prosperous to the Egyptians. So far as the demons of the more evil order appeared likely to be restive, it seemed that they would not meekly endure the happiness of mankind either, but would attack it and cause is to fester; and a kind of plot was indicated.



            (1.8: Advice from the courtiers)


    [1.8] [1224] Now as soon as he was initiated in the kingly office by the gods and his father, they definitely announced to him, from definite knowledge, besides all the rest, benefits in swarms, but that his brother who had been born to bring ill-luck both upon the Egyptians and on his father’s hearth, must be banished if he were not to throw all things into confusion, to the end that he might neither hear of nor see the success and prosperity of Egypt that were due to the reign of Osiris himself. For Typho’s nature could endure nothing good.


The priests now transmitted to him Osiris knowledge of the double essence of souls as well as the necessary opposition between those on the earth and those above. These then they begged him to remove and to strip the evil element from its good and divine parallelism, and to be in no wise ashamed before what is called by men blood relationship. And when he showed weakness, they told him that he, and the Egyptians, and their neighbors, and all the country ruled over by the Egyptians must suffer; for that the evil in question was no slight one, [1225] nor would any ordinary care be an adequate means of rebutting and weakening upon and secret attacks. The reason was that Typho had allies with him also, a powerful company of those malignant demons to whom he was next of kin, and by whom he had been brought into existence in order that they might be able to make use of an implement of their evil towards men. It was for the sake of this evil, that as they advanced on their way, they engendered, nourished, delivered his mother of, and brought up after their own fashion to be a great boon to themselves – Typho! One more thing they thought necessary for complete possession, namely to endow him with the power that rule brings with it, for then he would be a perfect man of perfect ancestors, in that he would be both able and willing to do great evils. ‘You, on the other hand,’ said one of the priests, ‘they detest as being a blessing to men and retribution to themselves; for the misfortunes of races of men are a feast to the evil demons.’


Again then and very often the priests gave him this warning advice, namely to conduct his brother beyond the frontiers, and to let him go to some distant place, for they knew and saw the gentle character of Osiris; but they were finally compelled by him to tell him that for a time he might hold his ground, but that unknowingly he would surrender and utterly betray himself and all men, exchanging in reality the greatest disasters for the benign brotherly affection. ‘Nay, as long as you at all events are propitious and helpful,’ replied Osiris, ‘I shall not fear my brother remaining, and I shall be exempt from wrath of the demons, inasmuch as it is easy for you, if you are willing, wholly to remedy oversight on my part.’



            (1.9-11: Speech from his deified father: how to be a good king)


    [1.9] [1225] But his father taking up the discussion, said: ‘You ill comprehend this matter, my son, for the divine part in the universe is given to things of a different order, acting upon most of them through its primordial power, and filled with intelligible beauty, which is mind. In that region of the universe there is another and supercosmic race of gods, one which, while it holds all existing things together even unto the last ones, is unswerving, and is unrelenting towards matter. That race is a happy vision to those who are gods by nature, but still happier it is to behold its fountain head. And moreover that race is more than full of good elements by force of its self-concentration, being more than filled with itself, but for the others it is well to turn towards the God who is there. The efficacy of these good things is not, however, something simple or of one kind; it is to diverse parts of the universe that the gods direct their care. [1228] They must bring down the action generated in their contemplation to the work administered by them, so far as is possible. While therefore, their unsullied element has been drawn up close beneath that great first essence, they themselves marshal those next to them, and the succession of orders descends methodologically to the last of existing things, and all things rejoice in the fatherly care of the first element through the agency of the intermediate elements, but not, however, to an equal extent, for in that case there would be no degrees. The fact is that, as the existing things descend in degree they become weaker, until finally they err and falsify the order, and at that moment the existence of existing thing terminates.


Now something of this sort ensues here below. That which is erring in nature gets as its part the last and most perishable portion of nature in generation and of the bodily destiny, but heaven, the highest, the most imperishable portion, has taken possession of the shape of the soul conformable to it. What the gods do on high,’ Osiris’ father said, pointing to them, ‘that does the demon in these troublous elements, a nature unstable and rash, and in proportion to the greatness of his distance from there, he understands not the good ordering of divine things. Since therefore the foundation of existing things does not suffice to their own salvation (for it slips away itself from beneath them and does not await real being, but merely imitates this by the process of becoming), and since the demons are akin to this earthly nature which has for portion a destructive type of being, it is necessary for the divine power to turn itself hither, and to implant in us certain initial impulses which the world here follows with profit as long as the impulses suffice.


And just as marionettes moved by strings are still agitated even when the man who has given the impulse of motion to the machinery has desisted, but are not agitated forever (for they hold not the source of motion within them, but move only so long as the force communicated to them is strong and is not dissipated by the continuance of the movement), in the same way, my dear Osiris, you must consider that what is well done and divine at once belongs and does not belong to this place, but is sent down from elsewhere. And on this account good souls are hard to find, although such might appear here, and the administrations of the gods, whenever they effect this, are doing things that properly belong to them, but not to the first life. For their happiness is of another sort, inasmuch as the very enjoyment of the first creation brings more happiness than the governance of the inferior, for the one is to turn away from the matter, the other towards to it.


Perchance you have been duly initiated, and have seen the mystic effigy in the which there are two pairs of eyes, and it must needs be that those below should be closed when those which are above are gazing, and when these two are closed, the former proceed to open in their turn. Now, you may consider this as a riddle of contemplation and action, and as signifying that the intermediate deities display their energies in one of these fields at a time, but that in the case of those of those of the more perfect orders, they use the better most of the time, and are conversant with the inferior only of necessity. These labors also belong to the gods, who carry out the works necessary to the universe, but these are not the leading good things. So even men at one moment more or less guard their possessions, at another give themselves up to philosophy, and in that moment become more like the divine.



    [1.10] [1229] Understand them, from this, what I mean. Do not ask the gods to be seated by you, for they have for their principal work contemplation and the first parts of the universe, they who are in heaven and are separated very far from us. Do not imagine that their descent to us costs them no trouble or that it is perpetual. Appointed intervals of time bring them down after the manner of engineers, to give an impulse to a salutary movement in a state. And this is the case when they bring harmony into a kingdom, by bringing down here souls akin to their own. This is providence divine and manifold indeed, caring as it does for myriads of human being through the agency of each single man. Needs must therefore that the gods henceforth devote themselves to their own affairs, while you who are set apart among strangers must remember your origin, and that this is a public duty that you are fulfilling for the universe. You should endeavor to ascend yourself, rather than make the gods descend to you, and you should exercise every foresight for yourself, as if you dwelt in an enemy country, a divine soul amongst demons, who will, it is natural to suppose, being earth-born, attack you, in their anger that anyone should maintain foreign institutions within their borders. You must be content therefore to keep awake both by night and by day, having this care alone in your mind, not to be taken by force, one by many, a foreigner by natives of the country. It is true that there is a sacred race of heroes also in this country who care for the welfare of men, and are able to render both minor services and the highest, a sort of heroic settlement this, whose end it is that the world about us may not be bereft of the higher nature; and they stretch out a helping hand where they have the power; but whenever matter stirs its own offshoots to warfare with the soul, the resistance from the other side is feeble as long as the gods are absent. Each thing is strong in its own domain. Now the demons will desire, first of all, to make the soul their own, and this is the way in which the make the attempt.


It is not possible that anyone should exist on this earth without having also a certain irrational part of his soul. This part the majority of men bring openly to the front, but the sage carries it at his side. Albeit we all must needs possess it. Through this then, as through a kindred force, demons come to the living being by the path of betrayal. What takes place really resembles a siege; [1232] it is what happens to coals from firebrands, for they more quickly catch the flame owing to their fitness for fire. So the nature of a demon (one of passions, or rather passion itself living and moving), when it approaches the soul, excites the passion in it, and brings this latent power into action, for it accomplishes each act by its propinquity; and every agitated state comes quite to resemble that which agitates it. In this way demons kindle lust, in this way outbursts of passions and all evil akin to these, associating with the soul through those elements therein which belong to them, and which naturally perceive their presence and are thereby stirred, and grow in power to resist the mind because of them, until they overpower the whole soul, or abandon the capture of it. This is the greatest of struggles: for there is no opportunity, no way of attack, no place that they will relinquish, in their onslaught, and from quarters where one would not deem it possible, even from these they will make the attempt. Their snares are everywhere, and everywhere their contrivances. All things stir up their intestine warfare until either they take the position or give up the attempt.


And from above the gods are spectators of these noble contests; in them you will bear away the crown of victory, and may you win it in the second contests also! But there is ground for fear that you may win in the one and be defeated in the other. For whenever the divine part of the soul does not accompany the inferior element, but is ever and anon beating it back, and turning towards itself, it is in the course of nature for that element also to become last hardened so as to resist attacks, and once so armored, no longer to admit the influxes from the demons.


The living being, then, in this way really becomes divine, and a single whole. And this is a heavenly plant growing upon the earth, one that has not received any foreign graft, that it may put forth fruit from such, but one that even changes a foreign element to its own nature. So then the demons, giving it up in despair, then and not till then enter whole-heartedly upon the second struggle, and this is to cut the tree down, and to tear it root and branch from the soil, as if it stood in no relation to them. For they are also ashamed of their defeat, if someone of foreign race struts about in their precincts as a conqueror, a trophy of victory real and visible. Such an one brings punishment upon them, not merely in his own person, but also shares in turning away others from their dominion. Once virtue is zealously pursued, the evil elements must perforce go to wrack and ruin. For these reasons they plan the destruction of the private citizen and of the ruler alike, in a word of everyone who is rebellious to the laws of matter.


But you, for in that you are a king, may guard yourself against this more easily then any private individual. They attack by outside means when means within fail them, to wit by war and by rebellion, and by whatever maltreats the body, forces these by which a king will be less easily overcome, one at least who has forethought for himself, since it is impossible to fight an adversary in whom force and wisdom are combined, whereas, separated from each other, untutored, strength and infirm purpose are easily overcome.



    [1.11] [1233] You must have admired, my son, the purpose of our fathers as expressed in sacred images. In the case of Hermes, we Egyptians make the image of the divinity a double one, placing a young man beside an old one, signifying that if anyone is to watch over us worthily, he must be both wise and brave, since either of these qualities is ineffectual for good without the other. [1] The same idea is expressed by the Sphinx which is set up by the enclosures before our temples, in force a wild beast, in judgment a man, a sacred symbol of good qualities. And justly so, for force deprived of prudent leadership is carried capriciously away, mingling and confusing everything; and intellect is useless for action when unserved by hands.


Virtue and fortune scarcely come together except for great purposes, as they have done in your case. Do not therefore importune the gods any longer, you who are able to save yourself by your own resources, if you so desire. It is not well that the gods should always be away from their own spheres, and haunt foreign and inferior places. Take heed lest it be impious to use wrongfully the foundations that have been implanted in us to the end that we should take care of the things upon earth with due order, and in accordance with the cosmic scheme that has been given us. For this is the course of men who make it necessary for the gods to come again, before the appointed time, to busy themselves with affairs below. At that appointed time, however, when the tuning which they have attuned is becoming unstrung and old, they come back to tighten it again, and as it were to kindle it into flame when it is growing cold. This they do joyfully, for they are fulfilling this service, to use the expression, for the nature of the universe. Otherwise they will only come when this harmony has been destroyed and broken, through the iniquity of those who have taken the charge over, and only when it is possible in no other way to save these things below. A god is not at all disturbed about small things, nor whenever a mistake has been made concerning this or that detail; a tremendous fellow he would be, that single man on whose account some member of the happy race should descend here!


But whenever the whole order, and the vast elements therein are destroyed, then must the gods come to give the impulse to another dispensation. Let not men be wroth, then, when they suffer from self-inflicted evils, nor accuse the gods of not providing for them, for Providence demands that they in turn should contribute their share. Of a truth, in the place for evils, it is not a matter for wonder that evils should be, but it would be a matter for wonder if anything of a different nature were there. For this last is foreign and even alien, and this is the gift of Providence, which makes it possible for all of us men to be happy in all ways, if we will but bestir ourselves and use the gifts which we have therefrom. [1236] For Providence is not like the mother of the new-born babe, whose one care is to scare away what may fly at it and do it harm, inasmuch as her infant is as yet undeveloped and helpless in itself; but [Providence] resembles that mother who, having brought it up and having armed it, bids it use its weapons and ward off evils.


Study this at all times, and consider it as of the highest importance for men to know, for so they will believe in Providence, and will take heed for themselves, and at the same time will be pious and vigilant, nor will they imagine that an intervention of God is discordant with the practice of virtue. Farewell! You will, if you are wise, restrain your brother, removing beforehand the fate that overhangs you and the Egyptians, for this is in your power; but if you give way and show weakness, await the gods when it is too late!’


Note 1: Cf. On Imperial rule, 3.



            (1.12: Blessed reign of the virtuous Osiris)


    [1.12] [1236] When he had finished speaking, he departed, following the same road as the gods, but Osiris remained, a marvel ill-suited to this earth, one who at once began striving to banish the forces hostile to the earth, without employing any violence at all. He actually sacrificed to Persiasion, to the Muses, and to the Graces, and made all willingly fall in with the law. The gods gave in abundance - out of respect for the king - all things, as many as the air bears, and as many as are the gifts of river and land, and all these pleasures he gave up to his people for their joy. He himself left all ease behind him, and preferred to undertake every toil, taking small part in sleep but the greatest in cares; in a word, he took no leisure that all might have leisure.


These acts of his accordingly filled all men, whether individuals, households, relations, cities, or entire districts, with benefits, spiritual and material. For he cultivated amongst them a zeal for virtue, making all knowledge and every institution to be so cultivated for this one end, and he offered rewards to those who were best able to govern men, and to make the governed like themselves. It needs must be that what is honored should increase, that what is neglected should come to nought. A love for all education grew up with him, the part which partakes of reflection as much as that which partakes of eloquence, and the result of this was that men who excelled in knowledge of this sort could no longer be seen mingled in the common herd, but were shining with honors from their sovereign, for they brought with them skill as the handmaiden of wisdom, inasmuch as intellect progresses once it is arrayed in letters.


And the better or the worse clothing of the same intellect makes it appear, as in a man’s dress, seemly or unseemly. Early education Osiris thought worthy of honor, for he regarded all education as a fountain-head of virtue, and indeed at this period of all others piety was in fashion among the Egyptians. Such are the good things of the soul, and the Egyptians under the reign of Osiris abounded in them, so that the country resembled a training school for virtue, [1237] a country in the which youth looked to one leader, doing the one thing which they saw, and saying the one thing that they heard.


He himself was indifferent to wealth, but took every care that there should be enough for all, receiving no gifts himself, but delighting in bestowing them. He furthermore remitted taxes to cities, he gave to those who were in distress; he raised the fallen, and healed that which was likely to fall; one city he enlarged, another he trained to be beautiful; where another was lacking, he added it, another that had been abandoned, he helped to people. Of necessity must each man individually profit by benefits which are common to all, but it was no labor for him to condescend even to anxiety for some one individual, and so it came about that no man was seen to weep under his reign; nor was Osiris ignorant of what each man wanted, and what obstacle there was to the happiness of such and such person. One coveted merited honor, and he gave it to him, and when another, through persistence in the study of books, had no time to gain his livelihood, he accorded to him his meals at the town hall. Another was indifferent to honor from men, and although his possessions gave him quite enough to live on, he was perhaps too shy to take up public function. Osiris was not unaware of this, but exempted him from public functions, not annoyed by him, but rather causing him annoyance by offering something he had been asked, and he demanded out of respect for wisdom that such a man be independent and freed from worldly business, as a sacred animal dedicated to God.


In a word, no one failed of his deserts except such an one as merited misfortune, and to that man he gave not his expected reward. For he made it a point of honor to conquer the most shameless man by the gentleness of his mind and by kindly deeds. In this way, he thought to overcome his brother and his band of conspirators, changing their nature by the abundance of his virtue. But in this one thing he was wanting in judgment, for malignity not assuaged by virtue is rather inflamed by it. [1240] If to cling to the good is natural, to the extent that good increases, the grief occasioned by it increases also, and this is precisely what the deeply groaning brother suffered over the reign of Osiris.



            (1.13: Typho’s wife)


    [1.13] [1240] As soon as Osiris had taken over the rule, Typho narrowly escaped death from dashing his wicked head on the ground, and knocking it against columns. For whole days he got himself no food, although a most gluttonous man; he rejected drink, although very fond of wine; although he loved sleep, he continued without sleeping, and he was afflicted with wakefulness, though many attempts were made to conjure it away. And although he purposely closed his eyes that his soul might be free from the stings of memory, yet memory is most contentious to anyone who desires to set it aside, so that the image of his evils was with him even when his eyes were closed, and if sleep ever by chance overtook him, he would fare still more wretchedly in dreams, seeing that hill before his eyes, those votes, all those hands raised for his brother; and even when he would have been glad to arise for hatred of the cruel sight, his ears would hum for long with the din of the cheering throng. Nor could he endure to remain at rest, for his soul was distressed, and if he looked out of his house, a succession of misfortunes met him, showing themselves in the words, behavior, and songs of the multitude. It was always ‘Osiris, how fair to behold, how wise in speech is the young king’, and of his high spirit that it was not boastful, and of his gentleness that it was not abased.


He would return home then and lock himself in, not knowing what to do with his life; no more did his wife, she, another immense evil, her own tirewoman, greedy of the theater and the market-place, [1241] believing, as she wished, that the eyes of all were turned upon her. On this account, she deemed that her husband’s fall from the royal position was an even greater misfortune for herself, thinking that in the alternative case she would confiscate the freedom of the state on a large scale and waste its resources on luxury.


Now Typho was already of mature years when he fell a victim to her, like a youth in the initial stages of passion, and the half of his misfortune lay in the shame that he felt before the creature to whom he had expressed his ambition to rule in the highest position, sharing the power with her. And she, in her private life also was a most wonderful being, seeking to shine in the most opposite ways, most feminine of women, on the one hand, in seeking a fresh adornment, in adding to her beauty, and in yielding to her nature; most venturesome, on the other hand, in tampering with men’s affairs and in carrying them out, busying herself about a variety of things and being an innovator besides. With these and other ends in view, she had got ready both women of perverse morals and pimps, all of like dispositions, to keep for the gratification of her own tastes both at home and abroad.


But as for Osiris, only the fact that his son was seen by men reminded the world that there were women’s apartments in his house, and even his child Horus was seldom visible. For the one virtue of a woman Osiris thought was that neither her person nor her name should pass the door of the courtyard. Accordingly, her rise to the pinnacle of fortune did not avert this chaste wife of his from the even tenor of her way; she was apt to be the more retiring owing to the greatness of her rank. Nor did he himself rejoice as one more happy on account of this elevation, for he knew that even had he not attained it, he would not have been any the less happy, inasmuch as each man, once that he wills to be virtuous, is himself steward to himself of such happiness. Therefore of such as dwell with virtue, whether private individuals or rulers, one may observe men equally gay at heart.


Every life indeed is material for virtue; just as with the tragic actors whom we see on the stage, whosoever has trained his voice well, will take the parts of Creon and Telephus with equal skill, and in no way will robes of purple be superior to rags, so far as the volume and beauty of his declamation are concerned, or his success in bringing down the house by the sound of his strains. He will portray the handmaiden and her mistress alike with the same power of cadence, and whatever mask he puts on, the manager of the theater demands of him that he use it aright. In a like manner God and Fortune bestow upon us lives, as it were masks in the great drama of the universe, and no better or worse is one life than another; but each man makes such use of it as best he may. The earnest man can everywhere succeed in life, whether he act the pauper or king. As to the mask, it makes no difference. Surely the tragic actor would become ridiculous who shunned one mask and seized upon another. [1244] Even in the rôle of the old woman, if he shines in his art, he is crowned and heralded abroad, while if he disgraces himself in the rôle of a king, he is hooted and hissed, and on occasion is even stoned. For no life is really our own, rather are we clad without with the lives of others, and we, the better and the worse of us when we act and reveal the inner voice, are actors of living drama. These lives, then, we have only to put on and take off, as garments.



            (1.14: Typho’s illness)


    [1.14] [1244] Osiris then (for he had been taught what the difference was between meum and tuum), knew that the soul is the measure of happiness. Undaunted therefore by outside forces, he succeeded in making himself and those of his household of the same way of thinking, both private individuals and rulers. But the others – because they lived by the senses and were devoid of reason – were careless lovers of fortune, and considered the property of others their own; they were impregnated with vanity, they hankered after the kingdom, and, as it did not come to them, despaired of themselves, and thought that nothing was worth living for.


Again and many a time the fact is worth repeating to men, that it is a sign of ill-breeding not to await life patiently, as a portion to be served at the dinner table, which in due course comes to us, that we may help ourselves, but to be one’s self the one to pounce upon it beforehand, and to filch it away. A man who succeeds in this will be laughed at, for he is an unseemly fellow-guest, and will be detested by the master of the feast, inasmuch as he disturbs its decorum, as far as in him lies, by his meanness. On the other hand, if he fails, he will go so far as to weep in childhood’s way, himself clinging to the portion that has been carried past and has gone to his neighbor. Such in all respects was the experience that befell Typho, for he was hated by the gods, he himself was lamenting, and the matter was the laughing-stock of the people.


For not even the fact that he had taken to his bed for many months, and was daily expected to die, not even this did arouse pity, but stirred up anger amongst men of sterner, and laughter among men of gentler judgment, to such a point that the matter was by this time proverbial, and the question addressed to pale people was this, ‘Has not your brother had a piece of good luck?’ He might have perished justly by his own hand, so given up was he to evil.


[1245] But at this point his execrable wife, very much a woman even in the midst of dangers, retrieved both herself and him, always managing him as one easy to control; she deterred him from weeping by occupying him with herself, banishing passion by passion and fencing off pain by pleasure. In this way he then recovered himself with an effort, yielding in a measure to evils the most hostile. At one moment he would lament, at another he would give way to anger. And licentious boys at such times, even in greater numbers, entered his house the more, bringing in their train carousals and drinking bouts, all this that he might kill time in their company and assuage his soul’s gloom. Other things they also devised, that they might have as little leisure as possible to remember the good fortune of Osiris. They constructed swimming-ponds, in these ponds islands, and in the islands artificial hot baths, that men might strip themselves one after another amongst women and satisfy passion without restraint.



            (1.15: Typho’s wife creates a coalition with the Scythian mercenaries, who capture Thebes)


    [1.15] [1245] While they are engaged in these affairs, the idea of seizing the kingdom comes into their minds, at the suggestion of evil demons who show the way, and already they were for openly administering everything else, being on the spot and making tours together. It was intolerable to these demons to see their own schemes going to ruin and dishonor, prudence exercised, and piety gaining ground, injustice driven away, harmony established, and all good things flourishing. To the Egyptians weeping was now only a word. All things were propitious, all things in order. The state, like a single living organism, had law for its soul, and was moved by this, its parts the while harmonizing with the whole. These things goad the demons to madness, to these they cleave, employing as their instruments men akin to them.


The evil is hatched in the women’s quarters in two houses. There was indeed a hearth in the royal city belonging to the commander of the foreign troops, one whom it seemed good to the Egyptians to send upon a campaign, himself and his forces. At the moment in fact they were waging an unsuccessful ware against a section of their own country which had revolted, and several Egyptian villages had fared ill, for the demons had prepared this trouble for their drama. Typho’s wife, that crafty ape-like creature, visiting the wife of this very man day and night, convinced without difficulty that old woman, a foreigner and unintelligent, that she held her in great regard, and foresaw misfortune which would befall them if affairs turned out as Osiris wished. ‘For’, said she, ‘he makes a charge of betrayal, and thinks it is a war already arranged in which he is engaged, since the foreigners have divided their army, although their policy is unanimous. [1248] He has therefore decided,’ she said, ‘to bring back the general by every violence and contrivance, and as soon as he is away from the camp, to ruin him completely, by relieving him of his command, as well as you, and your children. This noble offspring of yours, yes, these most lovely nurslings, even these he has decided to slaughter, while still in their youth.’


And meantime she would weep, touching the young children lightly under the chin, and winning their goodwill by the pity she showed. At this, the old Scythian woman straightway wailed aloud, thinking to see these horrors before her eyes, and to suffer them herself. But the other woman added still another terror, and every day one more, announcing, forsooth, plans of secret machination against themselves. The Scythians were to be destroyed root and branch out of the land, and for this Osiris was working every day; he was secretly bringing the battalions up to their strength, and was making all other arrangements for the Egyptians to live by themselves, once they had either butchered the foreigners or driven them out. This would be quite easy, as soon as he had proclaimed their general a private citizen, by serving him with a notification of his dismissal, and had brought him up for impeachment by the law.


‘And when the general had been thus disposed of, he thinks that the other will involve little trouble. Now,’ she continued, ‘Typho is weeping at home, for he has your interest at heart, and he was always supported the foreigners politically, albeit through them we actually lost the kingdom, for they had not arrived on the scene at the moment when the result was announced. Had they done so, it would have now been possible for you to insult the Egyptians, to possess yourselves of their goods, and to treat these masters of yours as slaves. But as then we were not aided by you, so now we are powerless to come to your rescue. None the less, when disasters approach our friends, it is we who suffer misfortune.’


When she had thus outwitted the old woman by her maneuvers, and had driven her into the last degree of panic, in the belief that there was no way of escape for them; now that she had enough of this, she applied another device to recall the foreigner from her terror, seeing that she had already learned to follow the one who had caused her judgment to waver as she pleased. So, little by little, she infused courage into her and filled her with hope. ‘Great is the plan,’ she said, ‘and one that requires special courage, to the end that we may not be under the power of Osiris, and live or not live when he pleases.’


At first she hinted darkly at the insurrection, then made insinuations about it, and at last revealed it, gradually accustoming her to the story and the enterprise, until finally she made the timid creature bold, by showing her that the power of Osiris was as nothing if once they were determined. ‘For the law,’ she said, ‘and the habit of honor, and the ancient and ancestral tradition, enslave the slothful of their own free will. But he who rebels is only making trial of the weak, and that man is free who has strength, if he is not dumbfounded before habit, and we shall never experience that, as long as you are under arms, and Osiris does nothing else but pray to the gods, at one time giving audiences to embassies, at another stating judicial decisions, and at another engaging in some other task of peace. For Osiris will never be an evil to any of the Scythians, if we combine with you, and contribute, for our part, the prestige of rank, for yours, the military strength. Nor will you appear to be committing any great fraud, or to be disturbing the peace of the Egyptians, or to be changing the constitution, but rather to be establishing it, and making better arrangements for everyone, [1249] if you secure the rule for Typho, born of the same stock as Osiris, the eldest to boot, and a more legitimate sovereign to govern Egypt.


Thus in the first place it is not even likely that the Egyptians would combine against you, inasmuch as the change in regard to the hereditary constitution is not a great one. While the outward form of the government will be ours, the benefits of it will be yours, and you can batten on the whole of Egypt as if it were your own dinner table. Only promise to persuade your husband.’


‘And you,’ said the other, ‘will join in persuading him.’


This they set about doing, and when the commander was announced to be approaching on horseback, scouts suborned thereto spread rumors secretly about the plot, and under a mask of discretion succeeded in announcing what they were pretending to conceal, more clearly than those who shout loudly, and mysterious letters troubled people profoundly, letters enjoining them to secure their own safety. Finally someone said quite openly that they must save themselves from the ambush, and another would repeat this still more clearly, and then another, and again another, all these partisans of Typho and confederates of the women.


The finishing touch now comes, the women meet him, they the artificers of the plot, and Typho himself, as if he had gone out of town on some other errand, joins the commander secretly, and confers with him concerning the kingdom. He persuades him to undertake this work immediately, and if necessary to let the regal city perish with Osiris, adding that the rest of Egypt was sufficient for him. ‘And at the same time,’ he said, ‘your soldiers may enrich themselves by enslaving the prosperous city, the common hearth of all the conspicuous Egyptians, and by plundering its wealth.’


So our worthy Typho sacrificed the city to his hatred of its inhabitants because of their goodwill towards Osiris. This the Scythian refused to do, for he felt in awe of the sacred senate, and of the well-disciplined people, and of the privileges that the city conferred. He said that he was marching against Osiris not of his own free will, but of necessity, and that if he succeeded in overthrowing him, consistently with the safety of the city and the preservation of the country, he would regard it as a point gained, that the necessity for a greater evil had not arisen.



            (1.16: Osiris leaves the city; Typho’s reign of terror)


    [1.16] [1249] The story refuses to linger over the sorrows of Osiris, for it is not in nature for a man to persist complacently in a harrowing recital. From that time till now the days of the sacred tears are accounted as ill-omened, and any who have the hallowed privilege of beholding [1252] may see images of these personages moving miraculously. But ’tis said this much is lawful for everyone to hear, how that Osiris for country, for temples, for laws, gave himself up to men threatening to destroy all unless they capture him; that he crossed the river in a cargo boat, and a guard was straightway put over him wherever he might be on land or sea, and a foreign assembly to decide what punishment he should suffer. Before this assembly Typho demanded he should die as quickly and as brutally as possible. But the foreigners, although they considered themselves wronged, were indignant at this, and showed respect for virtue. They were for condemning him to exile; then they felt shame at this solution, and decided that it should not be a case of exile for him, but a voluntary withdrawal from the country. They allowed him to keep his money and property, although even these Typho had offered them for their own. They would no more touch them than the treasures of the temples.


So he was sent on his way escorted by the god and goodly heroes, that he might leave the country at an appointed time, for it was not fated that the evil elements should triumph in Egypt, and that everything should so quickly fall into disorder and shame, as long as a holy soul dwelt there. That these evils might take place, the demons to whom such works belonged had in the beginning combined against him, and their own servant whom they had first brought into being, and quite recently into the position of tyrant, was now regaling them with all sorts of misfortune. Taxes of every sort, manifold in number, were at once imposed upon the cities, obligations that had no existence were discovered, and debts that had become a dead letter were dug up anew. The river dweller was compelled to take over some public work on the land, and boats were demanded from the land-dweller, so that no human being might have the leisure in which to be happy.


These were the most public forms of abuses, and there was another more common still. Typho would send men under his own control to govern tribes, corrupt wretches to whom he sold the cities openly. Now as to those who purchased the right to govern any tribe: however young a man might be, although the lease of the district was signed for one year only, he counted on being able to acquire in that years supplies for a dissolute old age. This is a specimen of the sort of thing that happened in Typho’s reign. By written contract he agreed upon the period of their rule for those who paid him down the price.


Formerly a man was turned out of office for cause of misconduct, whereas to another the reward of virtue was still a more distinguished honor, namely the rule over a greater number of men, and a longer tenure of his post. But from this time on there was wailing everywhere from all, every man having a personal grievance to tell of, and throughout cities and town councils men were harried with every kind of ill-treatment; so that one cry alone rose from Egypt to heaven, the sound of a universal dirge.


But the gods took pity on the race and prepared to come to its rescue. It did not seem good to them, however, to do so, before virtue and evil-doing had been still more clearly compared with each other, to the end that even men who used their minds and perceptions only a little might clearly distinguish the better from the worse, might pursue the one and eschew the other.



            (1.17: General corruption of Egyptian morals)


    [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



            (1.18: A man from the country denounces Typho)


    [1.18] [1253] Now it happened that there was one man [Synesius] who, though of serious bent, had yet through philosophy been brought up in a more rustic mould, and had nothing in common with the ways of the city. This man had received, as all men had, very many kindnesses from Osiris; for himself exemption from public services, and for his country lighter services to that man [Osiris]. And while innumerable men were making verses at that moment, writing speeches in praise of Osiris, and rendering favors to him in return for favors, he was quite as generously disposed as they (and the more so in that he was more capable) and composed, wrote and sang to the lyre in the Dorian manner, which alone he thought had room for depth of character and expression. These poems he did not give to the public, but if there was any listener in the audience who could understand virile phrases, anyone unable to endure the tickling of pleasure but of open mind, to that one he would address his words. On the one hand he knew that Osiris was an exceptionally acute critic of writings, whether ephemeral or lasting, and on the other hand he refrained from saying anything about Osiris in his presence, partly because he did not regard words as a fitting and equal return for deeds, and partly because owing to the rusticity in which he had been brought up, he was ashamed to be thought a flatterer.


But when Typho seized Egypt by force and tyrannized over it, then this man became more uncourtly still; then he published, then he disclosed his works, while all shuddered at the hearing; [1256] he thought it impious not to declare openly his hatred of those who had done evil to their benefactor. Then he invoked the most sanguinary curses upon Typho both in speech and writing, and he who had always been found fault for his habit of silence became garrulous, whether at home or in the forum.


Osiris was everywhere in his discourses. Everywhere in social gatherings at which he was present were praises of Osiris sung, and in the teeth of those who could not endure them he flung his tales. Nor did he pay any respect to his elders or friends, who admonished him, nor again did fear of his impetuosity disturb him, and he seemed like one mad with some noble madness. He did not desist until he had stood as near as possible to Typho himself, when distinguished men from all parts were gathered about him, and had pronounced a long speech of praises of his brother [Osiris] and had counseled him to emulate virtue, so closely becoming him. [1]


Typho fired up and was manifestly stung to the quick, but out of respect for the assembled company, he withheld his hands and was prudent of necessity. It was possible, however, to fathom this state of mind by his face, for this passed through various stages of passion. Thus in a short space of time he turned all the colors of the rainbow. He became forthwith more hateful, and went further to the bad; the good conditions that existed under Osiris had disappeared, and he worked other evils besides, harassing the cities for which Osiris had pleaded, and devising some personal evil against him, so that he might never be able to return home in freedom, and would be forced to dwell bewailing his lot, and seeing in prosperity those by whom he was hated.


While the stranger was in this plight, a god have him new strength, one clearly visible, and bidding him to endure to the end. ‘For not in a period of years, but only of months,’ he said, ‘is the scepter of Egypt destined to lift up the claws of the wild beasts, and to abase the crests of the sacred birds.’


A cryptic allegory this; and while the stranger recognized the picture as that engraved on obelisks and sacred enclosures, the god imparted to him the understanding of the hieroglyphics, and gave him a token of the time implied. ‘Whenever,’ he said, ‘those who are now in power shall attempt to introduce innovations in our religious rites, then expect that in a short time the Giants (by which he meant the foreigners) shall be cast out, themselves pursued with furies, and if some discord still remains, and if everything is not effaced at once, and if Typho himself remains still in the royal palace, despair not even then of the gods. Here is another token for you: whenever we shall purify the air encircling the earth by water and fire, that air tainted by the breath of the ungodly, then shall Justice come even upon those who are left, and straightway expect then the better dispensation after the removal of Typho. For portentous things of this sort we disperse, burning them with lightning and shattering them with thunder.’


Then indeed what had been harsh in the past, seemed to the stranger of good augury, and he was no longer distressed at his enforced stay, for through that alone he was to be an eyewitness of the intervention of the gods. For it was not even in the range of human conjecture that a compact force under arms, and allowed by law in time of peace to carry the sword, should be routed without even an opponent. These things he reasoned about, [1257] how they might be, but they seemed to surpass reason.


Now, when a short time had elapsed, there was a question of a certain evil stamp of religious observance, and a counterfeit of ritual as in the case of coinage, which an old law banishes from the cities, shutting out the impiety beyond the walls. Typho set himself to introduce this through the instrumentality of the foreigners, for he did not dare to do so in person through fear of the Egyptian populace, and sought to make a gift of a temple in the city, breaking the laws of his ancestors. At this moment the stranger began to think that this was what was meant by that prophecy of the god, and, he reflected, ‘I shall probably behold what is to follow’.


Having learned this then, he awaited on the one hand the immediate fortunes of Osiris, on the other the years that had not yet come, when his son Horus should think of choosing an alliance with the wolf instead of one with the lion. [2] Now who the wolf is, pertains to a story which is sacred, and it would be an unholy act to declare it to the world even in the dress of a fable.


Note 1: A reference to Synesius’ speech On Imperial rule.

Note 2: Cf. Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, 19.




            (2.1: The gods intervene; the Scythian mercenaries feel uneasy in the city and decide to build their camp elsewhere)


    [2.1] [1257] From this point the actions of the gods begin to be manifest, for all things were now full of all manner of evils from every quarter, and a belief in Providence had disappeared from the mind of men, [1260] their impious conjectures being largely sustained by the events witnessed. On the one hand no human agency appeared anywhere to assist them, for the foreigners were using the city as a camp; on the other hand, the commander of these was stricken with terror during the night, the Corybantes [1], I suppose, attacking him, and day by day panic uproars took possession of the troops. The frequent occurrence of this reduced them to a state of frenzy and caused them to lose their wits. They wandered about, alone or in company, all as if possessed by the nymph’s delirium, at one moment attempting to draw their swords, and behaving as about to deliver an immediate attack, at another, on the contrary, claiming pity and asking to be spared; or again, springing up, they seemed alternately like pursuers and pursued, as though some hostile force had been secretly conveyed into the town. But in the city there was neither weapon, nor any man to use it; the people were an easy prey offered up by Typho.


So this also is very clear, that a god is needed even by those well prepared for war, unless their preparations are to turn out useless, and that victory is from no other source: at the same time one deprives the victorious cause of its due in foolishly supposing it to be probable that the better prepared man will win. For when our plans turn out to be successful, a god seems to be superfluous, and disputes the honor of a victory that was already prepared by ourselves. But if no one intervenes to produce the result, and if the unseen alone is responsible, we hold nothing short of a refutation, not stated in words but in evident fact, of the views of those who disbelieve that the gods care for mankind.


Now something of this actually took place on that occasion. Here were the bold, the conquerors, the mail-clad, whose whole work and play alike were a training for war and battle, the cavalry parading in the marketplace in order, or moving off in squadrons at the sound of the trumpet. If any soldier was in need of a huckster, or a cobbler, or wished to polish his sword, all kept guard over the need of each, so that the phalanx might not be dispersed even in the streets. Then lo! these men stampeded in mad flight from the lightly clad, the unarmed, from the men cast down in spirit, and not even praying for victory. At a signal known to all of them, they retired from the town suddenly, secretly taking their children, their wives, their valuables, as though it was not quite possible for them openly to enslave those of the Egyptians as well.


When the population saw them packing up this baggage, they did not even then understand what was happening, they only despaired for themselves once more. And so some of them shut themselves up in their houses, there to await the conflagration; while others preferring the sword to fire, [1261] purchased a lighter implement of death, not for any use, but that they might offer themselves for slaughter when the moment should come. Others attempted to take to their boats, and their minds ran on islands, on villages, and on cities beyond the frontiers; for any spot at that time seemed more secure than great Thebes, in which the Egyptian palaces had been constructed. But how gradually and with difficulty the gods brought them round to a state of confidence in events and of renewed courage to prefer safety – this very incredible story has come to our ears.


Note 1: Servants of the mother goddess Cybele.



            (2.2: An incident at one of the gates leads to an insurrection)


    [2.2] [1262] A poor woman and very old at that, plied a trade near one of the side gates of the city, not a lucrative trade, but withal necessary for her, namely that of stretching out her hands on the chance that someone might put an obol therein. She had come very early to her vagabond’s station, for life’s needs are skilled in cheating nature of its sleep. Once seated, she did the proper thing. She speeded on their way with her blessings those who had roused to their work, she brought good news of the day, she prayed, and promised that the god would be propitious. Now when she saw from afar what was being done by the Scythians, as soon as it was broad daylight, and how they did not cease running out like thieves, all of them packing and removing their belongings, she takes it to heart that this is the last sun that Thebes will look upon, for she thought they were doing this that the city might hold no pledge from them, so that when they had once moved camp, they might begin an assault, having no fear about the prospect of further gain, since the wrongdoers share the hearts of the wronged.


So, upsetting the cup in which she collected her coins, with many bitters lamentations and appeals to heaven, ‘You’, she said, ‘when turned out of your own country, and when wanderers, Egypt received as suppliants. Moreover she treated you not merely as it were well to treat suppliants, but she gave you the honor of citizenship, and made you share in its privileges, and, to crown all, made you masters of the situation. Now even native-born Egyptians are adopting Scythian manners, their affection of these being actually conducive to their interests. Your very ways are held in greater honor than our own. What then does all this mean? Why are you moving your camp, why are you packing up, and removing your possessions? I suppose the gods are not trying you for ingratitude on account of your present conduct to your benefactors; yet they exist, and will come on the scene even if it be after the downfall of Thebes.’


When she had finished, she threw herself face downwards on the ground. [1264] Thereupon a Scythian made for her with drawn sword, as though to strike off the poor creature’s head, for he surmised that she was abusing them and making their night’s work public, imagining that their action was still unobserved, since none of those who had been spectators had dared to denounce them. She therefore would have become the victim of the sword. But someone appears now, whether a god or a divine personage (at all events he seemed a man), who was evidently indignant, and turning the Scythian against himself, he meets his onset, and anticipating his blow, gathers him up and hurls him on the ground. Another Scythian then attacked him, and quickly met with the same fate.


Then a hue and cry went up and men rushed to the spot. There were many foreigners, on the one hand, who, leaving the baggage animals, were caught by the incident at the gate. They were either about to go or already had gone out, and returned to help their own people as quickly as possible; on the other hand there was a great concourse of the natives. One of them is struck down and dies, another kills a Scythian, and again still another Scythian the slayer; a man falls at every moment, and at every moment a man kills another on either side. To the people anything at hand was the arm needed; they were able also by despoiling the dead and by robbing the living to make use of their swords; they were superior in numbers to the aliens, for part of these were encamped as far as possible from the town, that they might have less reason to fear an ambush, with which, though it did not really exist, the god threatened them, that they might leave the city, the heart of which they held in their hands; and another part of them, inferior in number to the civil population, were busying themselves over their goods and chattels to the end that nothing should be left behind. Far more numerous, therefore, as they were, they were brought into collision with those less in number than themselves who encountered them near the gates, and those who were continually coming to the place to affect an exit.


The noise grew louder, and now the action of the gods could be clearly distinguished there. For when a perception of the uproar broke over the whole extent of the city, and had reached to the camp of the aliens, since each faction had long been in fear of an attack from the other, every man of the townsfolk, thinking that now had come the decisive day for Egypt, one in which the foreigner had agreed to throw aside all decency, every man of them determined to die in action, and to make a monument of his valor, since not even a god would have seemed to them a trustworthy guarantee that they should not suffer. All invariably, therefore broke through to the center of the disturbance, each man wishing to distinguish himself, and esteeming that it would profit him if he braved all dangers while witnesses were still alive.


The foreigners on the other hand had concealed their departure, and thinking that they had been discovered, took little heed of those left behind in the city, although they made up about fifth part of their army. Fearing only for themselves, lest their enemies should make a sortie, they took to flight, and encamped farther away, only too thankful that they had been saved with the greater part of their force instead of having to confront danger with the whole.


But of the residue left behind, those in the houses, through being for long divinely infatuated, and filled with suspicion that the Scythians would suffer an intolerable disaster at the hands of the Egyptians, supposed that an attack had been made upon them, in their retreat, as on fugitives, and that soon their camp would be plundered. They thought then that it would be to their own advantage to remain on the spot and lay aside their arms, taking the place of suppliants, [1265] since then it would seem that they also had been the only ones left behind, because they had done no evil to the Egyptians, whereas the others had left the town, fearing to suffer for the acts they had committed.


But those alone who happened to be near the gates and around whom the panic was in full blast, knew the truth, how that the Egyptians possessed no powerful military organization, not a hoplite, not a weapon, not a spearmen, not a spear. And so these Scythians made up their minds, at the present juncture, to get possession of the gates if possible, and to call in those who had vainly given way to panic, for the whole city was being harried like a bird’s nest.


Now is a fierce fight waged about these gates, and in this the Egyptians are victorious and sing a paean of victory. This was another terror to the foreigners both within the city and those without, for the latter party thought the matter had been settled by the Egyptians against the former, the former against the latter, and thus each section lamented over the other. The victors do not succeed in closing all the doors in all the gates (no small work this in Thebes, whose hundred gates are celebrated in Greek song [1]), before a man who had shared in the struggle round the gates runs through from the midst of the fighting for this very purpose, announces the news to the Scythians, and promises them the city. These then came to the spot in vain, and at once praised and blamed their fortune: for a while they greatly congratulated themselves on their escape from the net, but later they demanded orders to burst through the wall for the purpose of again occupying the town.


Thus the wisdom of god is an irresistible thing, and neither is weapon strong nor mind devising, unless a god be present with it, and so men have ere now conducted a campaign against themselves. It seems to me to have been most happily said that man is a plaything of a god, one who is always sporting and playing a game of draughts with events. [2] And I think that Homer was the first of the Greeks to observe this, and sang of a contest and of prizes offered for every sort of struggle over the tomb of Patroclus, though in every respect those who are most expected to win fall short. Teucer loses the first prize to an insignificant bowman, and


    The best driver of whole-hoofed horses is last;


again in skill of foot a young man is defeated by a man in his prime, and in the competition in heavy armor, Ajax is worsted - and yet, Homer heralds Ajax as being by far the best of all those assembled before Troy, with the exception of Achilles. [3] He asserts that skill, training, youth, and superiority of constitution are al small things in comparison with divine power.


Note 1: Homer, Iliad, 9.381.

Note 2: Plato, Laws, 803C

Note 3: Teucer: Homer, Iliad, 23.850-883; the quote is 23.536; races: 23.785, 836, 859; Ajax: 2.768.



            (2.3: A Council decides to dethrone Typho)


    [2.3] [1268] The Egyptians, then, when they had now brilliantly carried the gates and had put the wall between themselves and the enemy, turning upon those who were left within, alike stray individuals an assembled masses, threw missiles, cast javelins, struck them, and ran them through. Some of them, who had found a fortified shelter, they smoked out as though they had been wasps – temples, priests and all. Typho, the while, thundering complaints (for he had become Scythian even in his religious views), demanded a treaty of peace with the barbarians, scheming again to admit the enemy army, on the ground that no irremediable evil had occurred. But they, the people, were all unbidden, without generals, except that by the gift of the gods every individual was himself general and soldier, captain and private. What might not happen at a moment when the god is willing and gives the initiative to men to save themselves by every means in their power? Nor did they yet give over the gates to Typho, and in other respects the despotic rule was lifeless, the moment that the party which organized it had been banished from the city.


The first meeting was held at the house of the high-priest, a sacred fire was kindled, prayers of thanksgiving were offered up for what had been accomplished, and intercessions for what should happen in the future. Then they called for Osiris on the ground that there was no other salvation for their government than he. Now the priest promised him to them, the gods granting it, together with any men who had fallen with him because they were accused of sharing his views. But they decided to beguile Typho for some time still. He had not indeed suffered immediately his due penalty (and the penalty was that the man most culpable for the sometime servile attitude of the Egyptians towards the Scythians should now become a victim and a preparatory sacrifice for the war), and when Justice – who is wise and knows well how to keep opportunities under her control – delayed his case, the latter, I say, even then thought that all this would escape the gods. And as he was still in the outward panoply of the despotic power, he began levying taxes more keenly and shamefully than ever, and went so far as to extort contributions a second time even from his servants.


At one moment he would threaten to do violent mischief while he still had the power, at another again he was groveling, and speaking piteously that, quoth he, ‘I may not lose my kingdom’. So completely had he lost his head, and had actually become so puffed up in mind as to expect to get round the priest by flattery and bribes. But it was not right of him to place money before the ordinances of his fathers. Nay, even when the aliens had broken up their camp with all their might and were already far from Thebes, he again brought them back, by envoys and suppliants and presents. Every act and device of his was a glaring announcement that he would again had over Egyptian interests to the foreigners. He himself was evidently quite without anxiety on the score of his beloved Scythians, and even if he had not been so, at all events he was glad that he would not live to see Osiris returned from exile, and taking a place in the government.


Since in any case, the foreigners now attacked the country, obviously not, as they had done before, with a view to changing Egyptian institutions, [1269] but rather tearing them up by the roots, and to Scythianizing the government, and since, in a word, the drama now being enacted held the most disastrous elements of two evils – war and faction –: the evil of faction, namely, the domestic cessions and betrayals which are attempted least of all in war-time; and of war, that danger which is the common lot of all: since these factions then, in an attempt to save the commonwealth, sought the transference of the leadership from its possessors to others, at that time, from both sides, the worst elements prevailed, and not one of the Egyptians, not even the most utterly worthless, was left, to whom the tyrant did not seem to be planning and doing things deserving of indignation: for they were chastened through fear.


Now this was the moment for which the gods had determined to wait, that no smoldering ember of the opposite faction should be secretly kept alive in the state, which might contain pretexts for evil, if not just, at least plausible. So, although late in the day, there is a meeting of gods and elders concerning Typho, and what has long been the common talk of all in private, is disclosed. Women who spoke both tongues for the benefit of the women who did not understand each other’s views, translated the words of the foreign language into the Egyptian, contrariwise the words of the Egyptian into the foreign.


And there were, moreover, the effeminate men, [1] and spies, and all belonging to the company of those suborned by Typho and his wife against Osiris, who themselves were to give the most terrible evidence, namely that Osiris had surrendered the occupation of key positions, and had all but brought on the siege himself, that a reign of terror might envelop the sacred city: that he [Typho?] was in all haste to make the Scythians pass to the other side of the river also, that the Egyptian fortunes should not merely half suffer, but that all things should be removed root and branch, and that they should not have time to send for Osiris. When all this had come out, the men, on the one hand, unanimously condemned Typho to confinement, and decided to institute a second trial for him to determine what punishment he should suffer, or what fine he should pay.


The gods, on the other, praised the assessors who took part, for having condemned the man according to his deserts, but they themselves voted that when he had left this life, he should be given up to the avenging deities, and should dwell in Cocytus, [2] and should finally become a pernicious and infernal demon, an object to be classed with the Titans and Giants, and should never see Elysium even in a dream, bit would lift up his eyes with difficulty to get a glimpse of that sacred light which is an object of contemplation to virtuous souls and blessed gods.


Note 1: Eunuchs.

Note 2: One of the rivers in the Underworld.



            (2.4: Triumphal return of Osiris; he pardons his brother)


    [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.


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.



            (2.5-8: Some reflections by Synesius)


    [2.5] [1272] We may safely venture to say as much as this about Osiris; but beyond this let only words of good augury be spoken, says one who cautiously employs sacred language. As to those things which lie far away, it would be part of a foolhardy mind and tongue to reveal them, and let them be kept in holy silence untouched by written words, lest one should


    Cast an eye on anything not permitted, [1]


for he who reveals, as he who sees, such things incurs the wrath of the divine nature. Boeotian legends tear to pieces those who intrude and spy upon the secret rites of Dionysus. Ignorance in the case of initiations is sanctity. On this account the night is entrusted with the mysteries, and caverns that may not be trodden are hollowed out for this reason. Moments and places are chosen that know how to conceal the inspired celebration of the mysteries.


Only so much perchance it is safe to say, and cloaking the inviolable to what extent we may, we say it, how that Osiris in his old age was more glorious than in his youth. The gods gave him as a reward to rule over the state with greater prestige, so as to be shown as one superior to injury from men, and the prosperity which he had given the Egyptians, but made by its development incomparably superior to its former state. So the former seemed to be merely a prelude to the latter, and nothing but a promise once sung by the Greek poets, how that the virgin who is now a constellation (and whom we call, I think, Justice),


    [1273] on the earth dwelling aforetime

    Face to face met all men, nor ever of mortals disdained she

    E’en in that far distant past the tribes or of men or of women.

    With them she mingled and there took her seat, though a goddess immortal.


how she stayed under the same roof with man –


    For in that time men knew naught of bitter discord, of struggle,

    Of contestations that menace, of all the tumult of battle.

    Thus their lifetime they passed,

    and the harsh sea was far away from them,

    Nor did ships come to bring them supplies from lands o’er the ocean;

    Theirs were the plough and the oxen, and theirs that queen of the people.

    Dikê, ’t is she who dispenses by thousands her gifts of all justice.

    So bloomed this age for a span

    when the golden race the earth nourished. [2]


He says, then, that as long as men did not use the sea they were golden and had dealings with the gods, but when ships came to them for the service of a strenuous life, then Justice flitted so far away from earth, that she could scarcely be seen on a clear night; and to be sure, when she is visible, she offers us an ear of corn instead of a rudder. Probably she would come down to us now and would again speak to us face to face if we busied ourselves with agriculture, and despised seafaring.


Now no other period has attained to this that the poets sang of long ago concerning her, save only the period of the glorious reign of Osiris. And if the gods, when bringing him back from exile, did not at that very moment put everything in his hands – let us not hold a contrary view on this score. It is not in the nature of a state to change suddenly for the better, in the way that is changes suddenly for the worse; for evil is a thing self-taught, whereas virtue is acquired only through toil. Needs must that those who purify first should intervene, but that the divinity should move leisurely and in order. But Osiris, before he entered upon a life of action, had to see and hear many things, for many a report is kept away from a king.


Note 1: Quote from an unknown poet.

Note 2: Aratus, Phaenomena, 101 ff and 108 ff.



    [2.6] [1273] Enough, for we must now take rest lest we parade anything of the unutterable mysteries. First, may the sacred rites be propitious to us, next, to us who have long learned of past and present happenings to a brother, it seems somewhat wonderful and worthy of inquiry, why it is that whensoever some nature is born distinctly better or worse, not in a small degree but very greatly, as for example a virtue unmixed with evil, or evil unmixed with virtue, [1276] there grows up also near at hand, in some way, its undiluted opposite, in such wise that from one home proceed two completely alien things, and at the same time there is one root for the two growths.


Let us inquire then of philosophy, what she will allege as the cause of this incredible thing. She might reply, borrowing a little from poetry:


There are two casks that lie in the antechamber of Zeus,

One of gifts evil such as he gives, but the other of good ones. [1]


He pours in and mingles from each, for the most part equally or a little less, so that the equilibrium of nature may be well established. But whenever by chance he pours in from one of the portions without reserve, and whenever in such a case some father becomes entirely happy or most unfortunate in his first-born, then what is left is inevitably employed for the other one, for the god who is the distributor will compensate for what is lacking, inasmuch as there must be an equal amount from each of the two casks. Else in the beginning there are equal seeds form both casks in the offspring, and both become one by reason of their common nature. And whenever anyone spends beforehand the isolated contents of one cask in any way whatever, he has the remaining portion quite unmixed.


Saying these things, philosophy might persuade us, for we see that the fruit of the fig tree is most sweet, whereas the leaves, the bark, the root and the trunk are only fit for curdling milk. It would seem then that whatever of an inferior sort the nature of the tree possesses, this it has entirely spent on the parts unfit for food, but has left the best part uncontaminated in the fruit of the tree. Thus, too, the husbandman’s son, for we must employ homely illustrations if we are to do more towards the acceptance of truth; thus these men, I say, taught so perhaps by nature, plant evil-smelling flowers next to the fragrant, and sweet plants next to bitter, in order that these last, drawing to themselves by their kinship with it such amount of evil as the earth has entangled with itself, may leave the better taste and odor in the better roots, alone and cleansed. And this process purifies a garden lot.


Note 1: Homer, Iliad, 24.527-528.



    [2.7] [1276] From this argument it follows, in the fashion of one geometrical corollary emerging together with another, that the older sons in families are born quite worthless. And this becomes a purifier of seeds in relationship, when a god is preparing to generate virtue pure and undefiled. And then it turns out in this way, that precisely what seems to be most closely related, is the most alien of all things. Now while this is not very apt to take place amongst those who develop in the normal course of nature, namely those who are half evil and half good, it is found among those who look down upon nature, and occupy separate parts of it, parts which nature keeps and bestows intertwined with each other, and herein it would have been extraordinary [1277] if this had not happened.


Enough has now been said about this, but another question wrapped up in it seems to demand further consideration. That in various places and in various periods of time the same events should have often taken place, that old men should have become spectators of the very things which they heard about when they were boys, either from books or from their grandfathers’ tales, this seems to me the most incredible thing, and if it is not to remain incredible, it is worth while that a cause should be found for it.


Let us speak then, when we have found the proper cause, for perhaps a philosophic truth is neither small nor very easy. We must regard the universe as a single whole completed in its parts; we shall then think of it as confluent, and animated by the same breath, for in this way only could it save its unity, and we shall not represent its parts as devoid of fellow-feeling for one another, for how can they be one unless they are knit together by nature? They will act on each other, and be acted upon by each other; some parts will only act and other will only be acted upon.


Proceeding therefore on this hypothesis to the subject of our examination, we should logically make the happy body moving in a circle the cause of what happens here below. Both are parts of it and they have some relation with each other, and if generation functions in the things about us, the cause of the generation is in those things above us, and from thence the seeds of what takes place come here. Now if anyone were to advance this view, astronomy guiding his convictions, namely that there are recurrent orbits of stars and spheres, the simple and the composite alike, that man would at one moment speak Egyptian and at another Greek, and would from both languages attain perfect wisdom, combining intelligence with knowledge. Such a man would not fail to recognize that when the same movements come again, effects return together with causes, and lives now on the earth are the same as those of olden times, also births, upbringings, opinions, and fortunes. We should not therefore be surprised that we see quite ancient history renascent now, and that indeed we have seen it, inasmuch as things that have blossomed already, and blossomed for whole months at a time, agree completely with those thing which have been revealed to us in history, and inasmuch as the ideas hidden in matter harmonize with the unutterable mysteries of story.


Whatever manner of things these are, it is not yet lawful, for me at least, to divulge, though one man will make one guess, another man another: and men eager for knowledge of the future, in whose ears my story may have sounded a clarion note, will bend over this Egyptian history, drawing from thence a likeness to the present time enigmatically concealed in it. But in regard to truth, these things do not sound in unison; and let men know that they are not even pious in their attempts, when they heap up before them what should long have been kept buried,


    [1280] For the high gods hold the life of mortals but keep it close hidden. [1]


Note 1: Quote from an unknown poet.



    [2.8] [1280] Pythagoras of Samos avers that the wise man is naught but a spectator of things that are, and of things that have come into existence. For God has summoned him into the universe as to a sacred contest, to be a spectator of the proceedings therein. Let us inquire therefore what sort of spectator the appointed one should be. Or must we say something that is definite and obvious, namely that it should be he who awaits in his place the things shown him, one by one, as they stoop forward in order from out the curtain? And if anyone forces his way on to the stage, and, as the phrase goes, ‘looks at it like an impudent hound,’ usurping a right to survey the whole preparation on the other side of the proscenium, against such an one the Greek judges arm their beadles. But even if he were to evade these, he would understand nothing clearly, he would make out with difficulty blurred ad indistinguishable images.


However, it is the custom in the theater to say a foreword in advance, and it needs must be that someone come forward to discourse to the audience on what they are to see in another moment. Such a man is making no mistake, for he is in the service of the president of the games, and gets from him his knowledge, without playing the busybody to find out more, and thereby moving things that should be immovable. When he has learned his part, he must keep silent before hastening to publish it, since as a matter of fact custom enjoins that even actors do not always know at what moment of the performance they are to appear, but must await the signal for their entrance on the stage to be sent down to them.


In the same way the man to whom God communicates the preparations of those things which are stored up in life by nature, out of respect for the honor granted him, should hold his peace not less, but even more, than those who have heard nothing. It is the unknown about which guesses are made, but conjecture, it goes too far, is most unstable, and in that case words are superfluous; but there is a separation between knowledge and truth, a separation between word and truth also.


But even this will be hidden by the wise man, since God pledges his loyalty of His, as it were, and men hate facile speakers. Let not the man whom God deems unworthy of initiation, push himself forward or be an eavesdropper, for, again, men hate busybodies. In any case, there is no reason for one to be distressed who is certain soon to get his deserts. A short time apportions to man what is his due, and in the end things become common objects for sight and hearing.


    The future days

    Are our wisest witnesses. [1]


Note 1: Pindar, Olympian Ode, 1.34-35.


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