A Platonic philosopher of Cyrene, Synesius was converted and, in 420, chosen bishop of Ptolemais, the chief city of the Pentapolis. He was with difficulty persuaded to take the office, urging his philosophic habits and his unfitness for administrative duties, as well as his dissent from some of the beliefs of the Church. Besides holding the Origenistic belief in the pre-existence of souls, and some other peculiar doctrines, he did not believe in the resurrection of the dead in the literal sense in which this doctrine was held by the Church. Notwithstanding this dissent, and his unwillingness to leave his wife, the churches felt so much the need of his strength that he was ordained, and he became a bishop whose integrity and faithfulness was unsurpassed. His few treatises are rather philosophical and rhetorical than theological. They are a very frank discourse "Of Reigning well," pronounced before the Emperor Arcadius; a discourse in praise of philosophy and astronomy, and another defending the study of poetry and rhetoric; an ingenious work entitled "The Praise of Baldness"; two books "Of Providence," containing a romance of two brothers, Osiris and Tytion, kings of Egypt; and a book "On Dreams." We have also numerous letters of Synesius, a few of which are upon ecclesiastical subjects, and ten hymns or odes. We give the more space to this poetry, since Mrs. Browning has recorded her opinion that Synesius was "the chief, for true and natural gifts, of all our Greek Christian poets." The spirit and style of the odes may be gathered from the following close rendering by Mrs. Browning of a part of the ninth:
"Well-beloved and glory-laden,
Born of Solyma's pure maiden!
I would hymn thee, blessed Warden,
Driving from thy Father's garden
Blinking serpent's crafty lust,
With his bruised head in dust!
Down thou earnest, low as earth,
Bound to those of mortal birth;
Down thou earnest, low as hell,
Where shepherd-death did tend and keep
A thousand nations like to sheep,
While weak with age, old Hades fell
Shivering through his dark to view thee!
And the dog did backward yell,
With jaws all gory, to let through thee!
So, redeeming from their pain
Choirs of disembodied ones,
Thou didst lead whom thou didst gather,
Upward in ascent again,
With a great hymn to the Father
Upward to the pure white thrones!
King, the demon tribes of air
Shuddered back to feel thee there!
And the holy stars stood breathless,
Trembling in their chorus deathless;
A low laughter filled ether—
Harmony's most subtle sire
From the seven strings of his lyre,
Stroked a measured music hither—
Io paean! victory!"
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