BMCR 1991.01.16

Etudes sur la Correspondance de Synésios de Cyrène

, Etudes sur la Correspondance de Synésios de Cyrène. Collection Latomus; v. 205. Brussels: Latomus, 1989. 274 pages. ISBN 2870311451.

As R. remarks in the “Avertissement au Lecteur,” his seventeen chapters “constituaient un préambule indispensable” to his book on Synesius and (mainly) Cyrene ( Synésios de Cyrène et la Cyrénaïque du Bas-Empire [Paris, 1988]), and provide the chronological framework for it. The present chapters, discussing letters or groups of letters to one individual or on a common theme (the exception is Ch. 17, on the de reg. and de prov.), were essentially complete in 1982 and, according to R., are as valid now as then, in spite of recent articles, especially in English, propounding views quite different from R.’s own. R. claims to have taken full account of this work, but he mentions it in no more than 3 footnotes (2 to the Preface) and the Bibliography, often inconsistently. Two articles ascribed to W. Leibeschütz at p.5, n.2, are listed under J.H.W.G. Liebeschütz in the Bibliography, while of the two credited to J.H.W.G. Liebeschütz, one is found under T.D. Barnes in the Bibliography (a mistake), and the other is absent. A. Cameron can be thankful that he is cited consistently in both 5, n.2 and the Bibliography, and perhaps that his views were deemed worthy of longer discussion at p.19, n.26. All the works mentioned in n.2 are baldly rejected in n.3 for attempts to restore an early chronology for S.’s visit to Constantinople, “sans bonnes raisons à mon sens” (5). In the “Index Auctorum Recentiorum,” Barnes is supposedly cited at 5, n.2 and Cameron at 5, nn.2, 3 and 19, n.26. In fact, Cameron is visible at 5, n.3 only in the plural “ils” used by R. to reject all articles since 1982, while Barnes is named. J. Bregman’s book ( Synesius of Cyrene [Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1982]) appears only in the Bibliography. Most of these do not appear at all in the 1988 book, where R. admits that his Bibliography rarely goes beyond 1981.

It is difficult to believe that R. took very seriously articles that he cites so haphazardly and rarely. His views were apparently formed long before he ever saw the works which shook the chronological foundations of his earlier book before the ink was dry, or for that matter, wet. However much one might wish to admire R. for his tenacity, it is misguided. It is especially so when he states (17) that S.’s embassy to Constantinople and the date of Ep. 13 (dating S.’s episcopate) are two of three fixed points in the chronology. Barnes and others have argued vigorously against both of these dates and questioned the third “fixed” date, the outbreak of hostilities with nomads. Even if R. were to have concluded that his dates were correct, one would expect his discussion to proceed with full consideration of views published after 1982. In Ch. I, “Le problème chronologique” (11-19), and briefly in Ch. VI, R. discusses the date of the embassy, with his remarks limited to a few pages and one note disputing a recent view (19, n.26). Later, he states that S. could not have arrived at Constantinople before the end of Aug. 399, but suggests “un contact déjà effectif” (211) between S. and Aurelian by Sept./Nov. 399 on the basis of letters to the Praetorian Prefect. Many will prefer a longer acquaintance and consequently an earlier date for the embassy. Ch. IV, “L’ordination épiscopale de Synésios: 1 er janvier 412″ (47-64), dates the episcopate, but no recent view is cited. R. discusses the minimum age for bishops, but himself notes that some were ordained sooner. Dating S.’s birth a few years earlier eliminates this problem and any suggestion that S. was too young for an embassy in 397. Moreover, R.’s discussion of S.’s birthdate (Ch. II: “La date de naissance de Synésios” [21-36]) is flawed: terminology for age cannot be relied upon, nor can a remark in a letter of reconciliation ( Ep. 117: “That I am not only older than you, but already an old man, ‘is clear from my skin’ as Pherecydes says”) have reliably precise consequences for S.’s birthdate within a three month period.

In sum, one has little confidence in R.’s chronology. His system is a relative chronology based on three “fixed” points, of which two are hardly firm. This does not invalidate all that R. concludes about the letters and groups of letters, as they relate to each other or even to the general chronology of S.’s life, but every specific date must be treated with caution. A full reexamination is needed, and R.’s contribution is his ability to find some important details. His book is best read as an explanation for positions taken in his other book.