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Title: Synesius of Cyrene and the Politics of the Late Antique Philosophical Letter
Authors: Petkas, Alex James
Advisors: Wildberg, Christian
Contributors: Classics Department
Keywords: Epistolography
Political Philosophy
Subjects: Classical literature
Ancient history
Issue Date: 2019
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation is a study of the Greek letter collection of Synesius of Cyrene (ca. 370 - 415 AD) as the key to his literary oeuvre; I argue that the epistles were a project of political philosophy. Synesius was a Neoplatonist philosopher, student of Hypatia of Alexandria, and eventually became the Metropolitan Bishop of Libya. His letters attest to a community of philosophical friends spread across Libya, Egypt, Syria, and Constantinople, a group which included both pagans and Christians. Synesius' letters drew on a philosophical epistolary tradition which can be meaningfully traced back to Plato and Isocrates in 4th century B.C. Athens. His epistles, like those of near contemporaries Gregory of Nazianzus and emperor Julian, participate in the public culture of the so-called Second Sophistic of the high Roman empire, a context still relevant in the late antique east. Contemporary Neoplatonic philosophers such as Julian, Themistius, Syrianus, and Eunapius would have seen political philosophy as an applied, or practical, activity, in which the deployment of rhetoric for the good of the state was central. In carrying out his political philosophy, Synesius tried to promote the honor, or value, of his own version of philosophy against competing alternatives, especially various forms of Christian asceticism. His letters construct for his community an alternative imaginary space built on classical topography, as an alternative to the late antique city. Synesius' learned classicism was driven by moral and philosophical imperatives attested in other writings of his, and was an earnest response to his unique late antique situation, which included Evagrius of Pontus and the Origenist controversy. Letters from his episcopacy show his attempt to reimagine contemporary realities in classical terms, as he points out continuities where others see change, and contradictions where others see harmony. His letters thus illuminate the values and preoccupations of a less known but important sector of late antique Hellenic society, in which Hypatia was an important player.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Classics

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