Forget Me Not
Towards the end of his life, around the year 415, one of the most amiable of the personalities of that tumultuous time wrote a hymn begging Christ to keep him, a sinner, in mind, to cleanse him of sin and bring him to everlasting bliss.
His name was Synesius, bishop of Ptolemais, one of the five cities of the Cyrenaica in what is now Libya. Were it not for ceaseless incursions of German barbarians threatening the empire, and barbarian Vandals invading from the west, and barbarian Libyan tribes invading from the south, and the usual rapacity and insolence of imperial tax collectors and governors, and controversies stirred up by heretical sects as various as are the fantastical musings of the human mind, Cyrene and the smaller Ptolemais would have been lovely places to live. Synesius found them so. The tableland between the sea and the rain-banking mountains to the south was green and fertile, good for two of his favorite pastimes, farming and raising horses for the chase.
And the cities were not too far from the intellectual center of the empire, Alexandria. In that city, Christians and pagan Neoplatonists and Jews got along well enough, assisted in their good feeling by the allegorizing habits they shared. If you are minded to put the best construction on things, you might, for instance, see in the myth of the healer Aesculapius a revelation of Christ the true physician; or you might find, in the three-fold Neoplatonic division of divine beings and their action, an adumbration of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Such an atmosphere was congenial to young Synesius. He studied there under the famous Hypatia, whom he praised for her intellect and her piety, and with whom he corresponded continually. But he was no Christian then.
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Anthony Esolen is a professor and writer-in-residence at Magdalene College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, New Hampshire. His many books include Sex in the Unreal City: The Demolition of the Western Mind, Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy the Humanity of Your Child, Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord. He is a regular contributor to Chronicles, Crisis Magazine, The Claremont Review, Inside the Vatican Things, The Catholic Thing, and American Greatness. He has translated Dante's Divine Comedy. He is a Roman Catholic and lives with his wife in New Hampshire. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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