Synesius, Letter 136 Καὶ νὴ Δία τὴν Ποικίλην στοάν, τὴν ἐπώνυμον τῆς Χρυσίππου φιλοσοφίας, νῦν οὐκέτ᾽ οὖσαν ποικίλην· ὁ γὰρ ἀνθύπατος τὰς σανίδας ἀφείλετο, αἷς ἐγκατέθετο τὴν τέχνην ὁ ἐκ Θάσου Πολύγνωτος.

and -by Zeus!- the Poikile Stoa which has given its name to the philosophy of Chrysippus is now no longer decorated (“poikile” in the original Greek), for the proconsul has taken away the panels on which [the painter] Polygnotus of Thasos has displayed his skill. (Trans. S. Loumakis).

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Et par Zeus, le Portique Décoré, qui doit son nom à la philosophie de Chrysippe, n'est plus maintenant "décoré", car le proconsul a fait enlever les tableaux sur lesquels Polygnote de Thasos avait éternisé son art. (Trad. Reinach 1921 modifiée)

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Commentary

  1. Synesius of Cyrene (370-413 CE) was a Neoplatonic philosopher and bishop of Ptolemais in modern day Libya (Synesios 2000, p. VII-IX). The 156 Letters of Synenius were written between ca 398-413 A.D.and almost one quarter of them are addressed to his Brother Euoptius. Their style has been greatly admired since the sixth century A.D. (Roques in Synesios 2000, pp. X-XVIII; on the chronology : Roques 1989 and Synesios 2000, pp. XIX-XXVII).

  2. The letter is numbered 136 (and not 135 as indicated in Reinach's Recueil Millet). Synesius adresses his brother Euoptius. According to D. Roques, the trip to Athens, mentioned in this letter, dates to the third week of August 399 A.D (in letter 56 he announces his imminent departure. See Roques in Synesios 2003, p. 395). In this letter, Synesius is very disappointed by his travel and is deploring the banishment of philosophy from Athens, which is no longer a city of knowledge and wisdom. In late Antiquity, Athens had suffered several attacks, notably Allaric's in 396 A.D. When Synesius arrived in Athens only three years after this attack, the city was weak and some buildings destroyed. This probably explains his disappointment, in comparison to the wealth of Alexandria, where he was a student (Frantz et al. 1988, pp. 48-56).

  3. Chrysippus was the scholarch (between 232-204 BC.) of the Stoic school of philosophy, whose founder was Zenon of Elea (see text 113; Synesios 2003, p. 396).

  4. Synesius attested twice (same thing in Letter 56) that the paintings in the Stoa Poikile were still in situ in the fourth Century A.D. (see also Himerius, text 151). Also, he explicitly says that the paintings were on removable wooden panels: "sanidas" (see: LSJ s.v. "sanis"). On Polygnotos and the paintings at the Stoa Poikile see texts 100 and 116. We don't know who the proconsul was who removed the paintings and what were the reasons behind this action. Franz supposes that the paintings were removed as a precaution prior to the attack of Alaric in 396 A.D. Thus, the stoa was still there in 399 A.D. until it was converted for private use (shop or tavern) and then dismantled after the second half of the fifth century A.D. (maybe just after a Vandal raid ca 476 A.D.). Some parts of the Stoa were used to build a late roman wall (Wycherley 1957, pp. 43-44; Shear 1984, pp. 15-17; Frantz et al. 1988, pp. 55-56 and 78-82 ; Camp 2015, pp. 480-483).

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Bibliography

Camp, J.M., 2015. Excavations in the Athenian Agora, 2008–2012. Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 84(3), pp.467–513;

Frantz, A., Thompson, H.A. & Travlos, J., 1988. Late Antiquity: A.D. 267-700. The Athenian Agora, 24, p.iii-156;

Roques, D., 1989. Études sur la correspondance de Synésios de Cyrène, Bruxelles: Soc. Latomus;

Shear, T.L., 1984. The Athenian Agora: Excavations of 1980-1982. Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 53(1), pp.1–57;

Synesios, 2000. Tome II- Correspondances (Lettres I-LXIII) A. Garzya, ed., Paris: Les Belles Lettres;

Synesios, 2003. Tome III- Correspondances (Lettres LXIV-CLVI) A. Garzya, ed., Paris: Les Belles Lettres;

Wycherley, R.E., 1957. Literary and Epigraphical Testimonia. The Athenian Agora, 3, p.iii-259.

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