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Discourse 14

This webpage reproduces one of the

Dio Chrysostom

published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1939

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Discourse 16

(Vol. II) Dio Chrysostom

 p143  The Fifteenth Discourse:
On Slavery and Freedom II

This Discourse, just like the preceding one, deals with the distinction between freedom and slavery, and for the same reasons may be assigned to the period of Dio's exile or later. Dio begins by reporting an informal debate on this question between two men, who from §§ 3, 5, and 7 we may suppose were Athenians. At the end of their debate Dio in § 24 gives the reasoned opinion of the audience that when one human being gets lawful possession of another with the right to use him as he likes, then the second man is the slave of the first. After this the question is raised as to what constitutes valid possession.

The first speaker (indicated by the letter A) is just such another man as the slave Syriscus in the Epitrepontes of Menander. Both are voluble aggressive debaters with a wealth of illustrations drawn from mythology and tragedy to enforce their points.

From an examination of Diogenes Laertius 2.31, 6.1, 6.4, 6.15 it has been inferred that Dio drew from Antisthenes for this Discourse. See Wegehaupt, op. cit., pp64‑65.

 p145  The Fifteenth Discourse:
On Slavery and Freedom II

Recently, I assure you, I was present when two men were disputing at great length about slavery and freedom, not before judges or in the market-place, but at their ease at home, taking a long time about it; and each of the two men had a considerable number of warm adherents. For they had been debating other questions before that, as is my impression; and the one who was worsted in the debate, being at a loss for arguments, became abusive, as often happens in such cases, and taunted the other with not being a freeman. Whereupon the first very gently smiled and said:

2 A. "But how can you say that? Is it possible, my good friend, to know who is a slave, or who is free?"

B. "Yes, it certainly is," replied the other. "I know at any rate that I myself am free and that all these men here are, but that you have no lot or share in freedom."

At this some of those present laughed, and yet the first man was not one whit more abashed, but just as gallant cocks are aroused at the blow of their masters and take courage, so he too was aroused and took courage at the insult, and asked his opponent where he got his knowledge about the two of them.

 p147  3 B. "Because," said he, "I know that my father is an Athenian, if any man is, while yours is the slave of so-and‑so," mentioning his name.

A. "According to this, then," said the first man, "what is to prevent me from anointing myself in the Cynosarges1 along with the bastards, if I really am the son of a free-born mother — who is, perhaps, a citizen into the bargain — and of the father whom you mention? Have not many women who are citizens, embarrassed by the scarcity of eligible men, been got with child either by foreigners or by slaves, sometimes not knowing the fact, but sometimes also with full knowledge of it? And of the children thus begotten none is a slave, but only a non-Athenian."2

4 B. "Well, in your case," he rejoined, "I myself know that your mother is a slave in the same household as your father."

A. "Very well!" said the first man, "Do you know who your own mother is?"

B. "Why certainly; a citizen born of citizens, who brought to her husband a pretty good dowry too."

A. "Could you actually take your oath that you are the son of the father of whom she says that you are? Telemachus, you know, did not care at all to insist in support of Penelope, the daughter of Icarius, who was regarded as a very chaste woman, that she spoke the truth when she declared that Odysseus was his father.3 But you, not only in support of yourself  p149 and of your mother, would take oath apparently, if anyone should bid you, but in regard to any slave woman as to who the man was by whom she was got with child, such a slave woman as you say that my mother was. 5 Pray, does it seem to you impossible that she should have been got with child by some other man, a freeman, or even by her own master? Do not many Athenian men have intercourse with their maidservants, some of them secretly, but others quite openly? For surely it cannot be that every Greek is superior to Heracles, who did not think it beneath him to have intercourse even with the slave woman of Iardanus, who became the mother of the kings of Sardis.4 6 And further, you do not believe, as it seems, that Clytemnestra, the daughter of Tyndareüs and the wife of Agamemnon, not only lived with Agamemnon, her own husband, but also, when he was away, had relations with Aegistheus, and that Aeropê, the wife of Atreus, accepted the advances of Thyestes, and that many other wives of distinguished and wealthy men in both ancient and modern times have had relations with other men and sometimes have had children by them? But she who you say was a maidservant was so scrupulously faithful to her own husband that she would not have had relations with any other man! 7 And further, in regard to yourself and me as well you asseverate that each of us was born of the woman who is reputed to be and is called his mother. And yet you might name many Athenians, and very prominent ones too, who turned out later not only not to have been the sons of the father but not even those of the mother to whom they were attributed, having been supposititious children of unknown origin who had  p151 been reared as sons. And such incidents you yourself are constantly seeing exhibited and described by the writers of comedy and in tragedies, but nevertheless you go on in the same old way, making positive statements about yourself and about me, as if you knew for a certainty the circumstances of our birth and the identity of our parents. 8 Do you not know," he continued, "that the law permits anyone to bring an action for libel against the man who slanders without being able to adduce any clear proof of his statements?"

B. And the other man replied, "Yes, I know that freeborn women often palm off other persons' children as their own on account of their childlessness, when they are unable to conceive children themselves, because each one wishes to keep her own husband and her home, while at the same time they do not lack the means to support the children; but in the case of slave women, on the other hand, some destroy the child before birth and others afterwards, if they can do so without being caught, and yet sometimes even with the connivance of their husbands, that they may not be involved in trouble by being compelled to raise children in addition to their enduring slavery."

9 A. "O yes, certainly," the first man replied, "if you make an exception of the slave girl of Oeneus, the bastard son, as he alleged, of Pandion.5 For Oeneus' herdsman, who lived at Eleutherae, and that herdsman's wife, so far from exposing their own children, took up other people's children whom they found by the roadside, without having the least notion whose children they were, and reared them as their own, nor at any time afterwards were they willing to admit that they were not their own. But you,  p153 perhaps, would have abused both Zethus and Amphion before their identity became known, and would have taken solemn oath that the sons of Zeus were slaves."6

10 B. Then this opponent laughed very ironically and said: "Aha! is it the tragic poets to whom you appeal as witnesses?"

A. "Yes indeed," said the other man, "for the Greeks have confidence in them; for whomsoever these poets exhibit as heroes, to them you will find all Greeks offering sacrifice as heroes, and you may see with your eyes the shrines which the people have erected in their honour. And in the same manner consider, if you please, the Phrygian woman, who was the slave of Priam, who reared Alexander on Mount Ida as her own son after taking him from her husband, who was a herdsman, and raised no objection to her rearing a child. And Telephus, the son of Augê and Heracles, they say was not reared by a woman but by a hind. Or do you think that a hind would have more compassion on a babe and desire to rear it than a human being would if she happened to be a slave? 11 Come now, in Heaven's name, if I should go so far as to admit to you that my parents are those whom you say they are, how can you know that they are slaves? Or were you really sure who their parents were, and are you ready to take your solemn oath in regard to each of them also that both were born of two slaves — they and their progenitors back to the very beginning — all of them?7 For it is  p155 clear that if any member of a family is free-born, it is no longer possible rightly to regard his descendants as slaves. And it is impossible, my good sir, that from all eternity, as the saying is, there should be any race of men in which there have not been countless numbers free and not fewer than these in number those who have been slaves; and indeed, tyrants and kings and prisoners and branded slaves and shopkeepers and cobblers and all the rest such as are found in the world of men, so that among them you have had experience of all the occupations, all the careers, all the fortunes, and all the mischances. 12 Or do you not know that the reason why the poets trace the families of so‑called heroes directly back to the gods is simply that the character in question may not be investigated further? And quite the majority of them men say are sprung from Zeus, in order that they may not have their kings and the founders of their cities and their eponymous heroes getting into predicaments of the kind that are regarded among men as disgraceful. Consequently, if it really is with men as we and others wiser than we claim, you can have no greater share in freedom on the score of family than any one of those who are regarded as out-and‑out slaves — unless, of course, you too make haste to trace your own ancestry back to Zeus or Poseidon or Apollo — and I no greater share in slavery."

13 B. "Well then," said the other, "let us drop all this about family and ancestors, since you think it is so difficult to determine; for it is quite possible that you will turn out to be just like Amphion and Zethus,8 and like Alexander9 the offspring of Priam.  p157 But as for you, your own self, we all know that you are in a state of servitude."

A. "What," said the first man, "do you think that all those who are in a state of servitude are slaves?10 But are not many of these, although free men, yet held unjustly in servitude? Some of them have already gone before the court and proved that they are free, while others are enduring to the end, either because they have no clear proof of their freedom, or else because those who are called their masters are not harsh with them. 14 Consider, for instance, the case of Eumaeus,11 the son of Ctesias, son of Ormenus: he was the son of a man who was altogether free and of great wealth, but did he not serve as a slave in Ithaca in the households of Odysseus and Laertes? And yet, although he could, time and again, have sailed off home if he had so wished, he never thought it worth while. What, did not many Athenians among those made prisoners in Sicily serve as slaves in Sicily and in the Peloponnese12 although they were free men; and of those taken captive from time to time in many other battles, some only for a time until they found men who would ransom them, and others to the very end? 15 In the same period too, even the son of Callias13 was thought to have been in servitude a long time in Thrace after the battle in which the Athenians suffered a defeat at Acanthus,14 so that  p159 when he escaped afterwards and reached home he laid claim to the estate left by Callias and caused a great deal of trouble to the next of kin, being, in my opinion, an impostor. For he was not the son of Callias but his groom, in appearance resembling that boy of Callias who did lose his life in the battle; and besides he spoke Greek accurately and could read and write. — 16 But there have been innumerable others who have suffered this fate, since, even of those who are in servitude here at the present time Iº firmly believe that many are free-born men. For we shall not assert that any Athenian who is free-born is a slave if he has been made a prisoner in war and carried off to Persia, or even, if you like, is taken to Thrace or Sicily and sold like a chattel; but if any Thracian or Persian, not only born there of free parents but even the son of some prince or king, is brought here, we shall not admit that he is a free person. 17 Do you not know," he continued, "the law they have at Athens and in many other states as well, which does not allow the man who was born a slave to enjoy the rights of a citizen? But the son of Callias, if he actually did escape from captivity on that occasion, after reaching home from Thrace, even though he had spent many years there and had often been scourged, no one would think it right to exclude from Athenian citizenship; so that there are occasional instances where the law too denies that those who have been unjustly in servitude have thereby become slaves. 18 In heaven's name, I ask you, what is it that I do of which you have knowledge, or what is it that is done to me, which justifies your saying that you know that I am in a state of slavery?"

B. "I know that you are being kept by your  p161 master, dance attendance upon him, and do whatever he commands; or else you take a beating."

A. "According to that," said the first man, "you can make out that sons also are the slaves of their fathers; for they dance attendance upon their fathers, often, if they are poor, walking with them to the gymnasium or to dinner; and they without exception are supported by their fathers and frequently are beaten by them, and they obey any orders their fathers give them. 19 And yet, so far as obeying and being thrashed are concerned, you can go on and assert that the boys who take lessons of schoolmasters are likewise their servants and that the gymnastic trainers are slave-masters of their pupils, or those who teach anything else; for they give orders to their pupils and trounce them when they are disobedient."

B. "Indeed that's true," replied the other, "but it is not permissible for the gymnastic instructors or for the other teachers to imprison their pupils or to sell them or to cast them into the mill, but to slave-masters all these things are allowed."

20 A. "Yes, but perhaps you do not know that in many states which have exceedingly good laws fathers have all these powers which you mention in regard to their sons, and what is more, if they wish to do so, they may even imprison or sell them; and they have a power even more terrible than any of these; for they actually are allowed to put their sons to death without any trial and even without bringing any accusation at all against them;15 but still none the less they are not their fathers' slaves but their sons. And even if I was once in a state of slavery in the  p163 fullest sense of the term and had been a slave justly from the very beginning, what is to prevent me now," he continued, "from being just as free as anybody else, and you in your turn, on the contrary, even if you most indisputably were the son of free parents, from being an out-and‑out slave?"

21 B. "For my part," rejoined the other, "I do not see how I am to become a slave when, in fact, I am free; but as for you, it is not impossible that you have become free by your master's having emancipated you."

A. "See here, my good fellow," said his antagonist, "would nobody get his freedom unless emancipated by his owner?"

B. "Why, how could anybody?" asked the other.

A. "In the same way that, when the Athenians after the battle of Chaeronea passed a vote to the effect that those slaves who would help them in the war should receive their freedom, if the war had continued and Philip had not made peace with them too soon, many of the slaves at Athens, or rather, practically all of them, would have been free without having been emancipated one at a time by their respective masters."

B. "Yes, let that be granted — if the state16 is going to free you by taking official action."

22 A. "But what have you to say to this: Do you not think that I could liberate myself?"

B. "Yes, if you should raise the money somewhere to pay your master with."

A. "That is not the method I mean, but the one by which Cyrus freed not only himself but also all the Persians, great host that they were, without paying down money to anyone or being set free by any master.  p165 Or do you not know that Cyrus17 was the vassal18 of Astyages and that when he got the power and decided that the time was ripe for action, he became both free and king of all Asia?"

B. "Granted; I know it. But what do you mean by saying that I might become a slave?"

23 A. "I mean that great numbers of men, we may suppose, who are free-born sell themselves, so that they are slaves by contract, sometimes on no easy terms but the most severe imaginable."19

Now up to this point the audience paid attention to their arguments, under the impression that they were not made so much in earnest as in jest. Yet afterwards they fell to wrangling and were inclined to the opinion that it was a strange thing if it was going to be impossible for a man to cite any evidence by which the slave could be unequivocally distinguished from the free man, but that it would be easy to debate and argue about every individual case. 24 So they dropped their discussion about the particular man in question20 and his slavery, and proceeded to consider the general question: Who is a slave. And the consensus of their opinion was that when anyone gets possession of a human being, in the strict meaning of the term, just as he might of any item of his goods or cattle, so as to have the right to use him as he likes, then that man is both correctly called and in fact is the slave of the man into whose possession he has come.

Consequently, the man who had objected to being  p167 called a slave raised the further question as to what constituted the validity of possession. 25 For, he said, in the case of a house, a plot of land, a horse, or a cow, many of those who had possession had in the past been found to have held them for a long time unjustly, in some instances even though they had inherited the things from their fathers. In precisely the same way it was possible, he maintained, to have gained possession also of a human being unjustly. For manifestly of those who from time to time acquire slaves, as they acquire all other pieces of property, some get them from others either as a free gift from someone or by inheritance or by purchase, whereas some few from the very beginning have possession of those who were born under their roof, 'home-bred' slaves as they call them. A third method of acquiring possession is when a man takes a prisoner in war or even in brigandage and in this way holds the man after enslaving him, the oldest method of all, I presume. For it is not likely that the first men to become slaves were born of slaves in the first place, but that they were overpowered in brigandage or war and thus compelled to be slaves to their captors. 26 So we see that this earliest method, upon which all the others depend, is exceedingly vulnerable and has no validity at all; for just as soon as those men are able to make their escape, there is nothing to prevent them from being free as having been in servitude unjustly. Consequently, they were not slaves before that, either. And sometimes they not only escaped from slavery themselves, but also reduced their masters to  p169 slavery. In this case, also, we have now found that 'at the flip of a shell,'21 as the saying goes, their positions are completely reversed.

At this point one of the audience interjected that while those men themselves perhaps could not be called slaves, yet their children and those of the second and third generations could quite properly be so designated.

27 "But how can that be? For if being captured makes a man a slave, the men who themselves were captured deserve that appellation more than their descendants do; and if it is having been born of slaves that makes men so, it is clear that by virtue of being sprung from those who were taken captive and were consequently free-born, their descendants would not be slaves. For instance, we see that those famous Messenians after the lapse of so many years recovered not only their freedom but their territory as well. 28 For when the Spartans were defeated at Leuctra22 by the Thebans, the latter marched into the Peloponnese supported by their allies, and not only compelled the Spartans to give back the Messenian territory, but settled in Messene again all the original Messenians' descendants, the Helots as they were called, who had previously been in servitude to the Spartans. And not a man says that the Thebans therein acted unjustly, but all agree that altogether nobly and justly. Consequently, if this method of gaining possession, from which all the others take their beginning, is not just, it is likely that no other one is either, and that the term 'slave' does not in reality correspond to the truth.

 p171  29 "But perhaps it was not in this way that the term 'slave' was originally applied — that is, to a person for whose body someone paid money, or, as the majority think, to one who was sprung from persons who were called slaves, but rather to the man who lacked a free man's spirit and was of a servile nature. For of those who are called slaves we will, I presume, admit that many have the spirit of free men, and that among free men there are many who are altogether servile.23 The case is the same with those known as 'noble' and 'well-born.' For those who originally applied these names applied them to persons who were well-born in respect to virtue or excellence, not bothering to inquire who their parents were. Then afterwards the descendants of families of ancient wealth and high repute were called 'well-born' by a certain class. 30 Of this fact there is the clearest indication: for in the case of cocks and horses and dogs the designation was retained, just as it had been applied to men in olden times. For instance, when one sees a spirited and mettlesome horse that is well built for racing, without stopping first to enquire whether its sire by any chance came from Arcadia or from Media or is Thessalian, he judges the horse on its own merits and says that it is 'well-bred.' And it is the same with any connoisseur of dogs: whenever he sees a dog that is swift and keen and sagacious in following the scent, he does not go on to enquire whether it is of Carian or Spartan or some other breed, but says that it is a 'noble' dog. And it is exactly the same in regard to the cock and the other animals. 31 Therefore it is clear that it would be the same in the case of a man also. And so when a man is well-born in respect  p173 to virtue, it is right to call him 'noble,' even if no one knows his parents or his ancestors either.

"But," you will object, "it is impossible for anyone to be 'noble' without being 'well-born' at the same time, or for one who is 'well-born' not to be free; hence we are absolutely obliged to conclude that it is the man of ignoble birth who is a slave.24 For surely, if it were the custom to use the terms freedom and slavery with reference to horses and cocks and dogs, we should not call some 'noble' and others 'free,' nor say that some were 'slaves' while others were of 'ignoble' birth or breed.

32 "In the same way, then, when we are speaking of men, it is not reasonable to call some 'noble' and 'well-born,' and others 'free'; but we should make no distinction between the two classes. Nor is it reasonable either to say that some are of ignoble birth and mean, and that others are slaves.

"In this way, then, our argument shows that it is not the philosophers who misuse the terms but the common run of ignorant men, because they know nothing about the matter."

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 A gymnasium sacred to Heracles which was outside of Athens and for the use of those who were not of pure Athenian blood. Here Antisthenes, the founder of the Cynic school taught. Since bastards no longer used this gymnasium in the time of Demosthenes (see Hirzel, Der Dialog 2.103.2 for references), the assumed time of this dialogue is to be thought of as earlier.

2 In 451‑0 B.C. the Athenians passed a law that no child should be admitted to citizenship whose father and mother were not Athenian citizens married in accordance with the laws.

3 See Homer, Odyssey 1.215 ff.

4 See Herodotus 1.7.

5 Pandion, son of Cecrops, had a natural son Oeneus. See Apollodorus 3.15.1; Pausanias 1.5.2; Euripides, Medea 660.

6 Antiopê became with child by Zeus, and while imprisoned at Eleuthera gave birth to twin sons, Amphion and Zethus, who were exposed. They were found by a shepherd and reared by him and his wife. Dio here is apparently our only authority for believing that they were the slaves of Oeneus. According to Hyginus, Fable 7, it was not a single shepherd but shepherds who found the children. See also Apollodorus 3.5.5. Euripides wrote a famous play called Antiopê, to which the speaker B indirectly refers when he speaks of 'tragic poets.'

7 Cf. Plato, Theaetetus 175A, where Socrates says that every man has many slaves among his ancestors.

8 See note 1, p152, supra.

9 Alexander, or Paris, did not find out who his parents were until he reached maturity.

10 Cf. Aristotle's argument in Politics, 7 ff., and 18 ff., where the illustration is given of free men who have been kidnapped into slavery.

11 The faithful swineherd. See Homer, Odyssey, 15.413 ff.

12 Dio refers to the Athenians who were taken prisoner by the Syracusans in 413 B.C., when the Sicilian expedition was utterly defeated.

13 This son of Callias is probably referred to in a fragment of Metagenes quoted in a scholium to Aristophanes, Wasps 1221 (Frag. 13 Kock): "Who is a citizen now except Sacas the Mysian, or Callias' bastard son?" — τίς πολίτης δ’ ἔστ’ ἔτι πλὴν ἄρ’ ἢ Σάκας ὁ Μυσὸς ἢ τὸ Καλλίου νόθον;

14 No mention is made elsewhere of a defeat of the Athenians at Acanthus. Perhaps Dio is thinking of the year 424 B.C., when Acanthus abandoned the Athenian Confederacy and went over to Brasidas.

15 The early Roman law permitted this.

16 i.e., rather than the owner.

17 Cyrus the Great, who threw off the yoke of the Medes.

18 The MSS. have "lampmaker," for which Hercher proposed "lampbearer." We learn nothing of either function in the accounts of Cyrus. Cyrus was the θυγατριδοῦς "daughter's son" of Astyages, King of the Medes.

19 Educated Greeks would hire themselves out as companions in wealthy houses and often perform very exacting service.

20 The first of the two disputants.

21 An expression derived from the game ostrakinda, played with sherds (ostraka); cf. Suidas s. ὀστράκου περιστροφή and vol. I, p219, footnote.

22 In 371 B.C.

23 See Aristotle, Politics, I.6.

24 Cf. a statement attributed to Socrates in Diogenes Laertius 2.31: When a certain man said to him (i.e. Socrates) that Antisthenes was born of a Thracian mother, he replied, "Did you think that he would be so noble, if born of two Athenians?" — Σὺ δ’ ᾤου . . . οὕτως ἂν γενναῖον ἐκ δυοῖν Ἀθηναίοιν γενέσθαι;

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