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Discourse 15

This webpage reproduces one of the
Discourses

by
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.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!


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Discourse 17

(Vol. II) Dio Chrysostom
Discourses

p175 The Sixteenth Discourse: On Pain and Distress of Spirit

This Discourse, given in the form of an address (διάλεξις), would seem also to belong to the period of Dio's exile, because it was then that he needed the comfort which this discourse gives. He teaches the Stoic doctrine that since there are so many things in life to hurt us, we should fortify our spirits so as to be insensible to them.

Von Arnim (Leben und Werke, p267 ff.) draws attention to the fact that this Discourse, just like Discourses 14, 17, 24, 27, 66, 68, 69, 71, 72, and 80, begins by mentioning a common fault of ordinary men in order to combat it.

p177 The Sixteenth Discourse:
On Pain and Distress of Spirit

That the majority of us are mastered by Pleasure can perhaps be explained: it is because we are under her spell and witchery that we stay in her company, whereas accepting servitude to Pain is altogether irrational and strange. For although suffering pain and agony from the severest of all tortures, we nevertheless remain in it and do not accept the word of reason that frees and delivers us from our distress. And yet what more abject creature is there than a man who is held in thrall to Pain? What sight is there so shameful? For it seems to me that his condition actually affects his body also, and makes it shrunken and scowling and distorted in appearance. 2 But this yielding to the mind's disturbance, and not only that but also the devising of certain external signs of it, such as black raiment, wringing the hands, sitting in a dejected posture, so that by all these the mind is in a certain sense compelled never to get away from its pain and distress, but to be always conscious of being in pain, although one knows perfectly well that there will be some relief from this and that there will not be found always and ever some cause for the suffering — is this not utterly silly? 3 For instance, either the death of a relative, or the illness of one of them, or of oneself, may p179occur and besides these, loss of reputation, a financial reverse, complete or partial failure in some undertaking, pressure of affairs, danger, and all the countless other misfortunes which occur in life (and one of these is practically sure always to be present); 4 and finally, if after all a time does come when no trouble confronts one, yet all the same, the constant expectation of such things and the knowledge that they may occur will lay hold upon the mind of those who are of that temperament. Therefore one should not seek a special consolation for each of these troubles — for the task would be endless, and life is full of painful things — but one should tear that morbid state out of his soul completely, get a firm hold on the truth that the intelligent man ought not to feel pain about anything whatever, and be a free man henceforth. Then there will be release from dread of all that causes distress. For in fact there is nothing that in itself should cause fear; it is only false opinion and weakness on our part that make it so. 5 The great majority, for instance, whenever any one of the things happen which are commonly regarded as untoward, keep continually recalling that thing, distressing though the recollection is, their state of mind being something like that of children, who are bent on touching the fire, for example, although they suffer great pain in doing so: yet if you give them permission they will do it again.

6 So, just as when men go forth to war it is no use for them to march out without their armour and then merely hope to dodge each flying missile, for it is impossible to guard against them all; but the soldier needs a stout breastplate and his full panoply too, p181so that, even if a missile does strike him, it may not penetrate — in the same way those also who have marched out into life cannot possibly dodge or so guard themselves as not to be struck by any of Fortune's shafts, thousands of which are flying against each man; but what they need is a stout heart, preferably invulnerable and yielding before no blow; or if that may not be, at least one that is not easily wounded or by any ordinary blow; for otherwise it must often be stabbed and receive a thousand wounds. 7 Why, those who have feet which are tender and not calloused at all by use, and then attempt to walk with them bare, will never find a road so smooth that their feet will not be gashed or in pain, but any little thing hurts them; whereas for feet hardened by practice not even the roughest road causes trouble.

Therefore, since there are so many distressing things, beginning with those due of the body, what should anyone expect, or how is it possible, for anyone who pays attention to each of them and easily gives way, to avoid being the most unhappy man alive, ever praying the gods that this or that may not happen? 8 It is just as if a man should go out in a rain without any covering, and should trust merely to prayers for avoiding each single drop1 (and yet much thicker than the raindrops are the afflictions which Fortune sends); or exactly as if a man sailing a boat, instead of giving his attention to the steering-oars and meeting skilfully each oncoming wave, should pray that none might strike the ship.2 Just p183think, you misguided man — even if everything else turns out as your heart wishes, yet what assurance have you of living even till the morrow, and not being suddenly, in the midst of everything, torn away from your fancied blessings? Consequently, this is the first thing about which you should be in painful anxiety and fear — the uncertainty of everything. 9 Yet if you have the wisdom to reflect that absolutely no man is master of his life, but that all those who have been thought blessed and exceedingly fortunate are dead, and that this goal awaits you at any moment, even if you live to the ripest old age, you will consider it great nonsense and utter simplicity to imagine that anything at all which happens is terrible or great or marvellous, except this one achievement of living at least one day free from painful fretting, fear, and similar emotions.

10 The story goes that the famous Jason anointed himself with a certain potent salve3 which he got from Medea, and it was after that, I fancy, that no harm came to him from either the dragon or the bulls which belched out fire. This, therefore, is the potent thing of which we should acquire possession, getting it from Medea, that is, from Meditation or Intelligence,4 and then with our intelligence look with scorn thenceforth upon all things. Otherwise everything will be fire for us and everything sleepless dragons.

p185 11 And yet every man who suffers pain and distress of spirit says that what has happened to himself is a most terrible thing and most worth grieving over, just as every person who carries a load imagines that what he is carrying is very heavy. But this really indicates a weak and sickly body, for another and stronger man will take and carry the same load easily.5


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 For this figure cf. Demosthenes 9.33.

2 Cf. Demosthenes 9.69.

3 The king of the Colchians promised to give Jason the golden fleece it if he would yoke to a plough two fire-breathing bulls and sow the dragon teeth which had not been used by Cadmus. From the king's daughter, Medea, by promising to marry her and take her back to Greece with him, Jason got the magic salve which enabled him to resist fire and steel and put to sleep the dragon which guarded the golden fleece. This magic salve, or drug, was extracted from a plant with a saffron-coloured flower, said to have sprung from Prometheus' blood. Cf. Apollodorus I.9.23 and Frazer's note in vol. I, p111 (L. C. L.).

4 In Stobaeus 3.29.92 we read: "Diogenes used to say that Medea was wise, but not a sorceress" — ὁ Διογένης ἔλεγε τὴν Μήδειαν σοφὴν ἀλλ᾽ οὐ φαρμακίδα γενέσθαι.

5 Dio means that the man of strong spirit will endure the troubles of life easily, just as the man of strong body will carry a load easily.


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