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Discourse 35

This webpage reproduces one of the
Discourses

by
Dio Chrysostom

published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1940

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 37

(Vol. III) Dio Chrysostom
Discourses

p417 The Thirty-sixth, or Borysthenitic, Discourse
which Dio delivered in his Native Land

In this Discourse Dio recounts for the benefit of his fellow-townsmen a conversation which took place between himself and certain citizens of Borysthenes in Pontus. Borysthenes was an ancient Greek trading-centre near the mouth of the Hypanis (Bug), and Dio states that he had gone there in the hope of pushing into the interior for the purpose of visiting the Getae, whose culture he was to describe in Τὰ Γετικά, a work no longer extant.

Arnim holds that Dio was in Borysthenes in A.D. 95 and suggests that his failure to reach the land of the Getae at that time may have been due to trouble between Rome and Dacia. It is plain that he had met with disappointment and that people knew of his purpose to leave Borysthenes by ship. If Arnim's date is correct, his destination could hardly have Prusa — despite the word οἴκαδε used by Hieroson in section 25 — for in A.D. 95 he was still an exile. However, he seems to have been at home as early as A.D. 97, and Arnim supplies arguments in favour of A.D. 101 as the year in which he made this report to the people of Prusa.

The narrative opens in leisurely manner and with a natural charm somewhat reminiscent of the opening of Plato's Phaedrus, to which, indeed, Dio may have owed also some of the ideas to which he gives expression, although for the most part he seems to be employing Stoic doctrine. In the course of his account he introduces a myth which he ascribes to the Zoroastrian lore of the Magi. That myth is responsible for not a little of the fame enjoyed by this Discourse. Dio, like Plato, was fond of myths and used them to good advantage. Some p418of them at least are believed to have been his own invention; what shall we say of this one?

It would not be surprising if the Greek world of that day had some acquaintance with Zoroastrianism. The name Zoroaster occurs in Greek as early as the pseudo-Platonic Alcibiades, and Herodotus, Xenophon, Strabo, and other Greeks who antedate Dio have not a little to tell of the Magi, some of the information being demonstrably authentic. Hirzel (Der Dialog) is of the opinion that, whatever may be true of other myths in Dio, this one at least emanates from Zoroastrian sources, and Jackson (Zoroastrian Studies) shares that belief, though admitting that 'the conception may have received some Greek colouring in its transmission.' Whatever Dio's indebtedness to the Magi, resemblances between their extant records and this myth are so slight as to warrant the belief that in its present form it is Dio's own creation, in the formation of which he may have drawn upon more than one source of inspiration, among which it seems safe to suggest the Phaedrus and the Timaeus of Plato, as well as familiar Stoic concepts on related subjects.

p421 The Thirty-sixth, or Borysthenitic, Discourse
which Dio delivered in his Native Land

I happened to be visiting in Borysthenes1 during the summer, for I had sailed there then,2 after my exile, with the purpose of making my way, if possible, through Scythia to the Getan country, in order to observe conditions there. Well, one day toward noon I was strolling along the Hypanis. I should explain that, although the city has taken its name from the Borysthenes because of the beauty and the size of that river, the actual position, not only of the present city, but also of its predecessor, is on the bank of the Hypanis, not far above what is called Cape Hippolaüs,3 on the opposite shore. 2 This part of the land, near where the two rivers meet, is as sharp and firm as the beak of a ship. But from there on these rivers form a marshy lake down to the sea for a distance of approximately two hundred stades; and the breadth of the two rivers in that district is not less than that. The fact is that most of that stretch p423consists of shoals, and in fair weather unruffled calm prevails as in a swamp. But on the right there are signs of a river, and sailors inward bound judge its depth by the current.4 And this explains why the water does make its way out to sea, because of the strength of the current; but for that it would easily be held in check when the south wind blows strongly dead against it. 3 As for the rest, we have only muddy shore overgrown with reeds and trees. And many of the trees are to be seen even in the midst of the marsh, so as to resemble masts of ships; and at times some who were less familiar with those waters have lost their way, supposing that they were approaching ships. And it is here also that we find the vast number of salt-works from which most of the barbarians buy their salt,5 as do also those Greeks and Scythians who occupy the Tauric Chersonese.6 The rivers empty into the sea near the Castle of Alector,7 which is said to belong to the wife of the Sauromatian8 king.

4 The city of Borysthenes, as to its size, does not correspond to its ancient fame, because of its ever-repeated seizure and its wars. For since the city has lain in the midst of barbarians now for so long a time — barbarians, too, who are virtually the most warlike of all — it is always in a state of war and has often been captured, the last and most disastrous capture occurring not more than one hundred and p425fifty years ago. And the Getae on that occasion seized not only Borysthenes but also the other cities along the left shore of Pontus as far as Apollonia.9 5 For that reason the fortunes of the Greeks in that region reached a very low ebb indeed, some of them being no longer united to form cities, while others enjoyed but a wretched existence as communities, and it was mostly barbarians who flocked to them. Indeed many cities have been captured in many parts of Greece, inasmuch as Greece lies scattered in many regions. But after Borysthenes had been taken on the occasion mentioned, its people once more formed a community, with the consent of the Scythians,10 I imagine, because of their need for traffic with the Greeks who might use that port. For the Greeks had stopped sailing to Borysthenes when the city was laid waste, inasmuch as they had no people of common speech to receive them, and the Scythians themselves had neither the ambition nor the knowledge to equip a trading-centre of their own after the Greek manner.

6 Evidence of the destruction of Borysthenes is visible both in the sorry nature of its buildings and in the contraction of the city within narrow bounds. For it has been built adjacent to one section of the ancient circuit-wall where a few towers, but only a few, yet remain, not at all in keeping with the original size or power of the city. The intervening space in that quarter has been blocked off by means p427of the houses, built so as to form a continuous whole.11 However, a bit of wall has been constructed parallel to this line of houses, quite low and weak. As for the towers, there are some which stand quite apart from the portion of the city that is now inhabited, so that you would not surmise that they once belonged to a single city. These, then, are clear tokens of the city's capture, as well as the fact that not a single statue remains undamaged among those that are in the sanctuaries, one and all having suffered mutilation, as is true also of the funeral monuments.

7 Well, as I was saying,12 I chanced to be strolling outside the city, and there came to meet me from within the walls some of the people of Borysthenes, as was their custom. Thereupon Callistratus at first came riding by us on horseback on his way from somewhere outside of town, but when he had gone a short distance beyond us, he dismounted, and, entrusting his horse to his attendant, he himself drew near in very proper fashion, having drawn his arm beneath his mantle.13 Suspended from his girdle he had a great cavalry sabre, and he was wearing trousers14 and all the rest of the Scythian costume, and from his shoulders there hung a small black cape of thin material, as is usual with the people of Borysthenes. In fact the rest of their apparel in general is regularly black, through the influence of a p429certain tribe of Scythians,15 the Blackcloaks, so named by the Greeks doubtless for that very reason.

8 Callistratus was about eighteen years of age, very tall and handsome, having much of the Ionian in his appearance. And it was said also that in matters pertaining to warfare he was a man of courage, and that many of the Sauromatians he had either slain or taken captive. He had become interested also in oratory and philosophy, so that he had his heart set on sailing away in my company. For all these reasons, then, he was in high repute with his fellow-townsmen, and not least of all because of his beauty, and he had many lovers. For this practice has continued among them as a heritage from the city of their origin16 — I refer to the love of man for man — so much so that they are likely to make converts of some of the barbarians, for no good end, I dare say, but rather as those people would adopt such a practice, that is to say, like barbarians and not without licentiousness.

9 Knowing, then, that Callistratus was fond of Homer, I immediately began to question him about the poet. And practically all the people of Borysthenes also have cultivated an interest in Homer, possibly because of their still being a warlike people, although it may also be due to their regard for Achilles, for they honour him exceedingly, and they have actually established two temples for his worship, one on the island that bears his name17 and one in their city; and so they do not wish even to hear about any other poet than Homer. And although in p431general they no longer speak Greek distinctly, because they live in the midst of barbarians, still almost all at least know the Iliad by heart.

10 Accordingly I said to him by way of jest, "Callistratus, which do you think is the better poet, Homer or Phocylides?"18 And he laughed and said, "Why, as for myself, I do not even know the other poet's name, and I suppose that none of these men does, either. For we do not believe in any other poet than Homer. But as for Homer, you might say that no man alive is ignorant of him. For Homer is the only one whom their poets recall in their compositions,19 and it is their habit to recite his verses on many an occasion, but invariably they employ his poetry to inspire their troops when about to enter battle, just as the songs of Tyrtaeus20 used to be employed in Lacedaemon. Moreover, all these poets are blind, and they do not believe it possible for any one to become a poet otherwise."

11 "That at any rate," said I, "their poets caught from Homer,21 as it were from a case of sore eyes. But as for Phocylides, while you people do not know him, as you state, for all that he is certainly rated among the famous poets. Therefore, just as, when a merchant sails into your port who has never been there before, you do not immediately scorn him but, on the contrary, having first tasted his wine and sampled any other merchandise in his cargo, you p433buy it if it suits your taste, otherwise you pass it by; just so," said I, "with the poetry of Phocylides you may take a sample of small compass. 12 For he is not one of those who string together a long and continuous poem as your Homer does, who uses more than five thousand verses of continuous narration in describing a single battle;22 on the contrary, the poems of Phocylides have both beginning and end in two or three verses. And so he adds his name to each sentiment, in the belief that it is a matter of interest and great importance, in so doing behaving quite differently from Homer, who nowhere in his poetry names himself. 13 Or don't you think Phocylides had good reason for attaching his name to a maxim and declaration such as this?

This too the saying of Phocylides:

The law-abiding town, though small and set

On a lofty rock, outranks mad Nineveh.23

Why, in comparison with the entire Iliad and Odyssey are not these verses noble to those who pay heed as they listen? Or was it more to your advantage to hear of the impetuous leaping and charging of Achilles, and about his voice, how by his shouts alone he routed the Trojans?24 Are those things more useful for you to learn by heart than what you just have heard, that a small city on a rugged headland is better and more fortunate, if orderly, than a great city in a smooth and level plain, that is to say, if that city is conducted in disorderly and lawless fashion by men of folly?'

p435 14 And Callistratus, receiving my remarks with no great pleasure, replied, "My friend, we admire and respect you greatly; for otherwise no man in Borysthenes would have tolerated your saying such things of Homer and Achilles. For Achilles is our god, as you observe, and Homer ranks almost next to the gods in honour." And I in turn, wishing to appease him and at the same time to guide him in the direction of his own advantage, said, "I beg you to forgive me, to use the Homeric phrase,

'if aught of harm hath now been spoken.'25

For some other time we shall praise both Achilles and Homer in so far as the poet seems to us to speak correctly. 15 But now we might well consider the case of Phocylides, since in my opinion he speaks very nobly regarding the city." "Pray do so," said he, "since you can see that all these men now present are just as eager as I am to listen to you, and that for that very reason they have streamed together here beside the river, although in no very tranquil state of mind. For of course you know that yesterday the Scythians made a raid at noon and put to death some of the outposts who were not on their guard, and in all likelihood took others captive; for we do not yet know definitely about that, because their rout took them some distance away; for their flight was not toward the city."26

16 And in truth it was precisely as he had said, and not only were the city gates fast shut but also there had been hoisted on the ramparts the standard that betokens war. Yet they were such ardent listeners, p437so truly Greek in character, that almost all the inhabitants were present, under arms, eager to hear me. And I, admiring their earnestness, said, "If it please you, shall we go and sit down somewhere in the city? For perchance at present not all can hear equally well what is said as we stroll; on the contrary, those in the rear find it difficult themselves and also make it difficult for those ahead through their eagerness to get closer." 17 And no sooner had I made this suggestion than they all set out together for the temple of Zeus, where they are wont to meet in council. And while the eldest and the most distinguished and the officials sat on benches in a circle, the rest of the company stood close by, for there was a large open space before the temple. A philosopher would have been vastly pleased at the sight, because all were like the ancient Greeks described by Homer, long-haired and with flowing beards,27 and only one among them was shaven, and he was subjected to the ridicule and resentment of them all. And it was said that he practised shaving, not as an idle fancy, but out of flattery of the Romans and to show his friendship toward them. And so one could have seen illustrated in his case how disgraceful the practice is and how unseemly for real men.

18 But when quiet had been secured, I said that in my opinion they did well, seeing that they dwelt in a city that was ancient and Greek, in wishing to hear about a city. "And," said I, "surely the first essential is that we should know precisely the true nature of the thing about which we are to speak; p439for in that way you would at the same time have perceived what its attributes are. For most men," said I, "know and employ merely the names of things, but are ignorant of the things themselves. 19 On the other hand, men who are educated make it their business to know also the meaning of everything of which they speak. For example, anthropos is a term used by all who speak Greek, but if you should ask any one of them what anthropos really is — I mean what its attributes are and wherein it differs from any other thing — he could not say, but could only point to himself or to some else in true barbarian fashion. But man who has expert knowledge, when asked what anthropos is, replies that it is a mortal animal endowed with reason. For that happens to be true of anthropos alone and of nothing else. 20 Well, in that way also the term 'city' is said to mean a group of anthropoi dwelling in the same place and governed by law.28 It is immediately evident, therefore, that that term belongs to none of those communities which are called cities but are without wisdom and without law. Consequently not even in referring to Nineveh could the poet use the term 'city,' since Nineveh is given over to folly. For just as that person is not even an anthropos who does not also possess the attribute of reason, so that community is not even a city which lacks obedience to law. And it could never be obedient to law if it is foolish and disorderly.

21 Perhaps, then, someone might inquire whether, when the rulers and leaders of a community are men of prudence and wisdom, and it is in accordance with their judgement that the rest are governed, lawfully and sanely, such a community may be called sane and p441law-abiding and really a city because of those who govern it; just as a chorus might possibly be termed musical provided its leader were musical and provided further that the other members followed this lead and uttered no sound contrary to the melody that he set — or only slight sounds and indistinctly uttered. 22 For no one knows of a good city made wholly of good elements as having existed in the past, that is, a city of mortal men, nor is it worth while to conceive of such a city as possibly arising in the future, unless it be a city of the blessed gods in heaven, by no means motionless or inactive, but vigorous and progressive, its guides and leaders being gods, exempt from strife and defeat. For it is impious to suppose that gods indulge in strife or are subject to defeat, either by one another, friends as they are, or by more powerful beings; on the contrary, we must think of them as performing their several functions without let or hindrance and with unvarying friendship of all toward all in common, the most conspicuous among them each pursuing an independent course — I don't mean wandering aimlessly and senselessly, but rather dancing a dance29 of happiness coupled with wisdom and supreme intelligence — while the rest of the celestial host are swept along by the general movement, the entire heaven having one single purpose and impulse.

23 For that, indeed, is the only constitution or city that may be called genuinely happy — the partnership of god with god; even if you include with the gods also everything that has the faculty of reason, mankind being thus included as boys are said to share p443in citizenship with men, being citizens by birth though not by reason of conceiving and performing the tasks of citizens or sharing in the law, of which they have no comprehension. However, if we take communities of a different kind, though everywhere and in every instance, we may almost say, they are absolutely faulty and worthless as compared with the supreme righteousness of the divine and blessed law and its proper administration, still for our present purpose we shall be supplied with examples of the type that is fairly equitable when compared with that which is utterly corrupt, just as among persons who are all ill we compare the man who had the lightest case with the one who is in worst condition."

24 Well then, I was launching forth upon that general line in my discussion, when one of those who were present, the eldest in the company and held in high esteem, spoke up, interrupting me, and in a very guarded manner said, "Stranger, pray do not think it boorish or barbarous of me to intervene in the midst of your discourse. For while in your country such conduct is not good manners, because of the great abundance of philosophical discussions and because one may listen to many men upon any topic he may desire, in ours this visit of yours to our city seems almost a miraculous event. 25 As a usual thing those who come here are nominally Greeks but actually more barbarous than ourselves, traders and market-men, fellows who import cheap rags and vile wine and export in exchange products of no better quality. But you would appear to have been sent to us by Achilles himself from his holy isle,30 and we are very glad to see you and very glad also to listen to whatever p445you have to say. However, we do not believe that this visit of yours is to be of very long duration, nor do we desire it to be, but rather that you may have a prosperous voyage home as speedily as possible.31 26 Now therefore, since in your remarks you have touched upon the divine form of government, I myself am tremendously excited, and I see that my friends here also are all worked up in anticipation of that theme. The fact is that in our opinion everything you have said has been magnificently expressed, in a manner not unworthy of your theme, and precisely as we should most desire to hear. For although we are unacquainted with this more refined form of philosophy, yet we are, as you know, lovers of Homer, and some, not many, lovers of Plato too. To this latter group I myself belong, for I always read his writings as best I can; and yet it may perhaps seem odd that one who speaks the poorest Greek of all the people of Borysthenes should delight in the man who is most Greek and most wise and should cultivate that man's society, quite as if a person almost wholly blind were to shun every other light but turn his gaze upward to the sun itself.

27 "This, then, is our situation; and if you wish to do us all a favour, postpone your discussion of the mortal city — possibly our neighbours may after all grant us leisure tomorrow, and not compel us to exert ourselves against them as is generally our wont — and tell us instead about that divine city or government, whichever you prefer to call it, stating where it is and what it is like, aiming as closely as possible p447at Plato's nobility of expression, just as but now you seemed to us to do.32 For if we understand nothing else, we do at least understand his language because of our long familiarity with it, for it has a lofty sound, not far removed from the voice of Homer."

28 I in turn was exceedingly pleased with the simple frankness of the old gentleman, and with a laugh I said, "My dear Hieroson,33 if yesterday when the enemy made their attack you had bidden me to take up arms and give battle like Achilles, I should have obeyed one part of your injunction, endeavouring to come to the aid of men who are my friends; but the other part, I fancy, I could not have managed, however much I should have wished to do so, to fight as your Achilles did. Similarly in the present instance also I will do part of what you bid — I will strive to tell my story as best I can in my own way;

Though ancient heroes I'll not try to match,34

whether it be Plato or Homer. For, you remember, the poet says that in the case of Eurytus himself such rivalry worked not to his advantage, since it was aimed at his superiors.35 However, I shall not lack for devotion," I added. 29 Yet, despite my brave words to Hieroson, I was moved and heaved a sigh, as it were, when I bethought me of Homer and Plato.

p449 "Well then," said I, "the term 'city' must be taken on the understanding that our sect36 is not literally defining the universe as a city; for that would be in direct conflict with our doctrine of the city, which, as I have said, the Stoics define as an organization of human beings;37 and at the same time it would possibly not be suitable or convincing, if, after stating in the strict sense of the term that the universe is a living creature,38 they should then call it a city, 30 for that the same thing is both a city and a living being is a proposition that, I imagine, no one would readily consent to entertain. Yet the present orderly constitution of the universe ever since the whole has been separated and divided into a considerable number of forms of plants and animals, mortal and immortal, yes, and into air and earth and water and fire,39 being nevertheless by nature in all these forms one thing and governed by one spirit and force — this orderly constitution, I say, the Stoics do in one way or another liken to a city because of the multitude of the creatures that are constantly either being born or else ending their existence in it, and, furthermore, because of the arrangement and orderliness of its administration.

31 "This doctrine, in brief, aims to harmonize the human race with the divine, and to embrace in a single term everything endowed with reason, finding in reason the only sure and indissoluble foundation for fellowship and justice. For in keeping with that p451concept the term 'city' would be applied, not, of course, to an organization that has chanced to get mean or petty leaders nor to one which through tyranny or democracy or, in fact, through decarchy or oligarchy or any other similar product of imperfection, is being torn to pieces and made the victim of constant party faction. Nay, term would be applied rather to an organization that is governed by the sanest and noblest form of kingship, to one that is actually under royal governance in accordance with law, in complete friendship and concord. 32 And this, indeed, is precisely what the wisest and eldest ruler and law-giver ordains for all, both mortals and immortals, he who is the leader of all the heaven and lord of all being, himself thus expounding the term and offering his own administration as a pattern of the happy and blessed condition, he whom the divine bards, instructed by the Muses, praise in song and call the 'father of gods and men.'

33 "For the chances are, indeed, that poets as a class are not utterly bad marksmen when they speak of sacred things and that they are not missing the mark when they use such expressions as that repeatedly; on the other hand, it is not likely that they have received a real initiation according to the rites and regulations of true initiates, or that with reference to the universe they know anything, if I may say so, which is true and clear. But we may think of them as merely like the attendants at the rites, who stand outside at the doors, decking portals and the altars which are in full view and attending to the other preparations of that kind but never passing within. Indeed that is the very reason why the poets call themselves 'attendants of the Muses,'40 not initiates p453or any other august name. 34 So, as I was saying, it is reasonable to suppose that not only do those who busy themselves near some ritual, hard by the entrance to the sanctuary, gain some inkling of what is going on within, when either a lone mystic phrase rings out loudly, or fire appears above the enclosure, but also that there comes sometimes to the poets — I mean the very ancient poets — some utterance from the Muses, however brief, some inspiration of divine nature and of divine truth, like a flash of fire from the invisible. This is what happened to Homer and Hesiod when they were possessed by the Muses.41 35 But the poets who came after them in later days, bringing to stage and theatre naught but their own wisdom, uninitiate addressing initiate, have ofttimes disclosed imperfect patterns of holy rites; but, being applauded by the multitude, they tried in their own right to initiate the mob, actually, as we might say, building open booths for Bacchic rites at tragic crossroads.42

"Yet all these poets in precisely the same fashion call the first and greatest god Father of the whole rational family collectively, yes, and King besides. 36 And trusting to these poets men erect altars to Zeus the King and, what is more, some do not hesitate even to call him Father in their prayers, believing that there exists some such government and organization of the universe as that. Therefore, from that standpoint at least, it seems to me, they would not hesitate to apply the term 'home of Zeus'43 to the p455entire universe — if indeed he is father of all who live in it — yes, by Zeus, and his 'city' too, our Stoic similitude, to suggest the greater office of the god. 37 For kingship is a word more appropriate to a city than to a home. For surely men would not apply the term King to him who is over all and then refuse to admit that the whole is governed by a king, nor would they admit that they are governed by a king and then deny that they are members of a state or that there is a kingly administration of the universe. And again, conceding 'administration,' they would not balk at accepting 'city,' or something very like it, as descriptive of that which is administered.

38 "This, then, is the theory of the philosophers, a theory which sets up a noble and benevolent fellowship of gods and men which gives a share in law and citizenship, not to all living beings whatsoever, but only to such as have a share in reason and intellect, introducing a far better and more righteous code than that of Sparta, in accordance with which the Helots have no prospect of ever becoming Spartans, and consequently are constantly plotting against Sparta.

39 "Moreover, there is besides a myth which arouses admiration as sung in secret rites by the Magi, who extol this god of ours as being the perfect and original driver of the most perfect chariot. For the chariot of Helius, they claim, is relatively recent when compared with that of Zeus, though visible to the many because its course is run in full view. Therefore, they say, the chariot of Helius has enjoyed a reputation with all mankind, since the poets, beginning practically with the earliest times, so it would seem, are always telling of its rising and p457its setting, all in the same manner describing the yoking of the horses and Helius himself mounting his car.44

40 "But the mighty, perfect chariot of Zeus has never been praised as it deserves by any of the poets of our land, either by Homer or by Hesiod;45 and yet Zoroaster sings of it, as do the children of the Magi, who learned the song from him. For the Persians say that Zoroaster, because of a passion for wisdom and justice, deserted his fellows and dwelt by himself on a certain mountain; and they say that thereupon the mountain caught fire, a mighty flame descending from the sky above, and that it burned unceasingly. So then the king and the most distinguished of his Persians drew near for the purpose of praying to the god; and Zoroaster came forth from the fire unscathed, and, showing himself gracious toward them, bade them to be of good cheer and to offer certain sacrifices in recognition of the god's having come to that place. 41 And thereafter, so they say, Zoroaster has associated, not with them all, but only with such as are best endowed with regard to the truth, and are best able to understand the god, men whom the Persians have named Magi, that is to say, people who know how to cultivate the divine power, not like the Greeks, who in their ignorance use the term to denote wizards.46 And all else that those Magi do is in accordance with sacred sayings, and in particular they maintain for Zeus a team of Nisaean horses47 — p459and these horses are the finest and largest to be found in Asia — but for Helius they maintain only a single horse.

42 "These Magi narrate their myth, not in the manner of our prophets48 of the Muses, who merely present each detail with much plausibility, but rather with stubborn insistence upon its truthfulness. For they assert that the universe is constantly being propelled and driven along a single path, as by a charioteer endowed with highest skill and power, and that this movement goes on unceasingly in unceasing cycles of time. And the coursing of Helius and Selenê, according to their account, is the movement of portions of the whole, and for that reason it is more clearly perceived by mankind. And they add that the movement and revolution of the universe as a whole is not perceptible to the majority of mankind, but that, on the contrary, they are ignorant of the magnitude of this contest.49

43 "What follows regarding the horses and their driving I really am ashamed to tell in the manner in which the Magi set it forth in their narrative, since they are not very much concerned to secure consistency at all points in their presentation of the picture. In fact, quite possibly I may appear absurd when, in contrast with Greek lays of grace and charm, I chant one that is barbarian;50 but still I must make the venture.

"According to the Magi, that one of the horses p461which is the highest in the heavens51 is immeasurably superior in beauty, size, and speed, since it has the outside track and runs the longest course, a horse sacred to Zeus himself. Furthermore, it is a winged creature, brilliant in colour with the brilliance of the purest flame; and in it Helius and Selenê are to be seen as conspicuous signs or marks — like, I fancy, the marks which horses bear here on earth, some crescent-shaped and some of other patterns. 44 And they say that these 'marks' appear to us to be in close array, as it were great sparks of fire darting about in the midst of brilliant light, and yet that each has its own independent motion. Furthermore, the other stars also which are visible through that Horse of Zeus, one and all being natural parts of it, in some instances revolve along with it and have the same motion, and in others follow different tracks. And they add that among men these stars which are associated with the Horse of Zeus have each its own particular name;52 whereas the rest are treated collectively in groups, distributed so as to form certain figures or patterns.53

45 "Well then, the horse that is most brilliant and most spangled with stars and dearest to Zeus himself, being praised by the Magi in their hymns for some such attributes as these, quite properly stands first in sacrifice and worship as being truly first. Next in order after that, in closest contact with the Horse of Zeus, comes one that bears the name of Hera,54 a horse obedient to the rein and gentle, but far inferior in strength and speed. In colour this horse is of its own nature black, but that portion which receives the light of Helius is regularly bright, whereas where it is p463in shadow in its revolution it has its own proper colour.55 46 Third comes a horse that is sacred to Poseidon,56 still slower than the second. Regarding this steed the poets have a myth to the effect that its counterpart appeared among men — he whom they call Pegasus, methinks — and they claim that he caused a fountain to burst forth at Corinth by pawing with his hoof.57 But the fourth is the strangest conception of them all, a horse both firm and immovable, to say nothing of its having no wings, and it is named after Hestia.58 However, the Magi do not shrink from its portrayal; on the contrary, they state that this steed also is harnessed to the chariot, and yet it remains immovable, champing its adamantine curb. 47 And from all sides the other horses press close to him with their bodies and the pair that are his neighbours59 swerve toward him abreast, falling upon him, as it were, and crowding him, yet the horse that is farthest off60 is ever first to round that stationary steed as horses round the turn in the hippodrome.61

"Now for the most part the horses continue in peace and friendship, unharmed by one another. But on one occasion in the past, in the course of a long space of time and many revolutions of the universe, a mighty blast from the first horse fell from on high, p465and, as might have been expected from such a fiery-tempered steed, inflamed the others, and more especially the last in order;62 and the fire encompassed not alone its mane, which formed its personal pride, but the whole universe as well.63 48 And the Magi say that the Greeks, recording this experience as an isolated occurrence, connect it with the name of Phaethon, since they are unable to criticize the driving of Zeus and are loath to find fault with the coursings of Helius. And so they relate that a younger driver, a mortal son of Helius, desiring a sport that was to prove grievous and disastrous for all mankind, besought his father to let him mount his car and, plunging along in disorderly fashion, consumed with fire everything, both animals and plants, and finally was himself destroyed, being smitten by too powerful a flame.64

49 "Again, when at intervals of several years the horse that is sacred to Poseidon and the Nymphs rebels, having become panic-stricken and agitated beyond his wont, he overwhelms with copious sweat that same steed, since they two are yoke-mates. Accordingly it meets with fate which is the opposite of the disaster previously mentioned, this time being deluged with a mighty flood. And the Magi state that here again the Greeks, through youthful ignorance and faulty memory, record this flood as a single occurrence and claim that Deucalion, who was then king, saved them from complete destruction.65

p467 50 "According to the Magi, these rare occurrences are viewed by mankind as taking place for their destruction, and not in accord with reason or as a part of the order of the universe, being unaware that they occur quite properly and in keeping with the plan of the preserver and governor of the world. For in reality it is comparable with what happens when a charioteer punishes one of his horses, pulling hard upon the rein or pricking with the goad; and then the horse prances and is thrown into a panic but straightway settles down to its proper gait.

"Well then, this is one kind of driving of which they tell, attended by violence but not involving the complete destruction of the universe. 51 On the other hand, they tell also of a different kind that involves the movement and change of all four horses, one in which they shift among themselves and interchange their forms until all come together into one being, having been overcome by that one which is superior in power. And yet this movement also the Magi dare to liken to the guidance and driving of a chariot, though to do so they need even stranger imagery. For instance, it is as if some magician were to mould horses out of wax, and then, subtracting and scraping off the wax from each, should add a little now to this one and now to that, until finally, having used up all the horses in constructing one from the four, he should fashion a single horse out of all his material. 52 They state, however, that in reality the process to which they refer is not like that of such inanimate images, in which the craftsman operates and shifts the material from without, but that instead the transformation is the work of these creatures themselves, just as if they were striving for victory in a p469contest that is great and real. And they add that the victory and its crown belong of necessity to that horse which is first and best in speed and prowess and general excellence, I mean to that one which we named in the beginning of our account as the special steed of Zeus. 53 For that one, being most valiant of all and fiery by nature, having speedily used up the others — as if, methinks, they were truly made of wax — in no great span of time (though to us it seems endless according to our reckoning) and having appropriated to itself all the substance of them all, appeared much greater and more brilliant than formerly; not through the aid of any other creature, either mortal or immortal, but by itself and its own efforts proving victor in the greatest contest. And, standing tall and proud, rejoicing in its victory, it not only seized the largest possible region but also needed larger space at that time, so great was its strength and its spirit.

54 "Having arrived at that stage in their myth, the Magi are embarrassed in search of a name to describe the nature of the creature of their own invention. For they say that now by this time it is simply the soul of the charioteer and master; or, let us say, merely the intellect and leadership of that soul. (Those, in fact, are the terms we ourselves employ when we honour and reverence the greatest god by noble deeds and pious words). 55 For indeed, when the mind alone had been left and had filled with itself immeasurable space, since it had poured itself evenly in all directions and nothing in it remained dense but p471complete porosity prevailed — at which time it becomes most beautiful — having obtained the purest nature of unadulterated light, it immediately longed for the existence that it had at first. Accordingly, becoming enamoured of that control and governance and concord which it once maintained not only over the three natures of sun and moon and the other stars, but also over absolutely all animals and plants, it became eager to generate and distribute everything and to make the orderly universe then existent once more far better and more resplendent because newer. 56 And emitting a full flash of lightning, not a disorderly or foul one such as in stormy weather often darts forth, when the clouds drive more violently than usual, but rather pure and unmixed with any murk, it worked a transformation easily, with the speed of thought. But recalling Aphroditê and the process of generation, it tamed and relaxed itself and, quenching much of its light, it turned into fiery air of gentle warmth, and uniting with Hera and enjoying the most perfect wedlock, in sweet repose it emitted anew the full supply of seed for the universe. Such is the blessed marriage of Zeus and Hera66 of which the sons of sages sing in secret rites. 57 And having made fluid all his essence, one seed for the entire world, he himself moving about in it like a spirit that moulds and fashions in generation, then indeed most closely resembling the composition of the other creatures, inasmuch as he might with reason be said to consist of soul and body, he now p473with ease moulds and fashions all the rest, pouring about him his essence smooth and soft and easily yielding in every part.

58 "And having performed his task and brought it to completion, he revealed the existent universe as once more a thing of beauty and inconceivable loveliness, much more resplendent, indeed, than it appears to‑day. For not only, I ween, are all other works of craftsmen better and brighter when fresh from the artistic hand of their maker, but also the younger specimens of plants are more vigorous than the old and altogether like young shoots. And indeed animals, too, are charming attractive to behold right after their birth, not merely the most beautiful among them — colts and calves and puppies — but even the whelps of wild animals of the most savage kind. 59 For, on the one hand, the nature of man is helpless and feeble like Demeter's tender grain, but when it has progressed to the full measure of its prime, it is a stronger and more conspicuous creation than any plant at all. However, the entire heaven and universe when first it was completed, having been put in order by the wisest and noblest craft, just released from the hand of the creator, brilliant and translucent and brightly beaming in all its parts, remained helpless for no time at all, nor weak with the weakness that nature ordains for man and other mortal beings, but, on the contrary, was fresh and vigorous from the very beginning. 60 At that time, therefore, the Creator and Father of the World, beholding the work of his hands, was not by any means merely pleased, for that is a lowly p475experience of lowly beings; nay, he rejoiced and was delighted exceedingly,

As on Olympus he sat, and his heart did laugh

For joy, beholding the gods67

who were now all created and present before him."

But the form of the universe at that moment — I mean both the bloom and the beauty of that which is for ever ineffably beauteous — no man could conceive and fitly express, neither among men of our time nor among those of former days, but only the Muses and Apollo with the divine rhythm of their pure and consummate harmony. 61 For that reason let us also refrain for the present, now that we have not shirked exalting the myth to the best of our power. And if the form of that myth has turned out to be utterly lofty and indistinct, just as those who are expert in augury declare that the bird which ascends too high into the heavens hides itself in the clouds makes divination incomplete, still it is not I whom you should blame, but rather the insistence of those men of Borysthenes, because it was they who bade me speak that day.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Also called Olbia (Herodotus 4.18, Strabo 7.3.17), an important trading-centre on the right bank of the Hypanis (Bug), about four miles above the junction with the Borysthenes (Dnieper).

2 The word τότε presumably refers to τὸ θέρος; unfortunately we are not told which summer. Of course summer was the season best adapted to travel, and that may be the sole reason by Dio uses the phrase.

3 Herodotus (4.53) is the only other Greek to mention this cape.

4 The depth in summer is said to be no more than six feet. Therefore the pilot had to watch the current carefully in order to keep in the channel.

5 For these salt-works, cf. Herodotus 4.53.

6 The Crimea.

7 Unknown.

8 The Sauromatians (Sarmatians) were an Iranian people. Cf. Rostovtzeff, Iranians and Greeks in South Russia.

9 On the Thracian coast of Pontus, about 125 miles northwest of Byzantium.

10 Coins of that period are said to support Dio's conjecture (Diehl, in Pauly-Wissowa XVII.2422).

11 Dio seems to say that in the reconstruction of the city that portion of the old circuit-wall which was best preserved was retained, the ends being joined together by a continuous line of dwellings with party-walls, so as themselves to serve as a defence. The same plan may be observed in many Aegean islands. The result for Borysthenes was a narrowing of its former limits. Cf. Diehl, ibid., 2412 and 2416.

12 In § 1. The length of the digression is surprising in view of the seeming prominence of Borysthenes. Was it merely the enthusiasm of the traveller?

13 It was not good form for a Greek gentleman to appear in public with bare arms. Cf. Aeschines, in Timarchum 52, Plutarch, Phocion 4.

14 To a Greek, trousers appeared especially foreign.

15 Herodotus (4.20) says that the Blackcloaks were not Scythians. He is less cautious than Dio in explaining the name (4.107).

16 Miletus.

17 Presumably an island at the mouth of the Dnieper, though the evidence is confused. Strabo (7.3.16‑17) and Maximus Tyrius (9.7) refer to worship of Achilles on an island at the mouth of the Danube.

18 A gnomic poet of the sixth century B.C. For the scanty remains of his verse, mostly couplets, see Edmonds, Elegy and Iambus, vol. I, pp168 ff. (L. C. L.).

19 Unless αὐτῶν should be read αὑτῶν and construed (as also αὑτῶν two lines later) as a pronoun of the first person, Callistratus is guilty of exaggeration, a fault that might be ascribed to provincialism and the enthusiasm of youth.

20 Thought to have lived at Sparta about 640 B.C. For the extant fragments of his verse, see Edmonds, op. cit., vol. I, pp50 ff.

21 The tradition regarding Homer's blindness may be due to the "Homeric" Hymn to Apollo, verse 172; but Homer himself portrays his bard Demodocus as being blind.

22 Dio may have had in mind books 11 to 17 of the Iliad.

23 Edmonds, op. cit., vol. I, p174.

24 Iliad 18.228‑9.

25 Iliad 4.362‑3.

26 Seemingly a touch of humour.

27 The phrase κάρη κομόωντες Ἀχαιοί is frequent in Homer. He is silent regarding the beard, though beards may have been usual. Though the Greeks had long known of the razor, Alexander the Great is said to have made shaving really popular. Scipio Africanus seems to have been the first Roman to shave regularly. Our passage suggests that even in Dio's day some Greeks wore beards.

28 A Stoic definition, more succinctly stated in § 29.

29 Dio is evidently identifying the gods with the stars. The dancing of the stars is an idea contained in more than one ancient Greek writing, but cf. especially Plato, Epinomis 982E, Timaeus 40C. Beginning with § 39, Dio presents the same general theme in an altered form in what he is pleased to call a myth of the Magi, according to which the universe constitutes a four-horse team yoked to the chariot of Zeus.

30 Cf. § 9.

31 The speaker clearly has heard of Dio's frustrated plans and of his present purpose to sail away (cf. § 8) and is merely being polite.

32 Perhaps a reference to § 22, which in a way foreshadows the myth of §§ 39 ff.

33 Although we know nothing of this Hieroson apart from what Dio tells us, the name, which is quite unusual, is found in an inscription relating to Borysthenes and to its worship of Achilles (CIG 2.2077).

34 Odyssey 8.223.

35 Dio is still thinking of the passage just quoted, verses 224‑8 of which allude to the slaying of Eurytus by Apollo for having dared to challenge the god to a trial of skill in archery. It was the bow of Eurytus with which Odysseus slew the suitors.

36 The Stoics.

37 Cf. § 20.

38 Cf. Plato, Timaeus 30B.

39 Cf. §§ 43‑6, where Dio treats these four as horses.

40 Cf. Hesiod, Theogony 99‑101.

41 Cf. Hesiod, Theogony 22‑34.

42 Dio is contrasting with the privacy and secrecy of the mysteries (§§ 33, 34) the openness and profane character of dramatic productions. Hence ἀκαλύπτους and τριόδοις are the significant words. For 'building booths' = presenting plays, see Plato, Laws 817C.

43 Euripides called the aether the οἴκησις of Zeus, for which the malicious wit of Aristophanes (Frogs 100) substituted the word δωμάτιον.

44 Hesiod, Theogony 760‑1, speaks of the rising and the setting of Helius, though not expressly of his chariot. The earliest reference to his chariot may be Hymn to Hermes 68‑9.

45 Dio, like Herodotus (2.53), regards Homer and Hesiod as creators of the orthodox views about Greek gods.

46 Cf. Or. 49.7. Greeks did, not infrequently, associate Magi and magic as related terms.

47 Herodotus (7.40), describing the march of Xerxes' army, mentions 'ten sacred Nisaean horses, most beautifully adorned,' which went before a chariot drawn by eight white horses, and sacred to Zeus. There is no evidence to substantiate Dio's claim that the Magi sang of the team of Zeus.

48 I.e., 'spokesmen.'

49 Figurative usage of the term.

50 The 'barbarian lay' finds no counterpart in Zoroastrian literature; though the Avesta does refer to the team of Mithra, god of light, as crossing the firmament. Gomperz, Griechische Denker, vol. I, p65, maintains that the Greeks did not know the Avestan Zoroaster or the teaching of the Gathas. Dio's myth may be, at least in large measure, his own fanciful treatment of familiar Stoic doctrine, that the universe consisted of four concentric spheres: earth, water, air, and fire (aether). These four can readily be identified with Dio's 'horses.' Cf. Zeller, Philosophie der Griechen, vol. III, pt. 1, p172.

51 Aether, abode of the fixed stars and the planets.

52 The planets.

53 Constellations.

54 Air.

55 This notion seems to have been borrowed from the behaviour of the moon.

56 Water.

57 Cf. especially Statius, Thebais 4.60. The most familiar version of the myth is associated with Hippocrenê on Helicon. However, Pegasus is connected also with other fountains, probably because of the meaning attached to his name. [Thayer note: Pêgê is the Greek word for 'source, well, spring'; Hesiod was the first to record the association.] According to Pindar and others, Peirenê at Corinth is linked with the capture of Pegasus by Bellerophon. It is probably that Peirenê on Acrocorinth which Dio has in mind — an excellent spot from which to take off — for in Roman times that spring became more prominent in the Pegasus story than the more sumptuous springs of the lower city. Vid. Broneer, Corinth III, pt. I, pp59‑60.

58 Here to be interpreted as the earth. See note to § 43.

59 Water and air.

60 Aether.

61 In § 43 Dio warns us that the Magi are not much concerned regarding consistency. The translator assumes that all four horses are harnessed to one car — their varying speed would allow of that interpretation, since three of them move about the fourth; but how could the outermost (Aether) obtain a lead? Perhaps the spectator in the hippodrome might receive that impression.

62 Earth.

63 The Stoics believed in periodic conflagrations by which the universe was consumed, to be made anew.

64 Cf. Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.750 to 2.400.

65 According to Ovid, ibid., 1.318‑29, only Pyrrha and Deucalion were saved. Apollodorus 1.7.2 says a few others escaped by fleeing to the highest mountains. Lucian, De Dea Syria 12, gives a version quite similar to the story of Noah.

66 An apparent allusion to what was commonly called the Hieros Gamos or Holy Wedding, the earliest reference to which seems to be Iliad 14.294‑6. Theocritus 15.64 asserts that women generally knew all the details. Hera presided over the rites of marriage.

67 Iliad 21.389‑90.


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