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Bill Thayer

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Discourse 41

This webpage reproduces one of the

Dio Chrysostom

published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1946

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 43

(Vol. IV) Dio Chrysostom

 p165  The Forty-second Discourse:
An Address in his Native City

This delightful little bit, obviously the introduction to a more pretentious performance, served to disarm the audience and make it sympathetic with the speaker. Its note of self-depreciation sounds quite modern. Incidentally, we get valuable information about the fate of literary works even in the lifetime of their authors, as well as about the activity of the booktrade and the low cost of its product.

Arnim asserts that our little "curtain-raiser" is unmistakably from Dio's philosophical period. Actually all that seems unmistakable about the piece is that its author either has achieved fame as a public speaker or thinks he has. The very title is not above suspicion, for the remarks which follow afford no clue to the identity of the speaker or to either place or occasion of delivery.

 p167  The Forty-second Discourse:
An Address in his Native City

What your purpose is about me and my wisdom — or folly, as the case may be — I can't imagine; whether you really want a speech from me with the expectation of hearing something wonderful, something the like of which you could not hear from any other man now living, or, just the reverse, with a view to showing me up and proving that I know nothing important or weighty. 2 For if this is your purpose, I put myself at your disposal with full confidence, to the end that you may satisfy your desire; but if such is not one, I am apprehensive as to the opposite opinion, lest when you have heard me you may pass unfavourable judgement upon me undeservedly, merely for the reason that you yourselves had formed an incorrect opinion about me. For I have never given any one to understand that I am an able speaker or thinker or that I possess more knowledge than the average; but on that very point I strongly insist, on every occasion, to those who ask me to speak, and I correct that false impression before settling down to my speech; and many consider this very protest of mine to be ostentation.

3 However that may be, I myself also take now this path and now that.1 For, on the one hand, whenever I consider myself and my inexperience, my  p169 inexperience in simply everything, but especially in speaking, recognizing that I am only a layman, I am minded for the future to live the life of a layman; on the other hand, when I consider those who take me seriously and invite me to make a speech, I am constrained to feel suspicious of myself, lest some quality of mine may after all be worth while, and without being aware of it, I may be in the same position as certain members of the animal kingdom, which, though they are useful to mankind and have within them some power to cure diseases, whether it be a potency of bile or blood or fat or hair,2 are unaware of it, while human beings, aware of this power, pursue and try in every way to capture them, not for the sake of their meat, but for that power of theirs.

4 Perhaps, then, in my case too people are always trying to make me speak, not because they have any need of my speech, but of something else. For I cannot imagine they have shown such interest in me from being ignorant and from never having heard me, as many no doubt desire many things because of ignorance. For almost all men are acquainted with my speeches, and they distribute them broadcast in all directions, just as lads in the cities sing cheap ditties at eventide. Moreover, almost all report my speeches to one another, not as they were delivered, but after having made them still better in accordance with their own ability, some making improvements purposely and 5 — evidently being ashamed to remember such stuff — introducing numerous changes and rearrangements by way of  p171 betterment, while others possibly do so unconsciously through not remembering very well. And so one no longer buys my wisdom from the market in abundant supply at an obol, as somebody has it,3 but instead one merely stoops and plucks it from the ground. One might almost say, therefore, that my speeches have had much the same fate as the pottery of Tenedos; for while all who sail that way put on board pottery from there, yet no one finds it easy to get it across in sound condition; but many crack or smash it, and ere they are aware they have naught but shards.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Dio is referring to the opposing opinions of him mentioned in the preceding paragraph. His usage of the word ὁδόν may be compared with that of Herodotus (2.20).

2 Pliny devotes book 28‑30 and 32 of his Historia Naturalis to a catalogue of the medical uses to which animals may be put, beginning with the elephant and ending with marine life.

3 Possibly a reminiscence of Plato, Apology 26D, where Socrates, speaking of the writings of Anaxagoras, says: ἃ ἔξεστιν ἐνίοτε, εἰ πάνυ πολλοῦ, δραχμῆς ἐκ τῆς ὀρχήστρας πριαμένοις Σωκράτους καταγελᾶν.

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