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Discourse 48

This webpage reproduces one of the
Discourses

by
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 50

(Vol. IV) Dio Chrysostom
Discourses

p292 The Forty-ninth Discourse: A Refusal of the Office of Archon Delivered before the Council

The major portion of this Discourse is devoted to a consideration of the importance of the philosopher in the administration of affairs of state and of his duty to accept office for the good of the state. It appears that Dio, without his previous consent, had been set up as a candidate for election to the archonship, the highest office in the government. That election to this office was a function of the Council is clear, not only from the fact that Dio's excuses are offered to that body, but especially from the natural interpretationº of §§ 14‑15. Furthermore, we learn from § 15 that the Council had once before elected him to that office by acclamation. Arnim argues with much cleverness that the election just referred to took place the year preceding our Discourse, A.D. 102, that Dio declined to serve on that occasion, and that he used his influence to bring about the substitution of his son to fill his place (cf. Or. 48.17 and note). On the occasion referred to Dio, in support of his request to be excused, urged the imminence of his departure from Prusa. Not yet having made good that announcement, he now feels called upon to assert his good faith and to declare that this time he is really about to leave (§ 15).

For what reason was he to take his departure? In the initial sentence of Or. 45 (A.D. 101 or 102) he says he believes he has not much longer to stay in Prusa. One infers from his use of the verb οἴομαι that his departure is not wholly a matter of personal choice. In that same speech (§ 3) and in Or. 47 he suggests that he might reasonably look to Trajan p293for some preferment. Arnim concludes that some such offer of preferment had been made prior to Or. 45 and that Dio's earlier uncertainty as to the precise moment of his departure was due to the Emperor's absence from Rome in connexion with his campaign in Dacia. That campaign is now over and Dio is due to begin his journey to Rome.

p295 The Forty-ninth Discourse:
A Refusal of the Office of Archon Delivered before the Council

To reasonable and cultivated men the holding of office is neither distasteful nor difficult. For they enjoy nothing more than doing good; and the ruler of a city, or of a tribe, or of still larger aggregations of mankind, not only has the fullest opportunity for doing good, but also is practically bound to do so; but if he fails in that respect, the ruler who does harm is not tolerated, I do not say by human beings, reputed to be the most petulant of all creatures, but not even by the stupidest of the beasts. 2 For example, neither do cattle willingly submit to neglect on the part of the hersdmen nor do flocks of goats and sheep submit to keepers who ruin them. For some run away and do not obey, and others even retaliate against their wicked guardians. In fact horses inflict much worse punishment on ignorant drivers by throwing them off than the drivers inflict by striking them with the whip. But of all these creatures man is the most clever and has the most intelligence; accordingly man is most hostile of all toward a bad ruler, though most kindly of all toward one who is good. Thus being a ruler is pleasant for those who know the art — though no pursuit could be difficult p297for the man who had practised it from the start and had equipped himself for it.

3 But he who is really a philosopher will be found to be devoting himself to no other task than that of learning how he will be able to rule well, whether it be ruling himself or a household or the greatest state or, in short, all mankind, provided they permit it, and, while himself needing no ruler other than reason and God, he will be competent to care for and give heed to the rest of mankind. Moreover, this fact has not escaped the notice even of kings themselves, or of any men in power who are not utterly bereft of judgement. For they entreat men of cultivation to become their counsellors in their most important problems, and, while giving orders to everybody else, they themselves accept orders from those counsellors as to what to do and what not to do.

4 Take Agamemnon for example — Homer says that Agamemnon also sought the opinion of Nestor especially, and that every time he did not follow Nestor's advice he bewailed the fact and promptly repented.1 Again, Philip, who is reputed to have been the cleverest of kings, engaged Aristotle as teacher and ruler for his son Alexander, believing that he himself was not competent to give instruction in the science of kingship; nay, while he thought himself fit to rule the other Macedonians and Thracians and Illyrians and all the Greeks, he handed his son over to another to be ruled, and while he gave orders to so many myriads, he did not dare give orders to p299that one man. The reason is that he did not feel his own risk to be as great if he should err where it concerned any one else as it would be if he should commit some error in connexion with his son.

5 And yet previously Philip himself, while a hostage at Thebes, not only was associated with Pelopidas, a man of cultivation — in consequence of which it was even said that Pelopidas had been his lover — but he also witnessed the deeds of Epaminondas and listened to his words; and it was not mere accident that Epaminondas had acquired such power among the Greeks and had wrought so great a change in Greece as to overthrow the Spartans,2 despite their long-continued rule, but because he had conversed with Lysis,3 the disciple of Pythagoras. This, I fancy, explains why Philip was far superior to those who previously had become kings of Macedonia. Yet for all that, though he had the good fortune to obtain so good an education, he did not have the courage to instruct Alexander himself.

6 However, while one would find that philosophers have rarely become rulers among men — I mean holding positions termed "offices," serving as generals or satraps or kings — on the other hand, those whom they ruled have derived from them most numerous and most important benefits — the Athenians from Solon, from Aristeides, and from Pericles, the disciple of Anaxagoras; the Thebans from Epaminondas; the Romans from Numa, who, as some say, had some acquaintance with the philosophy of Pythagoras;4 and the Italian Greeks in general from the Pythagoreans, for these Greeks prospered and conducted p301their municipal affairs with the greatest concord and peace just so long as those Pythagoreans managed their cities.

7 Furthermore, since they cannot always be ruled by kings who are philosophers, the most powerful nations have publicly appointed philosophers as superintendents and officers for their kings. Thus the Persians, methinks, appointed those whom they call Magi, because they were acquainted with Nature and understood how the gods should be worshipped;5 the Egyptians appointed the priests who had the same knowledge as the Magi, devoting themselves to the service of the gods and knowing the how and the wherefore of everything; the Indians appointed Brachmans, because they excel in self-control and righteousness and in their devotion to the divine,6 as a result of which they know the future better than all other men know their immediate present; 8 the Celts appointed those whom they call Druids,7 these also being devoted to the prophetic art and to wisdom in general. In all these cases the kings were not permitted to do or plan anything without the assistance of these wise men, so that in truth it was they who ruled, while the kings became are servants and the ministers of their will, though they sat on golden thrones, dwelt in great houses, and feasted sumptuously.

And indeed it is reasonable to expect that man to administer any office most capably who, occupying continuously the most difficult office of all, can show himself free from error. 9 For example, the philosopher is always master of himself; and this is p303altogether more difficult than to be king over all the Greeks or all the barbarians. For what race of men is as savage as are anger and envy and contentiousness, things over which the philosopher must maintain control? What race is as knavish and intrigue number and traitorous as are pleasures and lusts, by which he must never be overcome? What race is as violent and terrifying and debasing to men's souls as are fear and pain, to which he must never be seen to yield? 10 Again, what armour, what defences does he possess for protection against these efforts such as both kings and generals have against a foe? What allies or bodyguards can he employ against them, unless it be words of wisdom and prudence? Whom else can he bid do sentry duty or trust to stand guard, or what servants can he employ? Is he not, on the contrary, obliged to hold this watch himself both night and day, with anxious thought and vigilance, lest, ere he is aware of it, he may be excited by pleasures or terrified by fears or tricked by lust or brought low by pain and so be made to abandon those acts which are best and most righteous, turning traitor to himself? 11 However, the man who administers this office with firmness and self-control does not find it difficult from then on to show himself superior even to the whole world.

But when I enter into these details regarding philosophers, let no one think I am speaking with a view to the outward appearance and the label.8 For as sensible men do not judge wine from the jar in p305which it is stored — for often you will find in an excellent jar the spoiled wine of the taverns — so also they do not judge the man of cultivation by his dress. 12 Yet I am not surprised that most men are deceived by such a thing as that. For example, the suitors pitted Odysseus against Irus because of their dress, supposing the two to be no different.9 But one of the philosophers who lived a short time ago has well said that it made Ismenias10 especially angry that the pipers at funerals should be called flautists, though that is not quite the same thing, it seems to me. For the pipers at funerals do no harm to the dead nor do they annoy them, whereas some of those who profess to be philosophers really do many grievous things.11 13 However, the function of the real philosopher is nothing else than to rule over human beings. But if a man, alleging that he is not competent, is reluctant to administer his own city when it wishes him to do so and calls upon him, it is as if some one should refuse to treat his own body, though professing to be a physician, and yet should readily treat other men in return for money or honours, just as if his health were a smaller recompense than another kind; or again, it is as if some one who claimed to be an able trainer of athletes or a teacher of letters should be willing to teach the sons of others, but should send his own son to some one else of less standing; or as if some one who neglected his own parents should be ready to prefer the parents of others, provided he p307found them to be more wealthy or more distinguished than his own. 14 For it is neither more righteous nor, by Heaven, more pleasant to disdain those who are related by ties of blood and then to be of service to those who are not relatives at all.

Very well, the conclusion to be drawn from these remarks is that the philosopher should hold office, since you wish it. However, you may be sure that, if there were not some insuperable obstacle, I should not be waiting to be asked but should myself be asking, yes, entreating you.12 For this too is a mark of those who are noble and sound-minded, that a man should rule his fellow citizens, himself announcing his candidacy and being grateful for his election instead of depreciating the honour, or even making it a dishonour. 15 What, then, is the insuperable obstacle in the present instance? I think I deserve to be believed in everything else whereof I speak — for in my opinion I have never deceived you in anything, nor have I in the past said one thing and meant another13 — yet I have always had too many engagements,14 and against my own inclination I have thus far been prevented from abandoning them.15 And now it is no longer possible at all, practically speaking. For it is not to my interest, and possibly not to yours either, that I should tarry here. Therefore I beg to decline my election. For I feel sure that I should not have had to submit to investigation, but that, just as previously you elected me unanimously by p309acclamation16 when you suspected I was willing to take office, you would have done the same now too. However, I am not so minded; but while I know that in order to hold office I should not have been obliged to call upon you, yet in order to be excused from holding office I am not ashamed to be calling upon you.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Dio refers, not to a statement made by Homer, but to the prominence which he gives Nestor as Agamemnon's counsellor.

2 At the battle of Leuctra, 371 B.C.

3 Lysis, a native of Tarentum, migrated to Thebes when the Pythagorean community was dissolved. For his influence on Epaminondas, see Nepos, Epam. 2.

4 The traditional date of Numa makes him too early to have known Pythagoreanism.

Thayer's Note: The ancients were well aware of the chronological problem, yet the tradition was a strong one. Plutarch for example wrestles with the question in his Life of Numa and even offers a possible solution (§§ 1, 8) but concludes that "the matter of Numa's acquaintance with Pythagoras is involved in much dispute" and that he's at a dead end. Even then, he can't help coming back to it one more time (§ 22); the problem clearly bothers him.

5 Cf. Or. 36.41.

6 Cf. Or. 35.22.

7 The locus classicus on the Druids is Caesar, Bell. Gall. 6.13‑14. Diodorus (5.31.4) and Strabo (4.198) also refer to them.

8 Cf. Or. 34.2‑3 and 35.11.

9 I.e., both in rags. Cf. Odyssey 18.40‑41.

10 Cf. Or. 32.61.

11 Cf. Or. 32.9.

12 Though Dio has been speaking of the philosopher in the abstract, it now becomes plain that he is referring to himself.

13 He is referring to his announced intention to leave Prusa. See Introduction.

14 I.e., too many engagements to permit him to accept office.

15 Somewhat amplified in translation. See critical note.

The Greek text: ἀλλ᾽ ἀεὶ πλείους ἀσχολίαι . . . καταλιπεῖν μέχρι τοῦδε οὐχ ἑκόντα με κατέσχηκεν. The critical note after ἀσχολίαι reads:

Wilamowitz noted a lacuna at this point. The missing words need not have been many, but they must have included a subject for κατέσχηκεν.

16 The phrases ἐδεήθην ἐξετάσεως and ἐν τῷ φανερῷ, here somewhat freely translated, are taken to mean that the Council would dispense with both the usual scrutiny of the candidate for election and also the usual secret ballot. On the whole situation hinted at in § 15, see Introduction.


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