Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Click here for the text in ancient Greek.]

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Discourse 54

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!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Discourse 56

(Vol. IV) Dio Chrysostom

 p378  The Fifty-fifth Discourse:
On Homer and Socrates

In his thirteenth discourse (§ 31) Dio speaks of having given instruction during his exile to groups of two and three. The document before us, if not actually a stenographic report of such a proceeding, at least portrays the method employed by Dio. Similar examples have been met already in Or. 21, 23, 25, and 26. In these, and in others like them to be met later, just as in some dialogues of Plato, there is at first a lively debate between teacher and pupil, after which the teacher takes possession of the field and expounds his doctrine with little or no interruption from the pupil. The text of Dio, however, does not reveal the identity of speakers other than the master himself. This may be regarded as a token that the dialogue is an authentic transcript of an actual experience, the reporter having been concerned to preserve a record of what was said and the pupil involved in the discussion being considered of too little consequence to deserve to have his name recorded. Dio certainly understood the psychological advantage that Plato derived from using real persons as the participants in his dialogues and calling them by name (cf. § 12), and it is hard to believe that if Dio's dialogues were mere literary fictions he would have failed to avail himself of that advantage.

The theme of the present Discourse is that Socrates acquired his art as a teacher from Homer. The anonymous interlocutor is sceptical on that point, objecting that Socrates never met Homer, and also calling attention to the wide difference between the function of the poet and that of the philosopher. After successfully demolishing these objections, Dio proceeds to note certain points of resemblance between Homer and Socrates — their modesty, their scorn of  p379 wealth, their interest in ethical problems, their use of parables or similes as vehicles of instruction, and their method of employing specific human beings to illustrate virtues and vices. To this last-named point Dio devotes fully a third of his dialogue. His arguments seem to have silenced his pupil, for there is no rejoinder.

 p381  The Fifty-fifth Discourse:
On Homer and Socrates

Interlocutor. Since you make it evident that on general grounds you are an admirer of Socrates and also that you are filled with wonder at the man as revealed in his words, you can tell me of which among the sages he was a pupil; just as, for example, Pheidias the sculptor was a pupil of Hegias,​1 and Polygnotus the painter and his brother​2 were both pupils of their father Aglaophon, and Pherecydes​3 is said to have been a teacher of Pythagoras, and Pythagoras in turn a teacher of Empedocles and Sophocles. And indeed we are able to name the teachers of most other famous men — and to tell through association with whom each became noteworthy — with the exception of Heracleitus of Ephesus and Hesiod of Ascra. For, to spare us the trouble of seeking for his teacher, Hesiod says he received his poetic gift from the Muses in a branch of laurel as he was tending his flocks on Helicon,​4 2 while Heracleitus with even more graciousness says that he himself discovered what the nature of the universe really is without anybody's  p383 teaching him, and that he became wise by his own efforts.​5 As for Homer, this point, like everything else connected with him, is obscure to the Greeks. But while we have heard that Socrates as a boy studied the calling of his father,​6 be so good as to tell us clearly who was his teacher in the wisdom which has proved so helpful and noble.

3 Dio. Why, this is plain, I imagine, to many people, provided they are familiar with both men, namely, that Socrates is in truth a pupil of Homer, and not of Archelaüs, as some say.7

Int. And how can it possibly be said that the man who neither met Homer nor ever saw him, but lived so many years later, was a pupil of Homer?

Dio. What of it? Supposing a man lived in Homer's day but had heard none of the poetry of Homer, or, if he had heard, had given none of it his attention, shall we be able to say he was a pupil of Homer?

Int. By no means.

4 Dio. Then it is not absurd that the man who neither met nor saw Homer and yet understood his poetry and became familiar with all his thought should be called a pupil of Homer; or will you go so far as to maintain that no one can be a zealous follower of anyone with whom he has never been associated?

Int. Not I.

Dio. Then, if a follower, he would also be a pupil.  p385 For whoever really follows any one surely knows what that person was like, and by imitating his acts and words he tries as best he can to make himself like him. 5 But that is precisely, it seems, what the pupil does — by imitating his teacher and paying heed to him he tries to acquire his art. On the other hand, seeing people and associating with them has nothing to do with the process of learning. For instance, many persons not only see pipers but associate with and hear them every day, and yet they could not even blow on the pipes unless they associate with the pipers for professional ends and pay strict heed. However, if you shrink from calling Socrates a pupil of Homer, but would prefer to call him just a follower, it will make no difference to me.

6 Int. Why, to my way of thinking, the one seems no less surprising than the other. For Homer has proved to be a poet without a peer, whereas Socrates is a philosopher.

Dio. Very well; on that principle you would not call even Archilochus a follower of Homer, because he has not used the same metre as Homer's for all his poetry but has used any metres for the most part; nor would you call Stesichorus his follower either, because, while Homer composed epic poetry, Stesichorus was a melic poet.8

7 Int. Yes I would; all the Greeks agree on this, that Stesichorus was a follower of Homer, and indeed is very like him in his poetic art. But wherein does Socrates seem to you to resemble Homer?

Dio. First and foremost, he resembles him in his character; for neither of the two was boastful or  p387 brazen, as the most ignorant of the sophists are. For instance, Homer did not even deign to tell whence he came, or who were his parents, or what he himself was called. On the contrary, so far as he was concerned we should not even know the name of the man who wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey. 8 As for Socrates, while he could not make a secret of his fatherland because of its greatness and because Athens was exceedingly famous and dominated the Greeks at that period, yet he never said anything boastful about himself nor laid claim to any wisdom, and yet Apollo had solemnly declared that he was wisest among Greeks and barbarians.​9 And finally, Socrates did not even put his words into writing and himself bequeath them to posterity, and in this he outdid Homer. For just as we know the name of Homer by hearing it from others, so too we know the words of Socrates because others have left them to us.​10 Thus both were exceedingly self-restrained and modest.

9 Again, both Socrates and Homer alike scorned the acquisition of wealth. Besides, they both were devoted to the same ends and spoke about the same things, the one through the medium of his verse, the other in prose — human virtue and vice, actions wrong and actions right, truth and deceit, and how the masses have only opinions, while the wise have true knowledge.

Furthermore, they were most effective at making similes and comparisons.

Int. This is indeed surprising if with Homer's comparisons of fire and winds and sea and eagles and  p389 bulls and lions and so forth, figures with which he adorned his poetry, you shall see fit to compare the potters and cobblers of Socrates.

10 Dio. I shall, my dear fellow, since indeed we compare the fox of Archilochus​11 with the lions and leopards of Homer and declare it to be not at all, or not much, inferior. However, perhaps you disapprove also of such Homeric similes as those in which he refers to starlings or daws or locusts or a firebrand or ashes or beans and chickpeas, or the one in which he has depicted men winnowing​1211 perhaps these seem to they to be the most inferior portions of Homer's work, while you admire only his lions and eagles and Scyllas and Cyclopes, with which he was wont to beguile stupid people, just as nurses beguile children with tales of the Lamia.​13 Indeed, just as Homer through myths and history undertook to instruct human beings, who are very troublesome to instruct, so also Socrates often used this sort of device, sometimes admitting that he was in earnest and sometimes pretending to be joking, with the aim of benefiting mankind — though in so doing he perhaps came into conflict with mythologists and historians.14

12 Again, it was not without conscious purpose that he​15 represented Gorgias or Polus or Thrasymachus or Prodicus or Meno or Euthyphro or Anytus or Alcibiades or Laches as speaking, when he might have omitted their names; on the contrary, he  p391 knew that by this device most of all he would benefit his hearers, if perchance they grasped the point; for to comprehend human beings from their words, or their words from human beings, is not an easy task for any but philosophers and educated persons. On the other hand, most men suppose that such items​16 are purposeless, and they regard them as mere vexation and nonsense. 13 But Socrates held that, every time he introduces a boastful man, he is speaking of boastfulness; every time he introduces a shameless, loathsome man, he is speaking of shamelessness and loathsomeness; every time he introduces an unreasonable, irascible man, he is turning his hearers against unreason and anger. Moreover, in all other cases similarly he revealed the true nature of the passions and maladies of men in the persons of the very ones who were afflicted by the passions or the maladies more distinctly than if he were using the words by themselves.

14 But it appears to me that he took this too from Homer. For example, when Homer tells about Dolon, how he conceived a longing for the horses of Achilles, and how, when he might have fled from the enemy, he halted with his lance planted close beside him and obtained no benefit from his fleetness, and how his teeth chattered and struck together from terror, and how he talked to the enemy, not only when they asked him a question, but even on topics about which no one was inquiring — for instance, he gave information about the Thracian horses and about Rhesus, of whose arrival no one knew​17 — by telling all this so very plainly does Homer not seem to you to be discoursing on cowardice and love of notoriety?

 p393  15 And again, when he tells about Pandarus, how he violated the truce in the hope of rewards from Alexander son of Priam, and how he not only failed to slay Menelaüs by his shot, although reputed but an able bowman,​18 but also by violating the truce made the Trojans more discouraged as to the war through their constant recollection of their broken oaths — as witness these lines:

But now we fight as traitors to our oaths;

On that account 'tis not so well for us​19 —

16 and how not much later his tongue was cut off and he died before ever Alexander could even put into words his gratitude to him​20 — in recounting these things with such scrupulous attention to detail, does Homer appear to you to be talking of anything else than of bribe-taking and impiety and in general of folly? Why, Pandarus even cursed his arrows and threatened to smash and burn them, as if the arrows were in fear of him!21

17 Take another example. When Homer says of Asius son of Hyrtacus that, after his commander​22 had given orders to leave the horses outside the trench, he alone did not obey,

But with them neared the speedy ships, the fool!

Nor was he fated, dodging the spirits dire,

To come again, exulting in team and car,

Back from the ships to wind-swept Ilium,​23

18 driving into such difficult terrain amid trench and wall and ships, where even the men on foot found it not to their advantage when caught by the foe, but most of them were slaughtered when a small rescue party24  p395 issued from within the gate; yet Asius, elated as he was by his horses and the beauty of his chariot, though thinking to drive past the wall, was prepared to plunge into the sea and to fight from his chariot — think you not that Homer then is speaking of disobedience and boastfulness?

19 On the other hand, when he contrasts with these Polydamas giving orders to be cautious and not to cross the trench, pointing now to the enterprise as a risky venture​25 and now to the omen they had had​26 — for he felt that, while no one would listen to his words in any other way, perhaps by the omen he might persuade Hector; or, to take another illustration, when, as Agamemnon and Achilles are reviling one another, Homer depicts Nestor as trying to make them cease their rage, and foretelling plainly what will befall them in consequence of their strife,​27 and later upbraiding Agamemnon as being in the wrong and forcing him to entreat Achilles;​28 or again, Odysseus setting right the blunder of Agamemnon​29 through which, while wishing to test the army to see how it stood the war's delay, he almost brought about its flight — is it not likely that by scenes like these Homer is trying to give advice regarding prudence and general­ship and prophecy, and more than this, regarding tact and tactlessness?

20 As for the Odyssey, while I shall omit all else, I shall recall just one character, Antinoüs. For Homer has portrayed him as the most braggart of the suitors and the most dissolute. For example, in the first place he scorned Odysseus because he was in rags,  p397 while Antinoüs himself in costly raiment was drinking from golden goblets — and those not his own — and was dining sumptuously, not on his father's viands, but rather playing the parasite in a house that lacked a master;​30 moreover, while he professed to be enamoured of Penelopê, he was seducing the maidservants of Odysseus and behaving licentiously in general; 21 and he ended by attempting to draw the bow, though he was unacquainted with archery and his hands were so spoiled by dainty living as not to be able to grasp the bow-string unless some smeared it with tallow;​31 and what is more, he did this in the sight of Odysseus and in the presence of the object of his wooing, in the midst of such a crowd of men, not even being able to bend the bow, nor understanding how Telemachus was going to set up the axes.​32 But for all that, Homer caused this man also​33 to meet his death by a telling blow through the throat, instead of in some chance spot, just as, you remember, he caused Pandarus to be smitten through the tongue.​34 For indeed if such things do take place by some chance, still in many instances it is possible to say that this man ought to die from a blow through the belly and that man through the genitals and another man through the mouth.

22 Well, then, Homer does not seem to you to say anything without a purpose, does he? No more, then, did Socrates employ his words or illustrations at random; on the contrary, when conversing with  p399 Anytus he would refer to tanners and cobblers; but if he conversed with Lysicles, it would be lambs and fleeces; if with Lycon, law-suits and blackmail; if with Meno the Thessalian, lovers and boy friends.35

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Pausanias (8.42.10) associates Hegias with Ageladas, the reputed teacher of Pheidias.

2 Aristophon. Cf. Plato, Gorgias 448B.

3 Only a few words of his are extant. His date is such that he might have influenced Pythagoras. However, the ancients were fond of setting up such relation­ships.

4 Cf. Theogony 22‑23. Hesiod is the first Greek writer to supply autobiographical information. The little mountain hamlet of Ascra, north of Helicon, owes its fame solely to its having been his home and to his uncomplimentary words about it in Works and Days 640: Ἄσκρῇ, χεῖμα κακῇ, θέρει ἀργαλέῃ, οὐδέ ποτ’ ἐσθλῇ.

5 Fire had figured to some extent in the doctrine of early Milesian philosophers, but the importance which Heracleitus attached to it in a way justifies his proud boast.

6 His father Sophroniscus was a carver of statues. According to tradition a group of the Graces carved by Socrates stood near the entrance to the Acropolis.

7 Diogenes Laertius (2.16) reports that Archelaüs was a pupil of Anaxagoras and a teacher of Socrates. His tenet that ethical standards are due, not to Nature, but to convention is certainly diametrically opposed to the philosophy of Socrates.

8 The anonymous treatise, de Sublimitate (13.3), calls both Stesichorus and Archilochus "most Homeric," and Simonides (frag. 61) says that Homer and Stesichorus "sang to the peoples." Archilochus, the reputed inventor of iambic verse, used a variety of metres, his nearest approach to the verse of Homer being the elegiac distich.

9 Cf. Plato, Apology 21 ἀνεῖλεν οὖν ἡ Πυθία μηδένα σοφώτερον εἶναι.

10 Cf. Or. 54.4.

11 Archilochus was famed for his beast fables. Some fragments of his "fox" are found in Edmonds, Elegy and Iambus, II, p145, L. C. L.

12 Iliad 5.499‑500 and 13.588‑592.

13 Lamia was supposed to be a disappointed mother who went about stealing children.

14 Because he took liberties with their material?

15 Dio, like Lucian, here blends in one Socrates and Plato.

16 I.e., the remarks of the minor participants in the dialogue.

17 The Dolon episode is found in Iliad 10.299‑464.

18 Iliad 4.92‑187.

19 Ibid. 7.351‑352.

20 Ibid. 5.290‑296.

21 Ibid. 5.209‑216.

22 Polydamas.

23 Iliad 12.112‑115.

24 The "small rescue party" consisted of the two heroes Polypoetes and Leonteus. Cf. Iliad 12.129‑136.

25 Iliad 12.60‑79.

26 Ibid. 12.210‑229.

27 Ibid. 1.247‑284.

28 Ibid. 9.96‑172.

29 Ibid. 2.182‑210 and 243‑332.

30 E.g.Odyssey 17.445‑504.

31 Ibid. 21.175‑187.

32 Ibid. 21.122‑183. Dio either misunderstood — or forgot — the passage or else had a different version before him, for Homer is speaking of the wonder of the suitors at the skill of Telemachus in what was to them a novel use of the axes.

33 Dio is still thinking of the fate of Asius, slain by Idomeneus with a thrust through the throat, as Antinoüs was slain by Odysseus.

34 Iliad 5.290‑293.

35 Anytus and Lycon were two of the accusers of Socrates. Anytus had a tannery (Xenophon, Apology 29), but Socrates did not talk with him exclusively on tanning (Meno 90B‑95A). Of Lycon we know chiefly what the comic poets tell us — he was of foreign extraction and mingled with certain aristocrats. Plutarch, Pericles 24, says that Lysicles was a low-born sheep dealer, who attained some prominence through Aspasia. Aristophanes speaks of him slightingly in Knights 132 and 765. We know nothing of his dealings with Socrates. On Meno cf. Plato, Meno 70A and 76B.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 28 Jan 18