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Discourse 55

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 57

(Vol. IV) Dio Chrysostom
Discourses

p401 The Fifty-sixth Discourse:
Agamemnon or On Kingship

This document, like the one preceding, appears to be a transcript of a conversation between Dio and an unnamed pupil. In his opening sentence Dio proposes Agamemnon as a topic likely to improve the mind. Having secured the pupil's acceptance of that theme, he proceeds, in true Platonic fashion, to elicit a definition of the word king; "he who exercises general supervision of human beings and gives them orders without being accountable to them." That definition having been obtained, he demolishes it by calling attention, first to the restraint imposed upon the kings at Sparta by the ephors, and then to Agamemnon's dependence upon Nestor and his council of elders. Having seemingly induced the pupil to concede the point, Dio suddenly suggests that they drop the question, as having been dealt with adequately the day before, and turn to something else. The pupil protests that he is just beginning to understand what Dio has in mind and is eager for a full discussion, but our document goes no farther. Either the reporter decided for some unknown reason to stop at that point or Dio's literary executor felt that this much was sufficient to illustrate this particular theme. The various aspects of kingship are considered by Dio not only in the first four orations in our collection — assigned by Arnim to the opening years of Trajan's reign — but, at least incidentally, in several others.

p403 The Fifty-sixth Discourse:
Agamemnon or On Kingship

1 Dio. Do you wish to hear words of practical wisdom on the subject of Agamemnon, words by which the mind can be improved, or does it annoy you to have Agamemnon son of Atreus named in my discussions?

Interlocutor. Not even if you should speak of Adrastus son of Talaüs or of Tantalus or of Pelops, should I be annoyed, provided I am likely to be improved.1

Dio. Very well, I have just called to mind certain words which I might speak, if you would consent to answer when I question you.

Proceed, for I will answer.

2 Dio. Are there certain persons who are rulers of men, just as there are some who are rulers of goats, others of swine, others of horses, others of cattle, these one and all having in common the title herders; or have you not read this verse of Cratinus?

My post is herder; goats and kine I tend.2

Int. I could not tell you whether it is better to call all who tend animals herders or not.

Dio. Not merely those who tend brute beasts, my p405good fellow, but human beings too, if one should put any faith in Homer regarding these matters.3 But why did you not answer the original question?

Int. What question?

Dio. Whether there are indeed certain rulers of men.

Int. Why, of course there are.

3 Dio. Who are these? What do you call them? I am not speaking of those who rule soldiers in war, for those who are leaders of the army as a whole we are wont to call generals; just as also, considered unit by unit, the ruler of a company is called captain; of a regiment, colonel; of the fleet, admiral; and of a single trireme, trierarch; moreover, there are several others similarly named who in warfare exercise rule over small units,4 because at that time men need fullest care and leadership. 4 Nor, as it happens, am I asking what the leaders of the choruses are called, who give orders to the singers and set the tune,5 nor am I asking about the leaders of symposia,6 nor about any others who for a single act or for a set time assume a certain oversight and control over a group of men; on the contrary, I mean rather those who at any time rule human beings in their activities as citizens, or in their farming, it may be, or simply in their living, as Cyrus, for example, ruled the Persians, Deïoces7 the Medes, Hellen those named for p407him,8 Aeolus the Aeolians, Dorus the Dorians, Numa the Romans, and Dardanus the Phrygians.

5 Int. Why, your question is not a hard one; for all these whom you now name were called kings, and kings they were; and this rule of which you speak, whereby a man exercises general control over human beings and gives them orders without being account able to them, is called kingship.

Dio. Then you do not regard as kingship the rule of the Heracleidae, who were kings in Lacedaemon for so long a time?9 For they did not do everything according to their own pleasure, 6 but in many matters they were subject to the ephors, who, once this office had been established in Sparta in the reign of Theopompus,10 from their year of office had no less authority than the kings, insomuch that they wished to throw into prison even Pausanias son of Cleombrotus, the victor at Plataea, and when he had fled for refuge to the shrine of Athena, they killed him there,11 and it profited him nothing that he was of the line of the Heracleidae, or that he was guardian of a boy,12 or that he had been leader of all Hellas and not of Sparta alone. 7 And later on, when Agesilaüs was at war with the Great King and had been victorious in battle in the neighbourhood of Sardis and had gained control over all lower Asia, the ephors sent a subordinate to summon him home; p409and Agesilaüs did not delay a single day,13 although he had gained authority over so many Greeks and so many barbarians. Was Agesilaüs, then, not king of Sparta, since he was subject to other rulers?

Int. Why, how could these be kings in the strict sense of kingship?

8 Dio. Will you, then, hold that not even Agamemnon was king of both Argives and Achaeans at Ilium, since he had an older man as supervisor of his rule, Nestor of Pylus? Moreover, it was at that man's bidding that the wall about the ships was built and the trench dug about it as protection for the naval station,14 and at his direction too Agamemnon divided the army into detachments, though previously, as it would seem, it had fought without organization, both infantry and cavalry, all being mixed together in confusion, both Pylians and Argives and Arcadians and Boeotians. However, Nestor later bade him divide the army by tribes,

That phratry may aid phratry and tribe aid tribe.15

9 "Moreover," said he, "in this way wilt thou recognize both the valorous and the cowardly among thy leaders" — but if among the leaders, obviously among the common soldiers too — and at the same time he explained the magnitude of the advantage that would result.

Int. And with what purpose did Nestor do this?

Dio. In order that even after Nestor's death Agamemnon might understand the art of generalship. But Agamemnon was so wholly obedient to Nestor that he not only did eagerly anything Nestor commanded p411in person, but even if in a dream he imagined that Nestor was saying something, he would not disregard that either. For instance, the dream about the battle deceived him in this way, because of its resemblance to Nestor.16

10 However, he was not only obedient to Nestor, who was deemed the wisest of the Achaeans, but also he would not attempt anything without the elders. For instance, when he was about to lead forth his army in obedience to the dream, he did not do so until the council of the elders had held a session by the ship of Nestor.17 Moreover, with regard to the test which he wished to make of the army, to see if it was willing to remain longer and fight it out despite the wrath of Achilles, he did not make the test in any other way before first consulting the council.18 On the other hand, most demagogues do not hesitate to bring before the popular assembly measures which have not been passed upon by the council. Yet Agamemnon conferred with the elders, and only then reported to the soldiery on the state of the war.

11 Int. This is nothing strange, that, king though he was, he gave the others a chance to be heard and had an advisor who was trusted because of his years, though he himself had full authority in all matters. Else why did he act as he did in the matter of Briseïs instead of obeying the most noble Nestor?19

Dio. Why, it is just like the case of many men in private station who, not obeying their rulers or the laws, commit many unlawful acts, acts for which they p413even have to submit to an accounting; so when they are brought before the court they are subjected to whatever penalty they severally are thought to merit.

Int. Certainly.

12 Dio. Well then, does it not seem to you that Agamemnon, because he disobeyed on that occasion, was later called to account by Nestor? I refer to the passage in which Nestor accuses him of that act in the presence of the wisest of the allies, the leaders themselves, adding what he was to suffer or to pay by way of penalty, a most grievous assignment — for he was an able speaker — wherein he says he has long been troubled by Agamemnon's conduct:

13 E'er since that day, oh son of Zeus, when thou

Didst go and snatch Briseïs from the tent,

Despite Achilles' rage, and not at all

As I was minded. Many words I spake

Against it; yet to thy proud heart thou didst

Submit, dishonouring the bravest man,

Whom e'en the gods had honoured; for his prize

Thou hast by seizure; still let us plan e'en now.20

14 And, by the gods, he not only called him to account by his words but even laid upon him the heaviest penalty of all for his misconduct. For he bids him entreat Achilles and go to all lengths to persuade him. And Agamemnon, like men convicted in the courts, first makes a counter proposal of a fine, such as he says he is able to pay, as compensation for his insult; then, among other things, he undertakes to offer sacrifice and to swear an oath regarding Briseïs, that he has not even touched her since the day he took her from Achilles; 15 and in payment for merely p415having removed her from one tent to another, he offers to give much gold, horses, tripods, cauldron, women, and cities; and finally, thinking this not enough, he offers Achilles whichever of his three daughters he may desire to have as wife.21 Such a penalty no man had ever been condemned to undergo — in payment for a maidservant, and her a captive woman, although she had suffered no harm, to be forced to give his own daughter in marriage, together with a huge dower, and without any presents from the groom!22 In truth we know of no suit involving a man in private station that has received a more bitter decision than this one.

16 Does it seem to you, in Heaven's name, that Agamemnon ruled the Greeks without being subject to an accounting, and that he did not give very strict account for all he did? Very well, let us drop our discussion of these matters just here, since they were dealt with adequately yesterday, and let us turn to some other topic.

Int. Nay, by Heaven, rather try to say all you can upon the same topic, since I am now at last just beginning to understand the drift of your argument. For I imagine you wish to discuss government or kingship or some such thing.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Rightly or wrongly the Interlocutor assumes Dio to mean that Agamemnon might be regarded as too antiquated a theme. He therefore expresses willingness to hear about even more primitive heroes.

2 Kock, Com. Att. Frag., Cratinus, frag. 281.

3 Dio is alluding to Homer's frequent use of the phrase ποιμὴν λαῶν in connexion with heroes of the Iliad.

4 E.g., the ἐνωμοτάρχης, commander of a fourth of a company.

5 I.e.κορυφαῖος.

6 I.e.συμποσίαρχος.

7 Deïoces was probably an historical character. Herodotus (1.96‑102) regards him as the founder of a united kingdom, ruling Media for more than half a century.

8 I.e., the Hellenes.

9 The Spartan kings traced their lineage to Heracles, who had been given sovereignty over Lacedaemon by Aegimius, king of Thessaly.

10 Five ephors were elected annually. Some ancient authorities ascribed the institution of that office to Theopompus, others to Lycurgus. Their authority and functions are treated by Aristotle, Politics 5.9.1.

11 They walled up the shrine, so that he starved to death.

12 He was regent for Pleistarchus son of Leonidas.

13 For the recall of Agesilaüs, see Xenophon, Hellenica 4.2.1‑3.

14 Iliad 7.327‑344.

15 Ibid. 2.363, lines 364‑366 being added by Dio in paraphrase.

16 Iliad 2.16‑47. Homer treats the dream as a person serving as a messenger of Zeus and taking upon himself the likeness of Nestor.

17 Ibid. 2.53‑54.

18 Ibid. 2.72‑75.

19 Ibid. 1.275‑276.

20 Iliad 9.106‑112.

21 Iliad 9.114‑157.

22 The bride of epic days brought no dower. The astounding list of items promised by Agamemnon, not all of which are named by Dio, were in satisfaction for wounded pride. Possibly Dio was being facetious.


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Page updated: 25 Mar 12