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Discourse 57

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 59

(Vol. IV) Dio Chrysostom
Discourses

p431 The Fifty-eighth Discourse:
Achilles

This lively little sketch, whose spirit resembles strongly that of many of the dialogues of Lucian, is regarded by Arnim as a paraphrase of some dramatic composition, either a satyr play or some Cynic tragedy. The space devoted to a discussion of the relative merits of hoplite and archer reminds him of a similar discussion in the Heracles of Euripides (157‑164 and 188‑203), a play supposed to have been composed about the year 420 B.C., and he therefore suspects Dio's original to have come from about that period, a period when, for some unknown reason, that topic was of live interest at Athens. Sophocles wrote a satyr play called Achilles' Lovers, which might have been the play here used by Dio.

The tradition according to which Cheiron the Centaur was tutor to Achilles is as old as Homer (Il. 11.830‑832). According to Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3.13.6‑8, Thetis, detected by Peleus in the act of making Achilles immortal by passing him through the fire, abandoned her baby and her home and rejoined the Nereids. Thereupon Peleus entrusted the babe to Cheiron. But when Achilles was nine years of age, Thetis, having heard of the prophecy of Calchas, that Troy could not be taken without the aid of Achilles, and knowing that if he took part in the expedition he would meet his death, took him and dressed him as a girl and placed him in the care of Lycomedes on the island of Scyros. We must, therefore, suppose the lad to be not older than nine at the time of our Discourse.

p433 The Fifty-eighth Discourse:
Achilles

Achilles questioned Cheiron and said, "Why are you teaching me to use the bow?" "Because," said he, "this too is one of the warlike accomplishments." "The accomplishment of cowards," retorted Achilles, "directed against cowards!" "How so?" returned Cheiron. "It does not allow the foe to come near," said Achilles. "It does not allow the foe to get far away," replied Cheiron. "The weapon belongs to men who flee." "Nay; instead it is directed at men who flee." "With his own hands a man should overpower those who flee." "More slowly or more quickly?" "As quickly as possible." "Then," said Cheiron, "could a man overpower more quickly by running or by flying?" "You don't mean overpower with his own hands, do you?" "Who does it then?" "The missile." 2 "But if you hurl a javelin," said Cheiron, "who overpowers?" "I don't know." "Well, when do you yourself overpower and slay? When you lay hold of your victim and tear him to pieces, as wild beasts do? Do you perhaps," said Cheiron, "regard the women as more manly, because they fight at very close quarters, hurling themselves at each other?" But Achilles, as he heard these words, was filled at one and the same time with rage and tears, and he abused Cheiron p435and said he was not going to stay with him any longer, but was going back to his father in Phthia to be educated at his court; for Peleus, he claimed, was much better than Cheiron and not a sophist like Cheiron. Now Achilles was then still a lad, not yet nearing the age of puberty.

3 "Why then," said Cheiron, "if he is better than I am, does he not educate you himself?" "Because," retorted Achilles, "he has no time for it." "Because of what?" "Because of his kingship." "Is being king, then, in any way more important than being a teacher?" "Much! But you — you offer me a bit of horn, a piece of sinew, and some tiny bits of iron attached to slender little reeds, as if I were going to hunt birds instead of giving battle to heroes or wild beasts. But any one would find out how wretched the weapons are if ever he came to close quarters and had to use them in hand-to‑hand conflict. Nay, with them a man must fight as he runs away, in constant terror, guarding against even being seen, like a cowardly slave; indeed, even if one should make a kill, he could not despoil his victim of his armour, nor will he ever be seen bespattered with his foeman's blood.1 That is the sort of stuff you are trying to teach me — how to use the bow and to strum the lyre; yes, and only the other day even to grub roots, as the witches do!"2

4 "Don't you like riding a horse either?" Cheiron asked him. "No, and I don't like you either," said he, "horsey creature that you are! For you seem to me to be better equipped for running away than for standing your ground." And Cheiron, flying into a rage at him, his mane bristling with anger, darting a terrible glance of menace like a flash of lightning, p437but with difficulty refraining from striking him, for he was disposed to be fond of him, cried out, 5 "You bad, bold brat of a briny mother, who has spoiled you vilely, puffing you up with pride of birth! yes, and your father has spoiled you still more than she has, with his tale of how the gods sang at his wedding; but the fact is, you have no connexion with either sea or sky!3 But let me tell you, a warrior you will never be, though you will have that reputation with the unthinking, nor even a leader of men, no matter where you may engage in warfare, for all that you are the son of Peleus and Thetis. Yet because of your audacity and fleetness of foot and physical strength men in flattery will call you most valiant of men.4 However, they will prefer to be ruled by other princes, while as for you, they will compel you by gifts and empty praises to do battle and risk your life for them until you finally meet your death. 6 But I fancy you will not even keep your hands off the dead; on the contrary, you will even stab the corpses and trail them in the dust,5 as if, in sooth, you were doing something grand, just as foolish youngsters drag round and round whatever they kill. But for all your arrogance, you will meet your death, not at the hands of some man of nobility, as you imagine; on the contrary, while you will find it easy to slay those who are like you, brave but stupid, you will be slain by a man of sagacity and military science, and, what is more, without ever having seen him."6


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Possibly a reminiscence of Hector's prayer in behalf of his son Astyanax, Iliad 6.480‑481.

2 Thessaly, the home of Achilles, was famed for its witches.

3 The unreasoning taunt of an angry man who has just taxed Achilles with being the son of a "briny mother."

4 Both Patroclus (Iliad 16.21) and Odysseus (Iliad 19.216) call him μέγα φέρτατ᾽ Ἀχαιῶν.

5 Referring of course to his treatment of the body of Hector (Iliad 22.395‑404 and 24.14‑21).

6 The cyclic epic, Aethiopis, now no longer extant, told of the slaying of Achilles by Paris, who was not "a man of nobility" in the moral sense of the word.


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