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Discourse 61

This webpage reproduces one of the
Discourses

by
Dio Chrysostom

published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1951

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 63

(Vol. V) Dio Chrysostom
Discourses

p23 The Sixty-second Discourse: On Kingship and Tyranny

The complimentary address contained in §§ 1 and 3 of our Discourse could hardly have been intended for any one but Trajan. Yet the document is so abrupt in both beginning and ending and so brief when compared with the four treatises on kingship supposed to have been addressed to Trajan (Or. 1‑4) that it is difficult to imagine that it ever was delivered as a distinct entity in the form in which we have it. It is of course conceivable that we are dealing with a fragment of a fifth speech on kingship addressed to the much-enduring Trajan, but it is more likely that we have before us a variant version of a portion of one of the addresses just mentioned. Dio himself makes it plain (Or. 57.10‑12) that on occasion he took the liberty of repeating to other hearers speeches previously delivered before "the Emperor." On such an occasion he doubtless felt free to modify the original wording, and such a procedure would explain the existence of certain doublets in his text. We may conjecture that his editor, finding the substance of Or. 62 imbedded in such a variant version of one of the four speeches to which we have referred and not wishing to discard it, gave it independent existence here. Finally, it may be noted that, though the second element in the title, tyranny, is not specifically mentioned in our document, it is dealt with in Or. 3, and also that there is a notable similarity between Or. 3.10 and Or. 62.3.

p25 The Sixty-second Discourse:
On Kingship and Tyranny

And indeed, if a person is not competent to govern a single man, and that too a man who is very close to him, in fact his constant companion,1 and if, again, he cannot guide a single soul, and that his own, how could he be king, as you are,2 over unnumbered thousands scattered everywhere, many even dwelling at the ends of the earth, most of whom he has not even seen and never could see, and whose speech he will not understand? Why, it is as if one were to say of the man with vision so impaired that he cannot see even what lies at his feet but needs some one to lead him by the hand, that he can reach with his eyes the most distant objects, like those who at sea behold from afar both the mountains and the islands; or as if one were to say of the man who cannot make himself heard even by those who stand beside him, that he is able to speak so as to be heard by whole communities and armies. 2 In fact, the intellect has something comparable to vision — as vision, when it is ruined, can see nothing even of what is very near, although when in health it can reach sky and stars, just so the mind of the prudent man shows itself competent to direct all men whatsoever, whereas the mind of the fool cannot protect a single body, his own, or a single household.

p27 Take, for example, most men who hold unbridled power — because they have the power to obtain every thing, they crave everything; because justice is lodged in their hands, for this reason they are unjust; because they do not fear the laws, they do not even believe in their existence; because they are not compelled to labour, they never cease their luxurious living; because no one defends himself when maltreated, they never cease maltreating; because they lack no pleasure, they never get their fill of it; because no one censures them openly, they miss no occasion for unjust criticism; because no one wishes to hurt their feelings, for this reason they display ill-temper toward everyone; because they have it in their power to do anything when enraged, for this reason they are continually in a rage. 3 On the other hand, the good ruler, such as you are, practises the opposite conduct — he covets nothing for the reason that he feels he has everything; he is sparing in his pleasures for the reason that he would lack for no pleasure he might crave; he is more just than any other man inasmuch as he provides justice for all; he delights in labour because he labours of his own accord; he cherishes the laws because he does not fear them.

Moreover, he is right in reasoning so. For who needs ampler wisdom than he who deliberates on so many matters? Who needs stricter justice than he who is superior to the laws? Who needs more steadfast self-control than he to whom anything is permissible? 4 Who needs greater courage than he who is the preserver of all? Furthermore, he who is to govern many others needs, not only very great outlay of wealth, but also armies, both infantry and cavalry, p29and in addition fortifications, ships, and engines of war, if he is to control his subjects, defend himself against the foe, and, should some one try to revolt from his authority, reduce him to subjection. However, to control one's self is of all things least costly, least difficult, least dangerous; for neither costly nor laborious nor precarious is the life of the man of self-control; yet for all that, though so desirable, it is naturally the most difficult thing of all.

5 For instance, the famous Sardanapallus,3 whose name is a by‑word, held Nineveh and Babylon as well, the greatest cities that had yet existed, and all the nations which occupy the second continent,4 as far as what are called the uninhabited parts of the earth, were subject to him; but to kingship he could lay no claim, no more than could some rotting corpse. For the fact is, he neither would nor could take counsel or give judgement or lead troops. 6 On the contrary, it was his custom to slip away into the women's quarters in his palace and there sit with legs drawn up on a golden couch, sheltered by purple bed-hangings, just like the Adonis who is lamented by the women,5 his voice shriller than that of eunuchs, his neck lolling to one side, his face pale and twitching from indolence and living in the shade, his body livid, his eyes upturned as if he were being throttled — in short, one whom it would be impossible to distinguish from his concubines. And yet for a time, as it seemed, p31he maintained his empire,6 though it was drifting aimlessly, just as, for instance, a ship without a helmsman, roving on the sea, with no one in control, as fate directs, so long as fair weather holds; then, should a little sea arise, even a single wave easily swamps it. 7 Yes, and one may also see a chariot, with no one holding the reins, wobbling crazily in a race, a chariot which, while it could never win a victory, nevertheless throws into confusion and even works destruction in the mob of spectators near the course.

Nay, there will never be a foolish king any more than there could be a blind guide for a traveller; nor an unjust king any more than a crooked, uneven measuring-rod needing a second rod to set it straight; nor a timid king any more than a lion with the spirit of a deer, or than iron softer than wax or lead. On the contrary, to whom appropriately belongs a sterner self-control than to him who lives surrounded by the greatest number of pleasures, who administers the greatest number of affairs, who has the least leisure, and who is concerned over the greatest and most numerous problems?


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 I.e., the man himself.

2 Presumably Trajan; cf. § 3 and Introduction.

3 Assurbanipal, last of the great Assyrian rulers, 668‑625 B.C. Herodotus (2.150) speaks only of his wealth; Dio's account of his effeminacy and indolence may have been drawn from Ctesias. See Diodorus Siculus 2.23‑28.

4 Asia.

5 As early as the fifth century Athenian women honoured him with a two-day festival in which the lament was prominent; cf. Aristophanes, Lysistrata 389. A celebration in Alexandria forms the background of Theocritus' fifteenth idyl; cf. also Bion's Lament in Edmonds, Greek Bucolic Poets (L. C. L.), pp386‑395.

Thayer's Note: For a clearer look at the festival, and a different set of references altogether, see the article Adonia in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

6 Nineveh fell in 612 B.C., some years after the death of Assurbanipal. The story of Sardanapallus, as told by Ctesias, however, is not that of the historical ruler. In the Greek account Sardanapallus was the last king of the Assyrians, who burned himself together with his treasures and concubines when he foresaw the capture of Nineveh.


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