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Discourse 70

This webpage reproduces one of the

Dio Chrysostom

published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1951

The text is in the public domain.

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Discourse 72

(Vol. V) Dio Chrysostom

 p161  The Seventy-first Discourse: On the Philosopher

In this Discourse Dio examines the statement that "the philosopher should be remarkable in everything." As examples of versatility he considers Hippias of Elis, the well-known sophist, and Odysseus, each of whom exhibited a high degree of skill in both intellectual and manual pursuits. While admitting their claim to excellence, Dio maintains that the philosopher should be able to excel all men above all in "acting, or not acting, advantageously, and in knowing when to act and where and the right moment better than the craftsman, and also in knowing what is possible of achievement." This dictum (§ 6) is illustrated by reference to Daedalus and other skilled artificers, who failed of real excellence because they were ignorant in just those respects. The Discourse concludes with a sarcastic allusion to Nero's varied ambitions.

 p163  The Seventy-first Discourse:
On the Philosopher

There are those who say that the philosopher should be remarkable in everything in any surroundings; moreover, they say that he should be very able in conversation with men and never keep silent or be at a loss before those in his company for lack of such language as will be capable of pleasing them; otherwise, they say, he who is not thus equipped is an ignoramus and worth but little. But I say that, though some of their statements are just and truthful, some are not. 2 For that the philosopher should in every situation be superior to all others, it seems to me they are right in demanding — unless they mean that he must not only know all the crafts but also, in accordance with the rules of the craft, produce everything better than the craftsmen, both building houses and making boats and working as a smith and weaving and farming. For example, Hippias of Elis claimed to be the wisest of the Greeks, for both at the Olympic Games and at the other national gatherings of the Greeks he produced poems of every style and speeches which he had composed of divers kinds, but he also displayed other products of his — his ring, his oil-flask and strigil, his mantle, and  p165 his girdle — boasting that he had made them all himself, displaying them to the Greeks as a kind of firstfruits of his wisdom.1

3 And Homer too, I venture to remark, has represented Odysseus, not merely as pre-eminent and judgement and in his ability to plan concerning practical matters, not merely as a most able speaker,2 whether in a crowd or before a few or before only one person — yes, by Heaven, both in assembly and over the wine-cups and on occasions when walking with somebody on a journey — whether in the presence of king or of commoner, freeman or slave, no matter whether he was himself held in honour and recognized as king or, on the other hand, unknown and a beggar, and, moreover, alike when addressing either man or woman or maiden; but he also makes him pre-eminent for his knowledge of the art of combat, and he has even represented him as skilled in all such crafts as those of the joiner, the carpenter, and the shipwright. 4 For instance, how could Odysseus have constructed his bed by cutting off the trunk of an olive tree if he were not acquainted with the joiner's art?3 How could he have enclosed his bed-chamber if he had not been acquainted with the builder's art? How could he have built his raft if he had not understood ship-building?4 As for the operations connected with planting and husbandry, he obviously had shown a serious interest in all that from his very boyhood, since he begged his father for trees and vines;5 and especially, since his father was a very careful and experienced farmer, it was to be  p167 expected that Odysseus would not be ignorant of these matters, yes, he even challenges Eurymachus to a contest in both reaping and ploughing.6 Why, Odysseus claims to be acquainted also with such matters as cookery and wine-serving and all other departments of domestic service, matters wherein he says that those of lower rank serve the nobles.7

5 Very well, in these respects no doubt Hippias and Odysseus were a clever pair; but I say that the philosopher, while unable to know every one of the crafts — for it is difficult to be thoroughly proficient in the practice of even one — nevertheless could do everything, no matter what he might be doing, better than anybody else, even though from the point of view of the crafts, if he really is ever compelled to tackle anything of that nature, he is not superior when measured by the standard of craftsmanship. For this is an impossibility, that the layman should produce anything better than the joiner by the standard of the joiner's craft, or that one who lacks experience in farming should be found more expert than the farmer in performing any of the tasks of the farmer.

6 Wherein, then, would the philosopher be superior? It would be in his acting, or not acting, advantageously, and in his knowing when to act and where and the right moment better than the craftsman, and also in his knowing what is possible of achievement. For instance, I believe that Daedalus did not build his Labyrinth in Crete well — entering which his fellow citizens, both male and female, met their death8 — for he did not build it justly. And besides, in abetting the malady of Pasiphaë he wrought not  p169 rightly; for it was not advantageous nor was it just or honourable to lend such aid or to invent devices for ends which were shameful and impious.9 And even when he equipped Icarus with wings — if we are to believe the tale — I say he did not do well to invent this device; for he was attempting the impossible when he attached wings to a human being. Accordingly he wrought the death of his son.

7 But apparently Homer too says harsh things of a certain builder among the Trojans, as not having done well when he built for Alexander the ships with which he sailed to Hellas — though he has no fault to find with him on the score of craftsmanship. For this is what he says:

Who built for Paris well-proportioned ships,

Sources of ill,10

not lauding him for his construction of the ships, but rather censuring him much more severely than if, by saying that he had made the ships either slow or with some other defect, he had censured him for ship-building. And Homer in similar fashion censures also a certain huntsman11 and ridicules his skill, because he had acquired it to no good purpose, but, on the contrary, while the man knew how to shoot wild beasts, in warfare he could not hit any one but was useless because of his cowardice, and  p171 he adds that on the occasion in question Artemis did not aid him.

8 From these illustrations, therefore, it is evident that there is need of wisdom and virtue as applied both to what men know and also to what they do not know; and thus it is that the prudent man, such as the philosopher should be, would in everything be superior to all the world, whether in doing any of these things or in not doing, no matter how he performs according to the standards of the craft. But that he will paint better than the painter when not himself a painter; or that he will tend the sick better than the physician, as measured by the standards of art, when himself not a physician; or that he will sing more musically than the musicians when unacquainted with the art of music or only slightly acquainted; or that he will show himself better versed than the arithmeticians in the theory of numbers, or than the surveyors in surveying, or than the farmers in planting, or than the pilots in piloting; or that he will slaughter an animal more expeditiously than the butchers, or, should it be necessary to cut it up, do so more expeditiously than those who have made this very thing their profession — such things are not to be expected.

9 And yet a certain king of our times had the ambition to be wise in this sort of wisdom,12 believing that he had knowledge of very many things — not, however, of such things as do not receive applause among men, but rather those for which it is possible to win a crown — I mean acting as a herald, singing to the cithara, reciting tragedies, wrestling, and taking part in the pancration. Besides, they say that he could  p173 paint and fashion statues and play the pipe, both by means of his lips and by tucking a skin beneath his armpits13 with a view to avoiding the reproach of Athena!14 Was he not, then, a wise man?

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 The versatility of Hippias, well-known sophist of the fifth century, was a familiar topic: cf. Plato, Hippias Minor 368B‑D.

2 See especially Homer's tribute to his oratory in Iliad 3.216‑224.

3 Odyssey 23.184‑204.

4 Ibid. 5.234‑261.

5 Ibid. 24.336‑344.

6 Odyssey 18.366‑375.

7 Ibid. 15.319‑324.

8 The Athenian youths and maidens sent every ninth year to King Minos.

9 Pasiphaë, wife of Minos, had been cursed by Poseidon with unnatural lust for the bull which he had sent Minos. Daedalus helped her to satisfy that lust; cf. Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3.1.4.

10 Iliad 5.62‑63, speaking of Phereclus. The context (59‑64) does testify to his skill, for the poet troubles to give his lineage — "son of Carpenter, son of Joiner," and it is said that "Athena loved him exceedingly"; he is excused on the ground that he did not know the will of the gods.

11 Scamandrius; cf. Iliad 5.49‑58. Artemis had taught him the art of hunting. As to his cowardice, Homer only says that he fled before Menelaüs, as did many another.

12 Nero.

13 Evidently a sort of bagpipe; cf. Guhl and Koner, Life of the Greeks and Romans, fig. 242.

14 Aphrodite joked Athena because her piping made her puff out her cheeks and thus spoiled her beauty, whereupon Athena in disgust cast the pipes on the ground. The bagpipe enabled Nero to avoid such facial distortion.

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