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Discourse 71

This webpage reproduces one of the

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 73

(Vol. V) Dio Chrysostom

p174 The Seventy-second Discourse: On Personal Appearance

In this Discourse Dio is defending what he considers to be the typical appearance of philosophers — the himation, or cloak, unaccompanied by the tunic generally worn next to the body, and long hair and beard. We learn that those who presented such an appearance were commonly subjected to insult and mockery and even to physical violence. And yet, as he tells us, philosophers — or pseudo-philosophers — were a more familiar spectacle with his hearers than shoemakers or fullers or jesters or the followers of any other calling. It is argued that the philosopher can find a precedent for his appearance in the statues of both gods and generals and kings, none of which excites amusement or resentment on the part of the beholder. Furthermore, the city in which he is speaking tolerates the sight of many outlandish costumes. This leads to the conjecture that the reason why the philosopher is singled out for insult is that men are inclined to view him with distrust, feeling that he is critical of them, and being actuated, as one might say, by an inferiority complex. Sometimes also the philosopher is subjected to annoyance by those who expect to hear from him words of wisdom. Reference to this type of annoyance leads naturally to the telling the fable of the owl and the birds, a fable more briefly sketched in Or. 12.7 but preserved nowhere else. The moral of the fable is that it is risky to trust to appearances, for, though the owl of the fable was truly wise, the owl of Dio's day resembled her only in "feathers, eyes, and beak," and actually served as decoy for other fowl.

In what city was this Discourse delivered? Arnim argues p175with much plausibility that it must have been Rome; for in §§ 3‑4 we are told that foreigners in most outlandish dress, who came from remote parts of the empire, were a common spectacle about the streets; furthermore, we are told in § 5 that the local type of cult statue differed from that found in Egypt and Phoenicia but was identical with the Greek type; and, lastly, § 6 shows clearly that the city in question was not Greek. No other city seems to suit these clues so well as Rome. It is suggested that Dio is speaking there on his first visit following his return from exile.

p177 The Seventy-second Discourse:
On Personal Appearance

Why on earth is it that, whenever men see somebody wearing a tunic and nothing more, they neither notice him nor make sport of him? Possibly because they reason that the fellow is a sailor and that there is no occasion to mock him on this account. Similarly, if they should spy some one wearing the garb of a farmer or of a shepherd — that is, wearing an exomis1 or wrapped in a hide or muffled in a kosymba2 — that are not irritated, nay, they do not even notice it to begin with, feeling that the garb is appropriate to the man who follows such a calling. 2 Take our tavern-keepers too; though people day after day see them in front of their taverns with their tunics belted high, they never jeer at them but, on the contrary, they would make fun of them if they were not so attired, considering that their appearance is peculiarly suited to their occupation. But when they see some one in a cloak but no tunic,3 with flowing hair and beard, they find it impossible to keep quiet in his presence or to pass by in silence; instead, they step up to him and try to irritate him and either mock at him or speak insultingly, or sometimes they catch hold p179of him and try to drag him off, provided they see one who is not himself very strong and note that no one else is at hand to help him; and they do this although they know that the garb he wears is customary with the philosophers, as they are called, yes, as one might say, has been prescribed for them.

3 But what is even more astounding still is this. Here in your city4 from time to time are to be seen persons, some of whom are wearing felt caps on their heads — as to‑day certain of the Thracians who are called Getae5 do, and as Spartans and Macedonians used to do in days gone by — and others wearing a turban and trousers, as I understand Persians and Bactrians and Parthians and many other barbarians do; and some, still more outlandish than these, are accustomed to visit your city wearing feathers erect on their heads, for instance the Nasamonians;6 yet the citizens do not have the effrontery to make any trouble at all even for these, or to approach and annoy them. And yet as for Getae or Persians or Nasamonians, while some of them are seen here in no great numbers and others rarely visit here, 4 the whole world to‑day is virtually crowded with persons such as I have described,7 yes, I might almost say that they have grown more numerous than the shoemakers and fullers and jesters or the workers at any other occupation whatever. Therefore in our day too possibly it could be said with good reason that every catboat is under sail and every cow is dragging a plow.8

p181 5 Moreover, it is not for the above reason alone that this spectacle is familiar to them, nay, they also have before their eyes the statues in the temples — as, for example, statues of Zeus and Poseidon and many other gods — arrayed in this type of costume.9 For while among Egyptians and Phoenicians and certain other barbarians you do not find the same type of statues as you do, I believe, among the Greeks, but far different, here you find the same. Likenesses of men too, citizens of your city, they have before their eyes both in the market-place and in the temples, likenesses of generals and kings set up in this guise with flowing beards. By why need I tell you all this? 6 For I might almost say that most of the Greeks also feel as you do about this matter, and their familiarity with the sight does not keep them from teasing or even insulting whenever they spy a man of that appearance — I mean, whenever they see one of the common sort of no repute, whom they do not fear as being able to retaliate; for of course those who have that ability they virtually cringe before and admire!

Well, possibly what goes on is like this: the sailors and the farmers and shepherds, yes, and the Persians and Nasamonians too, the people believe do not look down on them or have any concern with them, and so they do not give them a thought. 7 The philosophers, however, they view with misgivings, suspecting that they scorn them and attribute to them vast ignorance and misfortune; and they suspect that, though the philosophers do not laugh at them in public, privately among themselves they view them in that light, p183holding that the unenlightened are all pitiable creatures, beginning, in fact, with those who are reputed to be rich and prosperous, persons whom these mockers themselves envy and believe to be little different from the gods in felicity; furthermore, they suspect that these philosophers disparage and ridicule them as being extravagant in eating and drinking, as wanting a soft bed to sleep on and the company of young women and boys whenever they repose, and plenty of money, and to be admired and looked up to by the mob, things which they believe to be more important and better than anything else.

8 Because of this suspicion they of course dislike those who do not admire or prize the same things as they do and do not hold the same opinion about the things of chief importance. Therefore they seize for themselves the initiative in reviling and jeering at the philosophers as being luckless and foolish, knowing that if they succeed in showing that the philosophers are senseless and daft they will at the same time also prove themselves to be prudent and sensible; whereas if they give way to them, recognizing that the philosophers know what they should and are highly estimable, at the same time they will be admitting that they themselves are luckless and thick-witted and know absolutely none of the things free men should.

9 Again, if they see a man rigged out as a sailor, they know that he is about to put to sea, and if they see some one else rigged out as a farmer, they know that he is about to engage in farming, and of course they know also that he who is clad in shepherd's garb is on his way to his sheep and will spend his p185time attending to them, and so, since they are not irritated by any of these, they let them alone; but when they see a man in the garb of the philosopher, they reason in his case that it is not for sailing or for farming or for tending sheep that he is thus arrayed, but rather that he has got himself ready to deal with human beings, aiming to admonish them and put them to the test and not to flatter or to spare any one of them, but, on the contrary, aiming to reprove them to best of his ability by his words and to show what sort of persons they are. 10 They cannot, therefore, look upon the philosophers with any pleasure, but instead they clash with them and fight with them, just as boys too cannot look with pleasure upon any whom they see in the guise of tutors and prepared as if they meant to rebuke them and not to allow them to go astray or be careless. In truth, if the boys were at liberty to mock at and insult such persons, there is nothing they would rather do than that.

However, not all have this motive in coming up and making themselves a nuisance; on the contrary, there are persons who indulge in this kind of curiosity and, in a way, are not bad persons either. 11 These approach any whom, because of their dress, they take to be philosophers, expecting to hear from them some bit of wisdom which they could not hear from any one else, because they have heard regarding Socrates that he was not only wise but also accustomed to speak words of wisdom to those who approached him, and also regarding Diogenes, that he too was well provided with statement and answer on each and every topic. And the masses still p187remember the sayings of Diogenes, some of which he may have spoken himself, though some too were composed by others.

12 Indeed, as for the maxims of the Seven Sages, they hear that these were even inscribed as dedications at Delphi in days gone by, firstfruits, as it were, of the wisdom of those men and at the same time intended for the edification of mankind, the idea being that these maxims were truly divine, and if I may say so, even more divine than the responses which the Pythian priestess was wont to give as she sat upon her tripod and filled herself with the breath of the god. For the response which is made to each for himself he listens to and then goes his way, and such responses are not dedicated and thereby made known to all mankind too; but the maxims of the Seven Sages have been appointed for the common use of all who visit the god, as being profitable for all alike to know and to obey.10

13 And there are those who think that Aesop too was somewhat like the Seven Sages, that while he was wise and sensible, yet he was crafty too and clever at composing tales such as they themselves would most enjoy to hear.11 And possibly they are not wholly mistaken in their suppositions and in reality Aesop did in this way try to admonish mankind and show them wherein they were in error, believing that they would be most tolerant toward him if they were amused by his humour and his tales — just as children, when their nurses tell them stories, not only pay attention to them but are amused as well. As the result, then, of this belief, p189that they are going to hear from us too some such saying as Aesop used to utter, or Socrates, or Diogenes, they draw near and annoy and cannot leave in peace whomever they may see in this costume, any more than the birds can when they see an owl.

14 Indeed, this is why Aesop composed a fable which I will relate. The birds came together to call upon the owl, and they begged her to withdraw from the shelter afforded by the human habitations and to transfer her nest to the trees, just like themselves, and to their branches, "whence," they declared, "it is actually possible to sing a clearer note." And in fact, as the fable has it, they stood ready to settle upon an oak, which was just then starting to grow, as soon as it should reach its prime, and to enjoy its green foliage. However, the story continues, the owl advised the birds not to do this and not to exult in the shoot of a plant whose nature it is to bear mistletoe, a bane to feathered folk. 15 But the birds not only did not applaud the owl for her advice, but, quite the reverse, they took delight in the oak as it grew, and when it was of proper size they alighted on it and sang. But because the mistletoe had grown on it, they now were easily captured by the men and repented of their conduct and admired the owl for her advice. And even to this day they feel this way about her, believing her to be shrewd and wise, and on this account they wish to get near her, believing that they are deriving some benefit from association with her; but if they do, they will approach her, I fancy, all in vain and to their cost. For though that p191owl of olden days was really wise and able to give advice, those of to‑day merely have her feathers, eyes, and beak, but in all else they are more foolish than the other birds. 16 Therefore they cannot benefit even themselves; for otherwise they would not be kept at the bird-catcher's, caged and in servitude.12

Just so, though each of us has the garb of Socrates and Diogenes, in intellect we are far from being like those famous men, or from living as they did, or from uttering such noble thoughts. Therefore, for no other reason than because of our personal appearance, we, like the owls, collect a great company of those who in truth are birds, being fools ourselves besides being annoyed by others of like folly.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 A variety of tunic which left the right shoulder bare and therefore was appropriate for most labourers.

2 This word occurs nowhere else except in the lexica. The context and the meaning attached to a few related words suggest a sort of poncho with a tasselled border.

3 Socrates is reported to have followed this custom.

4 Presumably Rome; cf. Introduction.

5 A tribe in southern Russia which seems to have piqued the curiosity of Dio. He wrote a special treatise on them, but it is no longer extant.

6 A people occupying part of the Libyan coast between the modern towns of Tripoli and Bengazi. Herodotus speaks of them in his account of Egypt (2.32).

7 The philosophers with their long hair and beard and no tunic.

8 A manifest proverb whose present aim is to ridicule the prevalence of the so‑called philosophers of § 2.

9 Greek statues of male deities, when clad at all, wore only a cloak (himation), usually loosely draped; female deities were rarely represented in the nude, their statues commonly wearing the tunic, over which in many instances was draped the himation.

10 Cf. Plato, Protagoras 342E‑343B, which Dio seems to have in mind, and Pausanias 10.24.1. The only sayings expressly stated to have been inscribed at Delphi are the most famous of all — know thyself and nothing in excess.

11 Aesop was frequently associated with the Seven Sages. The homely wisdom of his beast fables appealed strongly to the Greeks. Aristophanes drew upon them from time to time. The earliest known example of this type of fable is Hesiod's Hawk and Nightingale, Works and Days 202‑212.

12 Dio employs this fable of Aesop's also in Or. 12.6‑8.

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