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Discourse 73

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 75

(Vol. V) Dio Chrysostom
Discourses

p207 The Seventy-fourth Discourse: On Distrust

This Discourse, as its title suggests, approaches the question of human relationships from a different angle from that observed in Or. 73. There the speaker was stressing the annoyances and misfortunes resulting from being trusted; here he produces a wealth of examples to show that it is dangerous to trust any one. That note of cynicism is maintained with remarkable consistency to the very end, and there is a ring of conviction about it all which suggests strongly that Dio is speaking out of the bitterness of his own heart. Arnim places the Discourse among those delivered during the period of Dio's exile. Because the element of dialogue is found only at the very opening of the document, he infers that Dio was addressing a group of listeners, one of whom bore to the speaker a closer relationship and therefore was helpful in launching the discussion. The abruptness with which the Discourse opens and closes is held to indicate, as in some other instances, that our text has been separated from its original setting, or possibly that the reporter chose only this much for preservation.

p209 The Seventy-fourth Discourse:
On Distrust

Dio. Are you aware that in the past there have been persons who have been harmed by enemies?

Interlocutor. Why, of course.

Dio. Well then, have they been harmed by so‑called friends and close acquaintances, or even by certain kinsmen, some even by the very closest, brothers or sons or fathers?

Int. Yes indeed, many have been.

Dio. What is the reason, then, that not only do enemies injure their enemies but also the so‑called friends injure one another, and, by Heaven, that many even of those who are so closely related act so?

Int. Clearly the reason is found in the depravity of mankind, because of which each, I imagine, is also himself harmful to himself.

Dio. Toward all men, then, one should be equally on his guard, and not be one whit more trustful even if a person is held to be a friend or a close acquaintance or a blood-relative?

Int. Toward all, as this statement of yours declares.

Dio. Then was the author of this verse right when he wrote,

Keep sober and remember to distrust;

These are the joints essential to the mind?1

2 Int. Probably he was.

p211 Dio. Furthermore, manifestly the poet is giving this advice, not to his enemies, but rather to those whom he considers friends. For surely those by whom one knows himself to be hated would not entrust with power against himself. How, then, could the poet be urging those to be distrusted whom he does not himself trust?

Well, then, let us consider the following question also. By whom have more persons been ruined — by those who are admittedly enemies, or, on the contrary, by those who profess to be friends? As for myself, I observe that of the cities which have been captured those which have been destroyed by traitors are more numerous than those which have been forcibly seized by the foe, and also that with human beings those who lodge complaints against their friends and close acquaintances are altogether more numerous than those who blame their enemies for their misfortunes; 3 and, furthermore, that whereas against the foe walls and fortresses have been provided for all — though sometimes no use has been made of these for many years — yet against their fellow citizens, against men who have a common share in the same sanctuaries and sacrifices and marriage rites, men who are fellow tribesmen with one another, fellow demesmen and kinsmen, the courts, the laws, and the magistracies have been provided. Furthermore, these institutions are never idle. At any rate the cities are always crowded with plaintiffs and defendants, with juries and litigants, and not even during their solemn festivals or in times of truce can men keep their hands off one another. At least they pass special laws regarding crimes committed during festivals, and they call these "holy laws," as if the p213name did any good! Yes, the war against depravity is unremitting for all against all, a war without truce and without herald; 4 but above all this war is joined between those who are close to one another.

Accordingly those who wish to live at peace and with some degree of security must beware of fellowship with human beings, must recognize that the average man is by nature prone to let others have a share in any evil, and that, no matter if one claims a thousand times to be a friend, he is not to be trusted. For with human beings there is no constancy or truthfulness at all; on the contrary, any man whom at the moment they prize above everything, even, it may be, above life itself, after a brief interval they deem their bitterest foe, and often they cannot refrain even from attacking his body. 5 For example, the lover slays his beloved because he loves him too much, as he imagines, but really because he has become enraged over some trivial matter. Others slay themselves, some involuntarily because of incontinence, and some voluntarily, since there is nothing in their life more extraordinary than their innate depravity. But enough of this, for the other injuries which each inflicts upon himself it obviously is impossible to examine in detail.

Then what kind of trust can one have in dealing with men like these, or what assurance? Or how could a person love me who does not love even himself? For the reply which was made to the Athenians on the occasion when, being in dire straits, they made some request concerning Samos, might well, I think, be made to those low persons who try to worm their way into one's friendship: "If one p215does not love himself, how can he love another, whether stranger or son or brother?"

6 What, then, must one do when some one makes a show of friendship, takes a solemn oath at the altar, and is almost eager to butcher himself there? He must listen, of course, immediately, and, by Zeus, possibly nod assent; yet at the same time be quite certain that not one of his protestations is valid. For example, when Electra beheld Orestes weeping and striving to draw her to him, at the moment she supposed that he had experienced some abatement of his madness, and yet she was far from trusting him entirely. At any rate shortly afterward, seeing him sore distraught, she exclaimed,

Ah me, dear brother, how confused thy glance,

How swiftly though hast changed!2

7 Again, one may often behold the sea so calm that, methinks, even the most timid would scorn it. What then? On that account should one have faith in it, and with neither anchors nor rudder nor all the other aids to safety put to sea? Nay, if Fortune so decrees, presently a gale will swoop down upon you and you will behold a mighty surge and

Enormous billows, huge as mountains are,

Curling and topped with foam;3

and the man who but now seems to you gentle and who makes much display of kindliness and zeal, when some chance occasion overtakes him you will find is savage and harsh and ready to work any and every mischief.

8 How many prayers do you suppose Medeia offered p217to the gods in behalf of her children, or how many times did she suffer agony when they were ill, or how often would she have chosen to give her own life in their stead? Yet she became their murderer.4 "Aye, by Zeus," someone will say, "in a fit of anger and jealousy." But do you not suppose that most of mankind could also become jealous, envious, apprehensive? Why, one might almost say that they are always and unceasingly in the grip of these emotions. Do not, therefore, trust those who say that they feel kindly toward you and that they never would abandon their affection for you. For just as the streamers which mark the breeze always flutter according to the quarter from which it blows, now in this direction and now in the opposite direction, in the same way the mood of the common herd shifts in response to each and every emotion.

9 Nobody trusts slaves when they make an agreement, for the reason that they are not their own masters; far more should one pay no heed to the agreements of such persons as I am describing. For in every respect human beings, because of their depravity, are farther removed from a state of freedom. The law does not permit one to make a contract with persons younger than a specified age on the ground that they are untrustworthy, nor, at Athens, may one have business dealings with a woman except to the extent of a measure of barley because of the weakness of female judgement. In fact, ordinary persons are no better than the very young, or rather than even the little boys, except in their bodily p219strength and their rascality; consequently they deserve to be distrusted more than those others.

10 It would indeed be a blessing if, just as one becomes successively a lad, a stripling, a youth, and an old man by the passing of time, one might also in the same way become wise and just and trustworthy. Yet it must be said that not one whit better than women of the meaner sort are the men who are depraved. They differ in body, not in mind. Accordingly, just as the women are not allowed by law to accept agreements involving too large a sum, but a limit has been set defining the amount to which they may do so, in the same way, I believe, we should also have dealings with the ordinary run of men so far as the things of least importance, but in actions of greater importance or in discussions about urgent matters or in the safeguarding of one's existence, never! 11 For the fact is, if they ever refrain from doing mischief for whatever reason, just as the wild beasts often are quiet when asleep or sated with food, though they have not discarded their own peculiar nature, similarly the masses too for a time do no harm, yet later when some pretext is presented they pay in full, as saying goes, both the interest and the principal of their villainy.

The Spartan, when in social gatherings certain persons offered to make a compact with him and invited him to take as a guarantee of their friendship whatever he might choose, replied that there was only one guarantee, namely, their inability to do harm even if they wished, but that all other guarantees were foolish and absolutely good for nothing. 12 That guarantee alone should one accept from the masses, no other. For the guarantee which consists in p221phrases, in acquaintanceship, in oaths, in kinship is laughable. Atreus was the brother of Thyestes and the uncle of the little boys whom he slaughtered;5 Eteocles and Polyneices were not only brothers according to the law, but also children of a son and his mother, the closest relationship possible; wherefore, if there were any utility in birth, these most of all should have loved each other; whereas, in the first place, he who had been trusted expelled the brother who had trusted him and robbed him of his country, 13 and after that they slew each other.6 Although Theseus was the father of Hippolytus and the son of Poseidon, persuaded by slanders he cursed his son and brought about his death.7 Priam, who previously had been notable for good fortune and who was king over so many tribes and so wide a domain —

Seaward as far as Lesbos, the abode

Of Macar, landward to Phrygia and the stream

Of boundless Hellespont —8

all because of his son9 and that son's incontinence became the most wretched man of all. Now these were men of rank, but how great a multitude do you suppose can be found in every city of the obscure and plebeian Atreuses and Thyesteses, some actually committing murder undetected, and some making p223plots of other kinds? 14 As for the Aëropês and Clytaemnestras and Stheneboeas, they are too numerous to mention.10

Well, such are the facts about family and domestic ties, but how about oaths? Pandarus gave an oath to Menelaüs, as did the other Trojans too, but none the less he wounded him.11 Did not Tissaphernes give an oath to Clearchus and his men? What! did not the Great King send them the royal gods and his plighted word?12 Again, take Philip of Macedon; just as any other weapon which was serviceable for his warfare, was he not always equipped with perjury too; and was he not always seizing the cities by means of these two devices, either violation of treaties or suborning of traitors?13 He found the former altogether more congenial; for while he had to give money to the traitors, to the gods he paid nothing in connexion with oaths. 15 As for Lysander the Spartan, they say that he gave as his opinion that boys should be deceived with knucklebones and balls, but men with oaths and phrases.14 But is the crafty fox at all different, as portrayed by Archilochus?15 And as for the oracle received p225by Glaucus, do you not imagine that most men had given that advice ere then, namely, to swear,

Since death awaits as well the man who keeps

His oath?16

Furthermore, while it has so happened that the persons just named and others like them achieved notoriety because of the great events in which they took part, with the less illustrious Glaucuses or Pandaruses "the marts are thronged and thronged the ways."17 This explains why they take neither Apollo nor Athena as counsellor in their perjury.18

16 But, you say, familiar acquaintance constitutes for mankind a great moral bar against injury, as also do treaties and hospitality. Eurytus was slain by the man who had entertained him in his house,

The daring one, who feared not Heaven's wrath,

Nor reverenced the table he had spread,

But later even slew his guest.19

And yet he came to be thought a god, though he had shown no reverence for the anger of the gods or for the table of hospitality, and he

Delighteth in the feast and hath for wife

Fair-ankled Hebê.20

As for Archilochus, his salt and table availed him naught for the fulfilment of his marriage contract, p227as he says himself.21 17 Lycaon, fool that he was, having encountered Achilles a second time, though he should either fight with vigour or else flee with all speed, urges the plea,

For with thee first I ate Demeter's grain.22

Well then, previously, when he had not yet partaken of Achilles' food, he was sold into Lemnos and thus saved; but this time when taken captive he was slaughtered. That was all the good Demeter did him. As for the ducks and partridges, we do not hunt them until they have eaten of our food. 18 Take Aegisthus; he slew Agamemnon,

First feeding him, as he who slays an ox

Hard by the crib.23

And although Agamemnon had suffered no harm at the hands of the Trojans during the ten years in which he had been at war with them and had never sat at meat with them; on the other hand, when he had come home after so long an absence, had sacrificed to the gods, and had caused his own table to be spread before him, his own wife slew him so cruelly. Yes, afterwards, when at the gates of Hades he encountered Odysseus, he denounces Clytaemnestra, 19 for he says she did not even close his eyes when he was dead;24 and, furthermore, he urges Odysseus never to trust a woman,

p229 Or ever tell to her a crafty plan.25

Yet Clytaemnestra treated him as she did, not because she was a woman, but because she was a wicked woman; and there is no more reason for not being kind to a woman than to a man. 20 However, I fancy, each one who has encountered misfortune distrusts particularly that because of which he has suffered and warns all others to beware of it. For instance, he who has been bitten by a viper warns against snakes, another who has been bitten by a scorpion warns against scorpions, and if a man has been bitten by a dog, you will see him always carrying a cane; in just that way most men behave toward human beings. One man has met with some dreadful misfortune because of a woman; so he cries to Heaven,

O Zeus, why hast thou brought to light of day

The breed of women, snare and curse to men?26

Another, a stranger who has been received as a guest, brings grief to his host, as Alexander did by stealing from Menelaüs his wealth and his wife. The man so treated has been made distrustful toward strangers, another toward a brother, another toward a son.

21 But the case is not so simple; for it is not the brother as such or the kinsman or the stranger who is by nature prone to do wrong, but rather the wicked man; but wickedness is found in almost all; aye, if you have good judgement, beware of all. A stranger? Beware. A fair and moderate man, he says? Beware still more. Let this principle be inviolate. "Yes," you counter, "but he shows the kindly disposition of a man of courtesy." Very well, accept him, with gratitude to the gods — or, so please p231you, to him as well — yet for the future you must watch him. For what some one has said about Fortune might much rather be said about human beings, namely, that no one knows about any one whether he will remain as he is until the morrow. 22 At any rate, men do violate the compacts made with each other and give each other different advice and, believing one course to be expedient, actually pursue another. Thus it comes to pass that when a man, through trusting another, gets involved with one of those troublesome fellows, he makes himself ridiculous if he lays the blame on him when he should blame himself, and if he now and then cries out against the gods, when it is a man by whom he has been duped, a friend and close acquaintance. But the gods laugh at him, knowing as they do that he had duped himself by putting himself in another's power. Those who stumble on the street or, by Zeus, fall into a mud-puddle or a pit are not angry at the stones or at the mud; for they would be absolutely crazy if they did, seeing that they ought to blame themselves and their heedlessness.

23 "What!" some one will say, "must we choose the existence of a wild beast and live a solitary life?" No, not that of a wild beast, but rather that of a prudent man and of one who knows how to live in safety. For far safer and better is solitude than association with mankind, if only solitude be found apart from fear and devoid of solicitude for things of common interest. Just as, in my opinion, for persons making a voyage the open sea is more to their advantage than the coast, unless one be sailing in fair weather and be well acquainted with the region; for in the open sea rarely, if ever, is a ship wrecked, p233but it is close to the shores and near the capes that the wreckage may be seen. 24 Therefore, when storm overtakes a ship, though every landlubber longs for the land, the skipper flees from it as far as possible.a Yet havens free from billows can be found, trusting which men may safely ride at anchor, however high the gale may rise. But with human beings, the most temperate are like our summer anchorages, which afford shelter for the moment only; for with men of that type also the individual is a reasonable person with regard to some one of life's problems, but with regard to the rest he is not. In money matters, for instance, he might never wrong you — granted, of course, that a man of that sort exists — but let a fit of rage or jealous rivalry seize him and you would perhaps not find him unshaken and trustworthy.

25 Accordingly, one should have dealings with such persons only in so far as one is compelled to do so and extremely little at that, what is more, keeping wide awake one's self and on guard, as the poet says of the Achaeans and Hector,

But he, experienced in war, with shield

Of ox-hide covered his shoulders broad and watched

The whir of arrows and the thud of darts.27

Similarly in our life we must employ prudence and understanding as a shield and, covered by it, flee and guard against men's villainy and the tricks and plots which they are wont to use.

26 But, speaking generally, it would be surprising if eating from the same table were to prove a bar to p235villainy, and, forsooth, drinking from the same mixing-bowl and seeing the same lamp, when, on the other hand, seeing the same sun and being nourished by the same earth does not enter into the reckoning of any rogue; why, the tavern or, by Zeus, any other house made of stones and timbers mixes human beings together and can bring them together in friendship, just as Odysseus thinks is proper:

Respect the house; we're underneath thy roof.28

Thus he thinks that the hut — a hut, too, built of wood grown on hostile soil — is worthier of respect than the men themselves. Yet the whole sky, beneath which we all have been from the beginning, is of no avail toward producing concord, neither is our partnership in the universe, a partnership in things divine and majestic, but only, on the contrary, our partnership in things which are petty and worthless.

27 Again, every man's own father — often an ineffectual old man — is a great force for righteousness to prevent those of the same family from plotting against each other; while the common father of all, of "both men and gods," he from whom we all have our being, not a creature such as Laches or Simon,29 cannot check or prevent the unrighteousness of men! Indeed, that one could not trust mere words about friendship — for this is the only point remaining — is no doubt clear. 28 For it is absurd that, when lending money to one's neighbours, no one would lightly put faith in word alone, but instead requires witnesses p237and writings — and many do violence to even these — [and, on the other hand, that the mere profession of friendship should suffice].30

"What!" somebody objects, "did not the men of former times have any friends? For instance, what would you say of these demigods that are on the lips of all: Orestes and Pylades, Theseus and Peirithoüs, Achilles and Patroclus?"31 Well, if one were to admit that the popular belief about these is true, there would be three friendships that had occurred in a period of time so extensive that in it one could say that the sun had gone into an eclipse quite a number of times.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Kaibel, C.G.F., Epicharmus, frag. 250.

2 Euripides, Orestes 253‑254.

3 This is a cento, consisting of Odyssey 3.290 and Iliad 13.799. Though familiar with the sea and largely dependent on it for a living, the Greeks felt toward it a wholesome respect, and their writings show little, if any, trace of joy in sailing or in the sea.

4 In Euripides' Medeia the heroine has two children, sons of Jason, whom she had helped to gain the Golden Fleece. For reasons of state he abandoned Medeia and married a Corinthian princess, whereupon Medeia slew her children and the princess, and sought refuge in Athens.

5 This is but one chapter in the scandalous tale of the dealings of these two brothers, a tale that forms the background of many a Greek tragedy; cf.  Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, epitome 2.10‑14. In revenge for the seduction of his wife Atreus slew the children of Thyestes and served their flesh as food for their father to eat.

6 Oedipus unwittingly married his mother Jocasta, and by her he became the father of Eteocles and Polyneices. When Oedipus discovered his sin and gave up his throne in Thebes, Eteocles expelled his brother, but Polyneices led an army against Thebes, and in the ensuing battle each slew the other.

7 Phaedra, the step-mother of Hippolytus, thwarted in her passion for the youth, committed suicide, and Theseus, betrayed by the false charges she left behind, cursed his son and caused his death. The tale is told by Euripides in his Hippolytus.

8 Iliad 24.544‑545, quoted with some variation in Or. 33.19.

9 Paris.

10 Notorious examples of marital infidelity. Aëropê, wife of Atreus, had an affair with his brother; Clytaemnestra, wife of Agamemnon, lived in adultery with his kinsman Aegisthus, with whose aid she slew her husband on his return from Troy; Stheneboea, having failed to seduce her husband's guest, Bellerophon, falsely accused him and plotted his death.

11 Pandarus shared in the oath given in behalf of all the Trojans (Iliad 3.298‑301) and was led by Athena to violate it (ibid. 4.86‑140).

12 Cf. Xenophon, Anabasis 2.3.26‑28; 2.4.1; 2.5.27 ff.

13 On his bribery, cf. Demosthenes, de Falsa Leg. 265‑268.

14 Cf. Plutarch, Lysander 8.

15 The fragments of his poem are in Edmonds, Elegy and Iambus II, p145 (L. C. L.); cf. Aesop 44 for a prose version. The fox tricked the ape by playing upon his cupidity and pride.

16 For the complete response of the Pythia, see Herodotus 6.86.

17 Aratus, Phaenomena 2‑3.

18 Since Pandarus and Glaucus did not gain by consulting Athena and Apollo, later perjurers avoided these gods.

19 Odyssey 21.28‑29. Dio seems to be quoting from memory, for he has confused Eurytus with his son Iphitus, who went to the house of Heracles in quest of his stolen mares and there met death. Dio's error may be due to the fact that Homer is speaking of the bow used by Odysseus, commonly called "the bow of Eurytus."

20 Ibid. 11.603. Upon his death Heracles was raised to godhead.

21 Cf. Edmonds, op. cit. II pp146‑153, especially fragg. 96 and 97A. According to tradition, when Lycambes gave to another the daughter he had promised to Archilochus, the poet attacked him and his family with such savage verses that they committed suicide.

22 Iliad 21.76. Though a prisoner of war and destined for the slave market of Lemnos, loc. cit. 77‑79, Lycaon was a son of Priam and for that reason, no doubt, ate at the table of Achilles after his capture. He seems to make a point of the fact that Achilles was the first Greek with whom he ate.

23 Odyssey 4.535 and 11.411.

24 Ibid. 11.423‑426.

25 Dio must have in mind Odyssey 11.441‑443, as indicated by the similarity of sentiment and by the word ἤπιον in the next sentence, yet the wording is quite different from our text of the Odyssey passage.

26 Euripides, Hippolytus 616‑617. Hippolytus cries out against the wickedness of his step-mother Phaedra.

27 Iliad 16.359‑361.

28 Iliad 9.640. But it is Ajax, not Odysseus, who is complaining of Achilles' lack of hospitality.

29 Seemingly equivalent to our "Smith or Jones."

30 The words "and, on the other hand, . . . should suffice" have been supplied from the context to fill out a lacuna.

31 Typical pairs of devoted friends, each pair as famous as the biblical David and Jonathan.


Thayer's Note:

a An opportunity to save someone from injury here; maybe even you, gentle reader: similarly, beginning ice skaters tend to stay close to the boards or outright hang on to them; seasoned skaters know that this is the most dangerous place in the rink.


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