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Bill Thayer

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Discourses 77‑78

This webpage reproduces one of the

Dio Chrysostom

published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1932

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Discourse 80

(Vol. V) Dio Chrysostom

 p303  The Seventy-ninth Discourse: On Wealth

The title of this Discourse as preserved in Parisinus 2985 is περὶ πλούτου τῶν ἐν Κιλικίᾳ, but the other manuscripts give merely περὶ πλούτου. What is the explanation of the additional phrase contained in the Paris manuscript? Cilicia is not named in the document before us, and a careful scrutiny of the speech fails to reveal any clear clue to the place of its delivery. One may reasonably infer from the choice of subject that Dio was addressing an audience in some wealthy city. His opening sentence might suggest Rome as the setting, but, were that the case, one may question whether he would have identified himself with his hearers as he does in § 5. The logical conclusion would seem to be that the scribe of the Paris manuscript has preserved for us a genuine tradition, based upon some memorandum left by the author, or else, possibly, upon the circumstances attending the discovery of the speech by his editor.

Assuming the accuracy of the title referred to, one would naturally think of Tarsus as the city in which Dio was speaking, for two of the speeches in our collection were certainly delivered in that city (33 and 34), and Dio calls Tarsus "the greatest of all the cities of Cilicia and a metropolis from the outset" (Or. 34.7).

The argument of our Discourse is, in brief, that wealth confers upon its owners no desirable distinction, possesses no real utility, is transitory in nature, and leads to vulgar extravagance, in the course of which Celts, Indians, Iberians, Arabs, and Babylonians "take tribute" from the stupid and self-indulgent persons who covet their exotic products. That for which a city really merits commendation and congratulation is the excellence of its laws, the probity of its citizens, and the moderation of its rulers.

 p305  The Seventy-ninth Discourse:
On Wealth

Come now, in Heaven's name do tell me: on what account above all is it fitting to admire, yes, to feel proud of and to congratulate, a city which is the greatest and most powerful of all? Is it for excellence of laws, for probity of citizens, and for moderation of its rulers; or are these things trifles and worthless and easy to come by for ordinary people, and is it rather for multitude of inhabitants, lavishness of market-place, and sumptuousness of its edifices that one should congratulate it, for its Syrian and Babylonian fabrics, and because its citizens roof their houses with gold and the whole place teems with silver and amber and ivory, like the palaces of Alcinoüs and Menelaüs which Homer has described1 — overstepping the reality and the possibility too, one may venture to suggest — the city, I mean, having been equipped throughout in that fashion? Would it be, in Heaven's name, for its paintings and its statues, none of which had been of any service to their former owners; on the contrary, those from whom these things were obtained would be found to be slaves, of low estate, and poor?

2 For example, if there were any utility in bronze  p307 well blended and in mixing-bowls and altars and censers of cunning workmanship, the Corinthians' city would have been prosperous and have long maintained its existence as a state, safeguarding its own settlers and citizens.2 And again, if there were utility in beautifully coloured and variegated marbles, the same statement could be made about the cities of Teos and Carystus,3 as well as about certain Egyptian and Phrygian cities in whose vicinity the mountains are of variegated stone — in fact, I hear that among their sarcophagi the very ancient ones are of this same rock — yet, for all that, they are no better or more fortunate than any of the very lowly and pitiful cities.

3 Furthermore, if it were advantageous to possess gold, there was nothing to prevent the Ethiopians of the interior from being deemed most fortunate, for in their land gold is less highly prized than lead is with us, and it is said that in that region the criminals have been bound with heavy fetters of gold,4 yet they are none the less prisoners and depraved and evildoers. But to congratulate the wealthy and men of great riches, when in all other respects they are no better than very ordinary folk, is as if, on seeing the prisoners of Ethiopia emerge from their prison, one were to envy them and judge the most fortunate of all to be the one with the heaviest fetters.

4 Again, if ivory is a marvellous possession and worth  p309 fighting for, the Indians are of all men most blest and pre-eminent by far, for in their land the bones of the elephants are tossed aside and no one troubles to go near them, just as in our land the bones of cattle and of asses are treated; they even say that in many places the skulls of the elephants, tusks and all, are built into their house walls. But what should we say of the Celts, in whose country, according to report, a certain river carries the amber down with its waters and the amber is found in abundance everywhere by the river banks, cast ashore like the pebbles on the beaches in our country?5 Indeed, in days gone by their children at play used to toss it about, though now they too collect and treasure it, having learned from us how fortunate they are.

5 Are you aware that all these peoples — the Celts, Indians, Iberians, Arabs,6 and Babylonians — exact tribute from us, not from our land or from our flocks and herds, but from our own folly? For if, when by force of arms any people get the upper hand and compel the vanquished to pay them silver, this is called tribute, and it is a sign that people are not very fortunate or brave if they pay tribute to others, then is it not true that if, though no one has attacked or compelled them, but because of stupidity and self-indulgence, a certain people take that which they prize most highly, silver, and of their own volition send it over a long road and across a vast expanse  p311 of sea to those who cannot easily even set foot upon our soil, such conduct is altogether more cowardly and disgraceful? 6 Except for one thing, that to offer tiny, fragile pebbles7 and, forsooth, bones of wild beasts when they take our silver and gold, exchanging useless things for useful! But I am often most astonished when I reflect that the Medes were well content, yes, delighted at having got the Syrian8 riches, and the Persians in turn at having got that of the Medes, and the Macedonians that of the Persians, and that they thought they had at last become Fortune's darlings and were more prosperous at the moment when they had in their possession what once had belonged to those wretched and unfortunate peoples.

But these words I have spoken, not in a spirit of idle folly, but because such goods, on the possession of which they have set their hearts and for which most men admire those who have acquired them, are good for nothing, nay, are not worth a single drachma when lumped together; nor can human beings ever become fortunate if ignorant and empty-headed, not even if they make the park at Susa their dwelling-place, a park which was, we are told, wholly up in the air.9

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 For his description, see Odyssey 7.84‑97 and 4.71‑75 respectively. In Odyssey 4.73 ἠλέκτρου may mean a natural alloy of gold and silver rather than amber, which is its usual meaning and the one required in § 4.

2 Corinth for centuries led in art and commerce, but it was destroyed by Mummius in 146 B.C. Julius Caesar revived it as a Roman colony more than a century prior to our Discourse and it was again rich and populous.

3 Teos was midway between Smyrna and Ephesus, Carystus was in Euboea. We hear little of Tean marble, but Roman writers often speak of the green marble of Carystus, which was very popular.

4 Cf. Herodotus 3.23.

5 Amber was found at Olbia, near the mouth of the Dnieper, and also at Marseilles, at the mouth of the Rhône. Dio may have the latter in mind, for his "Celts" may refer to the Celtiberians of that general region, both Celts and Iberians being listed in the next section.

6 The Iberians and Arabs have not been mentioned previously in this speech. Their inclusion here may betoken ex‑tempore delivery.

7 Bits of amber. Theophrastus, De Lapidibus 29, classifies amber as a λίθος.

8 By "Syrian" Dio is thought to have meant Assyrian; Herodotus (7.63) says Syrian was the Greek term, Assyrian the barbarian. Cyaxares the Mede at the close of the seventh century took part in the sack of Nineveh.

9 At any time Susa the Persian monarch had his chief palace, which, like the palace of Xerxes at Persepolis, was built on lofty artificial terraces, in imitation of Babylon. In speaking of "the park at Susa" Dio may have had in mind the "hanging gardens" of Babylon, which Diodorus himself calls a παράδεισος.

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