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Discourse 13

This webpage reproduces one of the

Dio Chrysostom

published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1939

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 15

(Vol. II) Dio Chrysostom

 p123  The Fourteenth Discourse:
On Slavery and Freedom I

Dio begins this Discourse by saying that the majority of men do not know the real difference between slavery and freedom, and after examining the question for some time, finally, in § 18, states his own view that freedom is the knowledge of what is allowable and what is forbidden, while slavery is the opposite. Then, identifying the free man with the king, he proceeds to prove the paradox that the king, or free man, may be such although he is kept in prison or suffers other seeming indignities.

The Discourse is very informal. Dio speaks in his own person up to the beginning of § 11 and then from that point on discusses the question with another. This would seem to put the Discourse in the period of Dio's exile, when according to the confession in the Thirteenth Discourse his informal teaching of moral philosophy began and probably was chiefly carried on.

This Discourse along with the Fifteenth is our chief source for knowledge of the Stoic doctrine that the wise man alone is free. It is also found stated in the pseudo-Philonic treatise Περὶ τοῦ πάντα σπουδαῖον ἐλεύθερον εἶναι (Every good man is free), in Cicero's Paradoxa Stoicorum, Plutarch's Περὶ εὐγενείας (On Nobility of Birth), and in Epictetus, Diatribe 4.1. All these passages may be derived from one common Stoic source as Kaibel says (see Hermes, vol. 23, 1888, p543, n3), if not from some Cynic earlier still. At least O. Hense (Rheinisches Museum, vol. 47, 1892, p219 ff.) shows that, in the treatise falsely ascribed to Philo, Bion's Περὶ δουλείας (On Slavery)​1 was used.

 p125  The Fourteenth Discourse:
On Slavery and Freedom I

Men desire above all things to be free and say that freedom is the greatest of blessings, while slavery is the most shameful and wretched of states; and yet they have no knowledge of the essential nature of this freedom and this slavery of which they speak. And, what is more, they do practically nothing whatever to escape the shameful and grievous thing, which is slavery, and to gain what they consider to be valuable, that is, freedom; but on the contrary, they do the things which result in their continuing in slavery all their lives and never attaining to freedom. 2 However, we should perhaps feel no surprise that these men are unable either to get or to avoid the thing of which they happen to be ignorant. For instance, if they happened to be ignorant as to what a sheep and a wolf are respectively, but nevertheless thought that the one was profitable and good to get while the other was harmful and unprofitable, it would not be at all surprising if they feared the sheep and fled from it at times as though it were a wolf, but let the wolf approach and awaited its coming, thinking to be a sheep. For ignorance has this effect upon men who lack knowledge, and forces them to flee from and to pursue the opposite of what they desire to flee from and to pursue, and of what would be to their advantage.

 p127  3 Come then, let us consider whether the majority of men really have any clear knowledge about freedom and slavery. For it is quite possible that we are criticizing them without good reason, and that they know well what these are.

Now if one were to ask statement what the nature of freedom is, they would say, perhaps, that it consists in being subject to no one and acting simply in accordance with one's own judgement. 4 But if one were to go on and ask the man who made this answer whether he thought it a fine thing, and worthy of a free man, that when he is a member of a chorus he should not pay attention to the leader nor be subject to him, but should sing in tune or out of tune just as he took the notion, and whether he thought the opposite course, namely, to pay attention and obey the director of the chorus and to begin and to stop singing only at his command, was shameful and slavish, I do not think that he would agree. 5 And again, if one were to ask whether he thought it was characteristic of a free man, when a passenger on board a ship, to pay no attention to the captain and refuse to carry out whatever orders he should give; for instance, to stand erect in the ship when ordered to sit down, simply if he took a notion to do so; and if he were on occasion ordered to bale or help hoist the sails, neither to bale nor lay hold of the ropes; this man, too, he would not call free or enviable, because he does what seems best to himself. 6 And surely one would not call soldiers slaves because they are subject to their general's orders and spring to their feet the moment he gives a command, and partake of food and lay hold of their weapons and fall in and advance and retire only at their general's  p129 order. Neither will they call persons who are sick slaves because they must obey their physicians. 7 And yet the orders which they obey are neither insignificant nor easy to carry out, but at times they order them to do without both food and drink; and if the physician decides at any time to bind the patient, he is straightway bound; and if he decides to use the knife or cautery, the patient will be burned and cut to the extent that the physician decides is best. And if the sick man refuses to obey, all the household will help the physician to cope with him, and not the free alone, but often the sick man's domestics themselves bind their master and fetch the fire that he may suffer cautery, and give any other assistance. 8 You do not say, do you, that this man is not free because he endures many unpleasant things at another's command? Surely you would not have denied, for instance, that Darius, the King of the Persians, was a free man when, after suffering a fall from his horse in a hunt and dislocating his ankle, he obeyed the surgeons while they pulled and twisted his foot in order to set the joint, and that too although they were Egyptians.​2 Nor, to take another instance, would you have denied that Xerxes was a free man, when on his retreat from Greece a storm arose and he while aboard the ship obeyed the captain in everything and would not permit himself against the captain's judgement even to nod or to change his position. Therefore they will not persist in maintaining that rendering obedience to no man or doing whatever one likes constitutes freedom.

9 But perhaps they will counter by saying that these men obey for their own advantage, just as people  p131 on shipboard obey the captain and soldiers their general, and that the sick for this reason give heed to their physician, that they prescribe nothing but what is for the advantage of their patients. But masters, they will assert, do not order their slaves to do what will benefit them, but what they think will be of profit to themselves. 10 Well then, is it to the master's advantage that his servant should die or be ill or be a knave? No one would say so, but would affirm that the contrary is to his advantage, namely that he should keep alive and well and should be an honest man. And these same things will be found to be for the advantage of the servant as well; so that the master, if indeed he is wise, will order his servant to do that which is equally to the servant's advantage; for that will prove to be of advantage to himself as well.3

11 — But the man for whom one pays down money is of necessity a slave.

Dio. But have not many men paid down money for many who are free, when they have paid a ransom, at one time to enemies in warfare and at another to pirates, and some few have paid their own value to their masters? And yet surely these last are not slaves to themselves?4

12 — No, but whenever another has the power to have a man scourged or imprisoned or put to death, or have anything else done to him that he wishes, then that man is the slave of the other.

Dio. How is that? Do not pirates have the power to treat the men they have captured in this way? And yet none the less the captives are not slaves. Then again, have not judges the power to impose  p133 the penalty of imprisonment or death or anything else they wish upon many of those who are before them for trial? And yet surely these men are not slaves. But if they are slaves for the one day during which they each are on trial, this means nothing; for is a man really ever said to have been a slave for one day?

13 — But surely we may put the matter briefly and declare that whoever has the power to do whatever he wishes is free, and that whoever has not that power is a slave.

Dio. No, you cannot say this in the case of those on board ship nor of the sick either, nor of those serving in the field, nor of those learning to read and write or to play the harp or to wrestle or to acquire any other art; for these have not the right to follow their own preferences, but must act as the captain, physician, or teacher, as the case may be, instructs. If that is so, then men in general are not allowed to do what they wish, but if they violate the established laws, they will be punished.

14 — Then I say that the man who has the power to act or not, just as he pleases, in regard to those matters which are not forbidden by the laws or enjoined by them, is free, and that the man who on the contrary lacks that power is a slave.

Dio. Well then, do you think that it is permitted to you to do all things, which, while they are not expressly forbidden by the laws, yet are regarded as base and unseemly by mankind? I mean, for example, collecting taxes, or keeping a brothel, or doing other such things.

— O no, indeed. I should say that it is not permissible for the free to do such things either. And  p135 indeed for these acts the penalty fixed is to be hated or abominated by men.

15 Dio. Well then, in the case of intemperate men, whatever acts they commit by reason of their intemperance, and in the case of the ignorant all that they do owing to their ignorance in neglecting either their property or their person or in treating their fellows unjustly and inconsiderately, do not all these things impose a penalty upon those that do them? For they are injured either in their person or in their property or, most serious of all, in their own soul.

— What you now say is true.

Dio. Therefore it is not permissible to do these things either?

— No, certainly not.

16 Dio. In a word, then, it is not permissible to do mean and unseemly and unprofitable things, but things that are just and profitable and good we must say that it is both proper and permissible to do?

— It seems so to me at any rate.

Dio. Therefore no one may do that which is mean and unprofitable without suffering the penalty, whether he be Greek or barbarian . . . or a man for whom one has paid a price in cash?

— No, indeed.

Dio. But the opposite things are allowed to all alike, and those who do what is allowed continue free from penalty, while those who do what is forbidden are punished. 17 Now do you think that any others do what is permissible except those who know what that is, or that any others do the opposite except those who do not know?

— Oh, no!

 p137  Dio. Therefore, the wise are permitted to do anything whatsoever they wish, while the foolish attempt to do what they wish although it is not permissible; so that it follows of necessity that while the wise are free and are allowed to act as they wish, the ignorant are slaves and do that which is not allowable for them?

— Perhaps.

18 Dio. Therefore we are forced to define freedom as the knowledge of what is allowable and what is forbidden, and slavery as ignorance of what is allowed and what is not. According to this definition there is nothing to prevent the Great King, while wearing a very tall tiara upon his head, from being a slave and not being allowed to do anything that he does; for every act that he performs will bring a penalty and be unprofitable. But some other man who is regarded as a slave and is so called, who has not once but often, if it so chance, been sold, and if it should so happen, wears very heavy fetters, will be more free than the Great King.

19 — To me it appears exceeding strange that one who wears fetters or has been branded or who grinds in a mill will be more free than the Great King.

Dio. Well, now have you ever been in Thrace?

— Yes.

Dio. Then you have seen the women there, the free women, covered with branded marks, and having the more such marks and the more elaborate in proportion to their social standing and that of the families to which they belong?5

 p139  — Now, pray, what does this signify?

20 Dio. That, as it seems, there is nothing to prevent a queen from being tattooed; but do you think that there is anything to prevent a king? And further, have you never heard of that race, either, where the king is kept under guard in a very high tower and may not descend from that tower?​6 But, if you had heard, you would have understood that it is possible for a man to be king even if kept closely confined. And you might perhaps have heard those people expressing surprise if you had tried to tell them about the Persian King, and refusing to believe that there is such a thing as a king who drives about in a chariot and goes wherever he wishes.

— But you cannot give an instance of a king who is in bonds.

21 Dio. No king of men, perhaps, and yet the King of the Gods, the first and eldest one, is in bonds, they say, if we are to believe Hesiod and Homer and other wise men who tell this tale about Cronus, and indeed he does not receive this treatment unjustly from a personal enemy, but from one most just who loved him dearly,​7 who evidently treats him thus because it is fit treatment for a king and profitable to him. 22 But they do not know this and would never imagine that a beggar or a prisoner or man without repute was once king, although they hear that Odysseus, for all his being a beggar and begging of the suitors, was none the less a king and the owner of the house,  p141 while Antinous and Eurymachus, whom Homer named 'kings,' were miserable and unfortunate wretches. But this, as I said, they do not know, and as badges of royalty they clothe themselves with tiaras and sceptres and crowns so that none may fail to know that they are kings; just as, I imagine, owners mark their cattle to make them easily distinguishable. 23 This undoubtedly is the reason why the King of the Persians ordained that he alone should wear his tiara upright; and if anyone else did this, he straightway ordered his execution, in the belief that it was not good or advantageous that in the midst of so many myriads of people two men should wear tiaras upright; but that he should have his mind upright 24 and that no one should have greater wisdom than himself, for this he had no concern. So I fear that just as in those days there were such symbols of royalty as we have described, so now also there ought to be similar badges to mark the free man, and that he ought to walk abroad wearing a felt skull-cap,​8 else we shall not be able to distinguish between the free man and the slave.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 See Stobaeus 3.2.38.

2 See Herodotus 2.84.

3 For the argument that it is of advantage for the slave to have a master, just as it is for the master to have a slave, cf. Aristotle, Politics, Book I, cap. 5.

4 At Athens and Rome slaves could buy their freedom.

5 On the Thracians see Herodotus 5.6, Clearchus in Athenaeus 524D, Phanocles 25 ff. Just as in Discourse 10.30 and 15.20, Dio refers to the custom of foreigners to prove his own view. To do this was a practice of the Cynics, as Weber, De Dione Chrysostomo Cynicorum Sectatore, pp127‑133, shows.

6 A reference to the Mossynoecians, i.e. dwellers in mossyns or wooden towers, who lived on the south shore of the Euxine or Black Sea. See Xenophon, Anabasis 5.4 and especially § 26, Diodorus Siculus 14.30.

7 The reference is to Zeus, who, according to one version of the myth, kept his father imprisoned in Tartarus. According to another version Cronus is now enthroned on the Isles of the Blest as ruler of the Titans. See Hesiod, Works and Days 169 ff., Pindar, Olympian Odes 2.70 ff.

8 The πῖλος, the forerunner of the modern liberty-cap, was worn by the Roman freedmen as a mark of their newly acquired freedom and by all the people at the Saturnalia. Cf. also Persius 3.106 ad pilleos vocare.º

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