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Discourse 17

This webpage reproduces one of the

Dio Chrysostom

published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1939

The text is in the public domain.

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Discourse 19

(Vol. II) Dio Chrysostom

 p209  The Eighteenth Discourse: On Training for Public Speaking

Dio Chrysostom, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Quintilian, gave select lists of authors for students to read. The fact that there are no great divergences in these lists gives the impression that there was general agreement in the ancient schools as to which were the best authors for students. Dio's list we expect to differ in some respects from Quintilian's because Quintilian, whose primary interest was in the Latin language, gives a select list of Latin writers as well; and in the second place, Dio was giving advice to a wealthy and influential man of mature years who wished to take some part in public life, but lacked the leisure or the inclination to work hard in order to fit himself for this, whereas Quintilian was writing for the benefit of youths whose chief interest was in the eloquence of the bar.

After complimenting this prosperous man and eulogizing oratory Dio proceeds to give his list, naming poets, historians, orators in this order; and then, without regard to the type of their literary works, he refers in general terms to the followers of Socrates. Through mentioning them last he gains a good opportunity to speak at length and in the highest terms of Xenophon, whom he so greatly admired, in this respect differing somewhat from the majority of modern critics.

In poetry it is the writers of Comedy and Tragedy that are really useful for the purpose he has in view, although the epic poet Homer is, of course, supreme. Other types of poetry his wealthy friend will not have time to read. Among the historians he gives the first place to Thucydides, and among the orators to Demosthenes, although he believes that Hypereides and Aeschines will be of more practical benefit because not so difficult to imitate. It is at first sight strange that he does not  p210 mention Isocrates at all, but probably he thought his long involved sentences not a suitable model for his correspondent. Of philosophers Dio names none at all if we except the indirect reference to Socrates, although we know from his writings that he must have been familiar with Plato; and the only reference to philosophy is where he says, apparently with approval, that Euripides had some knowledge of it. Quintilian on the other hand ends his list of Greek writers by naming as philosophers Plato, Xenophon, Aristotle, and Theophrastus.

Then comes the question as to whether this man in training himself to be an orator should write or dictate to a secretary. Dio thinks it better for him to dictate and advises him especially not to write school exercises, in all this taking a position opposite to that of Quintilian.

As to when Dio wrote this letter and to whom, great diversity of opinion prevails, since we have nothing to guide us except the contents of the letter itself and our imperfect knowledge of Dio's life and the progressive change in his views. However, since Dio represents himself as considerably younger than the man he addressed, who was at the height of his powers, it does seem reasonable to refer this letter to the period before Dio's banishment. Even then he was probably at least forty years old. A further consideration is the fact that Dio does not recommend the reading of any philosophical works to this would‑be orator, as he certainly would have done after he became a convert to philosophy.

Von Arnim, who takes στρατηγοῖς in § 16, where Dio is speaking of the advantages to be derived from a study of Xenophon's speeches, to mean 'provincial Governors,' βασιλικοῖς to mean 'imperial officials,' and πλῆθος 'the commons or citizen body' of a Greek state, notes that στρατιῶται (soldiers) are not expressly mentioned, and infers from this that Dio's correspondent has nothing to do with soldiers, but does have to deal with Roman provincial governors and imperial officials, and therefore is not a Roman himself, but a local Greek official occupying a high position in some large Greek city of Asia Minor. Von Arnim further supports this view by observing that, according to Dio, Xenophon's speeches teach "not to trust too readily those in authority over you" — good advice for a Greek subject to Romans, and how a statesman can encourage the despondent — knowledge not needed by a Roman governor. He concludes his argument  p211 by saying that a Roman studied rhetoric solely for formal intellectual training. It might be objected, however, that Cicero and Caesar did not study it for this purpose alone.

As to why this man of high position wished such elementary instruction, and he a Greek, Dio suggests that for some especial reasons he had failed to get rhetorical training in his youth, or that he lived far removed from the centres of Greek culture. Finally, von Arnim faintly hints the Dio's correspondent may have been Vespasian before he became emperor. Wilhelm Christ suggests that the man was Nerva before his elevation to the position of emperor, while Hammer and Lemarchand support the view that Dio's letter was not addressed to any actual person.

 p213  The Eighteenth Discourse:
On Training for Public Speaking

Although I had often praised your character as that of a good man who is worthy to be first among the best, yet I never admired it before as I do now. For that a man in the very prime of life and second to no one in influence, who possesses great wealth and has every opportunity to live in luxury by day and night, should in spite of all this reach out for education also and be eager to acquire training in eloquent speaking, and should display no hesitation even if it should cost toil, seems to me to give proof of an extraordinarily noble soul and one not only ambitious, but in very truth devoted to wisdom. And for that matter the best of the ancients said that they went on learning not only in the prime of life but also as they grew old.​1 2 And you, as it seems to me, are altogether wise in believing that a statesman needs experience and training in public speaking and in eloquence. For it is true that this will prove of very great help toward making him beloved and influential and esteemed instead of being looked down upon. For when men are afraid, what does more to inspire them than the spoken word? And when they wax insolent and uplifted in spirit, what more effectively brings them down and chastens  p215 them? What has greater influence in keeping them from indulging their desires? Whose admonitions do they endure more meekly than the man's whose speech delights them? 3 Time and again, at any rate, there may be seen in our cities one group of men spending, handing out largess, adorning their city with dedications, but the orators who support these measures getting the applause, as though they and not the others had brought these things about. For this same reason the poets of the earliest times, who received their gift of poetry from the gods, never spoke of either the strong or the beautiful as being 'looked upon as gods,'​2 but reserved this praise for the orators. So it is because you not only have observed all this, but are also endeavouring to put it into practice that I commend and admire you.

4 And I acknowledge on my own behalf a gratitude beyond the ordinary because you have believed that I could be useful to you in carrying out this purpose and this endeavour. For up to the present, as one of the writers of old said that he was 'a good enough prophet for his own self,'​3 so I too considered that I should do well enough for myself in oratory, though barely even that. But you elate me and persuade me to take courage, in the hope that I can be of use to one who not only has attained so high a degree of culture, but is also as gifted as yourself. And perhaps I could, just as a boy or some aged herdsman might, be useful to a strong and vigorous  p217 wayfarer in pointing out a shorter road or a beaten track of which he did not happen to know.

5 But to cut my preface short,​4 I must at once endeavour to carry out your instructions.

For a mere lad, now, or a young man who wishes to withdraw from political life and devote himself to training and to the acquisition of forensic ability, there is need of a different regimen in both tasks and activities. But you are not unacquainted with the task, nor are you able to forsake the political career, nor is it the eloquence and effectiveness of a pleader in the courts of law of which you stand in need, but rather that which is alike fitting and sufficient for a statesman. 6 So first of all, you should know that you have no need of toil or exacting labour; for although, when a man has already undergone a great deal of training, these contribute very greatly to his progress, yet if he has had only a little, they will lessen his confidence and make him diffident about getting into action; just as with athletes who are unaccustomed to the training of the body, such training weakens them if they become fatigued by exercises which are too severe. But just as bodies unaccustomed to toil need anointing and moderate exercise rather than the training of the gymnasium, so you in preparing yourself for public speaking have need of diligence which has a tempering of pleasure rather than laborious training.

 p219  So let us consider the poets: I would counsel you to read Menander of the writers of Comedy quite carefully, and Euripides of the writers of Tragedy, and to do so, not casually by reading them to yourself, but by having them read to you by others, preferably by men who know how to render the lines pleasurably, but at any rate so as not to offend. For the effect is enhanced when one is relieved of the preoccupation of reading. 7 And let no one of the more 'advanced' critics chide me for selecting Menander's plays in preference to the Old Comedy, or Euripides in preference to the earlier writers of Tragedy. For physicians do not prescribe the most costly diet for their patients, but that which is salutary. Now it would be a long task to enumerate all the advantages to be derived from these writers; indeed, not only has Menander's portrayal of every character and every charming trait surpassed all the skill of the early writers of Comedy, but the suavity and plausibility of Euripides, while perhaps not completely attaining to the grandeur of the tragic poet's​5 way of deifying his characters, or to his high dignity, are very useful for the man in public life; and furthermore, he cleverly fills his plays with an abundance of characters and moving incidents, and strews them with maxims useful on all occasions, since he was not without acquaintance with philosophy.6

8 But Homer comes first and in the middle and last, in that he gives of himself to every boy and adult and old man just as much as each of them can take.  p221 Lyric and elegiac poetry too, and iambics and dithyrambs are very valuable for the man of leisure, but the man who intends to have a public career and at the same time to increase the scope of his activities and the effectiveness of his oratory, will have no time for them. 9 But the historians for many reasons the statesman must read attentively, because, even apart from the speeches they contain, it is most essential that the statesman, the man who chooses to conduct public affairs, should be acquainted with measures and successes and failures, which happen not only in accordance with reasonable expectation, but also at times contrary thereto, to both men and states. And the reason for this statement is that it is the man with the widest knowledge of what had happened to others who will best carry out his own undertakings, and, so far as it is possible, safely, while every reverse he will bear nobly because of the fact that even in his successes he was never unaware of the possibility of a change to the opposite fortune.7

10 As for Herodotus, if you ever want real enjoyment, you will read him when quite at your ease, for the easy-going manner and charm of his narrative will give the impression that his work deals with stories rather than with actual history. But among the foremost historians I place Thucydides, and among those of second rank Theopompus;​8 for not only is there a rhetorical quality in the narrative portion of his speeches, but he is not without eloquence nor negligent in expression, and the slovenliness of his diction is  p223 not so bad as to offend you. As for Ephorus,​9 while he hands down to us a great deal of information about events, yet the tediousness and carelessness of his narrative style would not suit your purpose.

11 When it comes to the orators, however, who does not know which are the best — Demosthenes for the vigour of his style, the impressiveness of his thought, and the copiousness of his vocabulary, qualities in which he surpasses all other orators; and Lysias for his brevity, the simplicity and coherence of his thought, and for his well concealed cleverness. However, I should not advise you to read these two chiefly, but Hypereides rather and Aeschines; for the faculties in which they excel are simpler, their rhetorical embellishments are easier to grasp, and the beauty of their diction is not one whit inferior to that of the two who are ranked first. But I should advise you to read Lycurgus​10 as well, since he has a lighter touch than those others and reveals a certain simplicity and nobility of character in his speeches.

12 At this point I say it is advisable — even if some one, after reading my recommendation of the consummate masters of oratory, is going to find fault — also not to remain unacquainted with the more recent orators, those who lived a little before our time;​11 I refer to the works of such men as Antipater,​12 Theodorus,​13 Plution,​14 and Conon,​15 and to similar  p225 material. For the powers they display can be more useful to us because, when we read them, our judgment is not fettered and enslaved, as it is when we approach the ancients. For when we find that we are able to criticize what hasº been said, we are most encouraged to attempt the same things ourselves, and we find more pleasure in comparing ourselves with others 13 when we are convinced that in the comparison we should be found to be not inferior to them, with the chance, occasionally, of being even superior.

I shall now turn to the Socratics,​16 writers who, I affirm, are quite indispensable to every man who aspires to become an orator. For just as no meat without salt will be gratifying to the taste, so no branch of literature, as it seems to me, could possibly be pleasing to the ear if it lacked the Socratic grace.

It would be a long task to eulogize the others; even to read them is no light thing. 14 But it is my own opinion that Xenophon, and he alone of the ancients, can satisfy all the requirements of a man in public life. Whether one is commanding an army in time of war, or is guiding the affairs of a state, or is addressing a popular assembly or a senate, or even if he were addressing a court of law and desired, not as a professional master of eloquence merely, but as a statesman or a royal prince, to utter sentiments appropriate to such a character at the bar of justice, the best exemplar of all, it seems to me, and the most profitable for all these purposes is Xenophon. For not only  p227 are his ideas clear and simple and easy for everyone to grasp, but the character of his narrative style is attractive, pleasing, and convincing, being in a high degree true to life in the representation of character, with much charm also and effectiveness, so that his power suggests not cleverness but actual wizardry. 15 If, for instance, you should be willing to read his work on the March Inland very carefully, you will find no speech, such as you will one day possess the ability to make, whose subject matter he has not dealt with and can offer as a kind of norm to any man who wishes to steer his course by him or imitate him. If it is needful for the statesman to encourage those who are in the depths of despondency, time and again our writer shows how to do this; or if the need is to incite and exhort, no one who understands the Greek language could fail to be aroused by Xenophon's hortatory speeches. 16 My own heart, at any rate, is deeply moved and at times I weep even as I read his account of all those deeds of valour. Or, if it is necessary to deal prudently with those who are proud and conceited and to avoid, on the one hand, being affected in any way by their displeasure, or, on the other, enslaving one's own spirit to them in unseemly fashion and doing their will in everything, guidance in this also is to be found in him. And also how to hold secret conferences both with generals apart from the common soldiers and with the soldiers in the same way;​17 the proper manner of conversing with kings and princes; how to deceive enemies to their hurt and friends for their own benefit; how to tell the plain truth to  p229 those who are needlessly disturbed without giving offence, and to make them believe it; how not to trust too readily those in authority over you, and the means by which such persons deceive their inferiors, and the way in which men outwit and are outwitted — 17 on all these points Xenophon's treatise​18 gives adequate information. For I imagine that it is because he combines deeds with words, because he did not learn by hearsay nor by copying, but by doing deeds himself as well as telling of them, that he made his speeches most convincingly true to life in all his works and especially in this one which I chanced to mention. And be well assured that you will have no occasion to repent, but that both in the senate and before the people you will find this great man reaching out a hand to you if you earnestly and diligently read him.

18 Writing, however, I do not advise you to engage in with your own hand, or only very rarely, but rather to dictate to a secretary. For, in the first place, the one who utters his thoughts aloud is more nearly in the mood of a man addressing an audience than is one who writes, and, in the second place, less labour is involved. Again, while it contributes less to effectiveness​19 in delivery than writing does, it contributes more to your habit of readiness. But when you do write, I do not think it best for you to write these made‑up school exercises; yet if you must write, take one of the speeches that you enjoy reading, preferably one of Xenophon's, and either oppose what he said, or advance the same arguments in a different way. 19 And yet repeating what his speeches contain is better still if you have a good memory for it. For this makes one thoroughly  p231 familiar with both the way he expresses his thoughts and the accuracy with which his thoughts are conceived. I say this, not to encourage you to string together line for line an entire treatise, as schoolboys do, but that you may thoroughly master anything that happens to please you especially. I should have written at great length about this to a lad, but for you, thus much is sufficient. For if you call to memory only very small portions, you will derive great benefit; whereas if you should feel disinclined and find the effort painful, this work is not absolutely necessary.

20 Well, I seem to have extended my advice to great length, but you yourself are to blame for that by persuading and challenging me. Just as expert wrestlers sometimes give way to those who are weaker and make them believe that they are stronger, so you seem to have led me on to write and tell what you, as it happens, know better yourself, just as if you did not know it so well. But I should prefer, if it proved agreeable to you, that we should get together some time and by reading the ancient writers and discussing them render some service to each other. 21 Just as it is not enough to say to painters and to sculptors​20 that their colours should be just so and that their lines should be just so, but they derive the greatest help if the critic can see them at work, painting or modelling; and just as it is not sufficient for the gymnastic masters to name the different holds in wrestling, but they must go on and demonstrate them to the youth who wishes to learn; so too in consultations like this, the help  p233 would be greater if one were to see the man who has given the advice in action himself. I declare for my part that even if I had to read aloud to you while you listened, for the sake of helping you I should not hesitate, since I both love you and admire you for your ambition, and am grateful for the honour you have shown me.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Solon said: "I keep learning many things as I grow old" — γηράσκω δ’ αἰεὶ πολλὰ διδασκόμενος. See Plutarch, Life of Solon 31B, and compare Cicero, De Senectute 8.26.

2 But Homer does apply the term θεοειδής (godlike in appearance) to Alexander or Paris (Iliad 3.16), to Telemachus (Odyssey 14.173) and the term θεοείκελος (godlike) to Achilles (Iliad 1.131). Then Sappho (Supp. 20 c. 6) applies this latter term to Hector and Andromachê. Plutarch (2.988D) says: "The poets call the beautiful 'godlike in form' "οἱ ποιηταὶ τοὺς καλοὺς θεοειδεῖς ὀνομάζουσιν.

3 A reference to Plato, Phaedrus 242C: "Now I am in truth a seer, although not a good one, but, just as is the case with those who write a poor hand, merely sufficient for myself alone" — εἰμὶ δὴ οὖν μάντις μέν, οὐ πάνυ δὲ σπουδαῖος, ἀλλ’, ὥσπερ οἱ τὰ γράμματα φαῦλοι, ὅσον μὲν ἐμαυτῷ μόνον ἱκανός.

4 πολλὰ πρὸ τοῦ πράγματος — "many words before action" is apparently a proverbial expression.

5 Cf. Longinus, De Sublim. 15.3: "Moreover the poet in his oath does not make divinities of the men — οὐχὶ ἀπαθανατίζει.

6 Quintilian (Institutio Oratoria 10.1.68‑70) also gives the preference to Euripides and Menander, and for the same reasons.

7 Cf. Aristotle, Poetics 1452 A21.

8 Theopompus of Chios, born about 378 B.C., attended the school of rhetoric which Isocrates opened on that island. None of his works has come down to us.

9 Ephorus, born between 408 and 405 B.C. at Cymê in Asia Minor, was also a pupil of Isocrates.

10 Not the legendary lawgiver of Sparta, but one of the ten Attic Orators. One of his speeches is extant.

11 Lucian (Lexiphanes 23) gives the opposite advice.

12 Antipater, a rival of Theodorus of Gadara, was perhaps identical with Antipater of Damascus, the father of the historian Nicolaüs, born 64 B.C.

13 Theodorus of Gadara, eminent rhetorician in the age of Augustus. Tiberius during his retirement at Rhodes was one of his hearers.

14 Plution, mentioned also by Seneca and by Eusebius, who calls him a celebrated teacher of rhetoric.

15 Conon, perhaps the grammarian of the age of Augustus. He was the author of a work entitled διηγήσεις (Narratives), addressed to Archelaüs Philopater, king of Cappadocia. An epitome of the work is preserved in the Bibliotheca of Photius, who praises his Attic style.

16 By the Socratics Dio means those writers, such as Plato and Xenophon, who came under the personal influence of Socrates.

17 i.e. apart from the generals. von Arnim's insertion of the negative shows a misunderstanding of the thought.

18 That is, the Anabasis or Journey Inland. It is strange that Dio does not also mention Xenophon's Cyropaedia.

19 So Rhys Roberts renders δύναμις in his list of rhetorical terms used in literary criticism.

20 Dio has in mind the young artists who need criticism and instruction; and so it is the youth who are trained in wrestling.

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