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Bill Thayer

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Discourse 18

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.
If you find a mistake though,
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Discourse 20

(Vol. II) Dio Chrysostom

 p235  The Nineteenth Discourse: On the Author's Fondness for Listening to Music, the Drama, and Oratory

In this fragment Dio relates an incident which occurred during his exile. He had come to Cyzicus to meet some friends and fellow-townsmen who evidently wished him to deliver an address in which he should tell the story of his wanderings; but he was saved from doing so by the arrival of a bard who drew the attention of all, Dio included, to himself. Then he speaks of the great pleasure he gets in listening to those who sing and play the lyre and to actors. This leads him to refer to the state of Comedy and Tragedy in his day. At this point the Discourse as we have it breaks off, and we can only conjecture as to what was the subject of the Discourse proper. Possibly Dio went on to speak in detail of music or of the drama.

This pleasing introduction to his main subject reminds us of the seventh Discourse, in vol. I, where Dio tells of his experience with the hunters of Euboea in order to secure our attention to what follows.

 p237  The Nineteenth Discourse:
On the Author's Fondness for Listening to Music, the Drama, and Oratory

A number of my intimate friends had long been asking for an opportunity to meet me; and besides, many of my fellow-citizens were said to be eager to see me, considering that I have a certain advantage over most men because of my wanderings and the reversal of my fortunes, and the bodily hardships which I was supposed to have experienced.​1 And finally they went so far as actually to find fault with me and maintain that I was not treating them fairly. But I for my part refused to go near to the actual boundary;​2 on the contrary, it seemed to me that any such act befitted a man who was utterly crushed by his exile and very eager to be restored; just as those who have left nothing in the cup are evidently very thirsty. 2 So I went to Cyzicus and stopped there to give any of my friends who wished it the chance to confer with me. And then came the bard of the proverb​3 and saved me by singing a song to them.

 p239  For there came to Cyzicus a bard who, as some assert, is the best of those of this time and in fact a man inferior not even to any of the great bards of the past, nay not even to Arion, who was saved from the sea — they must evidently have judged by divination, for how else could they be sure when they had not heard that famous bard of old? — and as soon as they learned that the man was in town, straightway tremendous interest was aroused and all the people began to wend their way to the senate house. 3 So I too, thinking that I also might listen and thus enjoy a share in such a splendid entertainment, as one of the throng of three thousand and more, arrived among the first, very expectant indeed. I am fond of indulging my ears and absolutely devoted to music, although I have no great skill myself in it; so that, if it had been my fortune to live in Orpheus' time, I fancy that I should have been the first one to follow in his train, even though I should have been obliged to mingle with a drove of fawns and calves; and I should have felt no shame. For even now I am often affected as they were, whenever I attend a sophist's lecture, on account of the uncontrolled craving which possesses me for the spoken word; and so I herd with the sort of creatures I have mentioned, graceful and beautiful, to be sure, but yet noisy and eager for a chance to kick up their heels.

4 And this is the way I have nearly always been affected when listening to sophists and orators. Just as beggars on account of their own destitution envy the moderately well-to‑do, so I admire and applaud those who are in any way at all proficient in speech, because I myself am lacking in such  p241 proficiency. But I must say that the performance of those who sing to the harp, aye, and of the actors too, seems to me in no small degree superior to the pleasure it gives. For their voices are louder and undoubtedly better modulated, while their language is not extempore like that of the orators, who generally try to speak without preparation; but poets have composed painstakingly and at their leisure. 5 And the most of what they give us comes from ancient times, and from much wiser men than those of the present. In the case of comedy everything is kept; in the case of tragedy only the strong parts, it would seem, remain — I mean the iambics, and portions of these they still give in our theatres — but the more delicate parts have fallen away, that is, the lyric parts.​4 I might illustrate by the case of old men: all the firm parts of the body resist the ravages of time, namely, the bones and the  p243 muscles; but everything else shrivels up. This is the reason that the bodies of the extremely old men are seen to be wasted and shrunken, whereas all those old men who are corpulent because of their wealth and luxury, although they have no strength left but only fat instead of flesh, do seem well nourished and younger to the great majority.5

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Dio humorously suggests a comparison of himself with the Homeric Odysseus.

2 He had been banished from Italy and from his native Bithynia. Bithynia lay to the east of the Propontis (Sea of Marmora) and south of the western end of the Euxine. It is the western boundary of Bithynia, facing Mysia, to which he here refers. The city of Cyzicus, situated on the island of the same name near the centre of the south shore of the Propontis, was about fifty miles from Bithynia.

Thayer's Note: Cyzicus is no longer an island, having been attached to the Turkish mainland at some time since Antiquity; the town itself [a map marker] is now Erdek. On the map below, Bithynia is the area stretching from across the strait E of Byzantium [a map marker], the modern Istanbul, down the S coast of the sea to a few miles before the Cyzicus promontory.

3 The proverb is unknown. It is likely that it was based upon the story of Arion, who saved his own life by singing to his lyre before the pirates who had seized him.

4 Dio means that when a comedy of earlier times was presented, every part of it was played — the choral or lyrical parts as well as the dialogue — but that in giving a tragedy they dispensed with the chorus and the lyrical parts which it sang, and that even some of the dialogue was omitted. In this way those tragedies of an earlier time were adapted to the taste of Dio's time and made similar to tragedies written then.

At first the songs of the chorus had been integral parts of the tragedy. The chorus itself played the part of an actor. But after Aeschylus introduced a second actor, the chorus became less important; and still less so when Sophocles introduced a third actor. Then Euripides showed a tendency to write the choral parts as separate songs, but nevertheless they are more or less relevant to the action of the play. It remained for Agathon, born about 446 B.C., to make the chorus sing musical interludes which had no connection with the subject-matter of the tragedy (see Aristotle, Poetics 1456A). And later the tragic chorus was often, and then usually, dropped altogether in stage performances. Official records as early as the third and second centuries B.C. attest to this. However, even in Dio's time tragedies sometimes had a chorus.

In Comedy a regular chorus was kept down to at least the middle of the fourth century B.C., as statements of Aeschines and Aristotle and certain inscriptions go to show. Yet since in the plays of Menander (342‑291 B.C.) which were found in Egypt in 1905 the lyric parts are omitted from the MS. and their position merely indicated by the word χοροῦ (chorus), it seems probable that by his time the lyric or choral parts had already ceased to have any close connection with the development of the plot.

5 The cause of the corpulence of some old men has nothing corresponding to it in Tragedy, so that here Dio is wandering from his subject — a thing which he himself more than once admits that he is prone to do.

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Page updated: 26 Oct 18