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Bill Thayer

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Discourse 19

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 21

(Vol. II) Dio Chrysostom

 p245  The Twentieth Discourse: On Retirement

Here Dio discusses the real meaning of 'retirement.' It does not consist in going away somewhere to avoid a duty or a danger, or even to get freedom from distraction. To retire in the true sense is to fix one's mind upon the things that truly matter and to disregard trivial things and distractions from without. Retirement from the haunts of men merely affords foolish and wicked men an opportunity to give themselves up to their foolish and wicked thoughts and to plan how they may make their imaginings come true. Nothing is said of the good use to which the good may put such retirement. The similarities between this Discourse and Seneca's fifty-sixth Letter led E. Weber (De Dione Chrysostomo Cynicorum Sectatore, p126) to the conclusion that Dio and Seneca drew from a common Stoic or Cynic source.

Von Arnim, who maintains that Dio, with the disappearance of his anti-monarchical feelings, dropped the use of the word μόναρχοι ('monarchs'), which occurs in § 24, would place this Discourse in the reign of Domitian. We may be sure at any rate that it was not written in Dio's youth, when he was a sophist.

 p247  The Twentieth Discourse:
On Retirement

Just what, pray, is the meaning of the word 'retirement,' and whom should we define as men who are 'retiring'? Is it those who are giving up their proper tasks and activities of whom we should say that they are retiring? For example, if some one enjoying Athenian citizen­ship, when the obligation falls on him to serve in the field in defence of his country because the Spartans have invaded Attica, or Philip is attacking them, or some other enemy, should retire or withdraw to Megara or Aegina in order to avoid serving or risking his life, could this man be described as having retired?​1 2 Or if some one possesses a great fortune should for the sake of avoiding the public services required of the rich​2 leave the city? Or if a man who is qualified to heal the sick, and then when the sick are friends and intimates of his, should abandon them and go on a visit to some other place in order to avoid catching the disease and the trouble of treating them? Or if somebody else, on being required to present himself for public  p249 duty in the city along with the rest, should be unwilling to hold an office or assist those in office or do any service as guard which would necessitate his losing sleep, but in order to be rid of all these duties and not let even one man call him to account or hinder him from drinking and sleeping and loafing, should retire to some other place — should these men be described as 'retiring'? No, these men are evidently fleeing and deserting, and there can be no excuse for them or pardon for taking a vacation in this manner and running away.

3 It may be, then, that it is those who withdraw from unprofitable enterprises and time-consuming activities which do not properly concern them, and who get themselves some leisure from useless annoyances, that should be defined as 'retiring.' But if that is right, it is not the man who has moved from some city to another one or from one place to another that could be described as 'retiring.' For wherever he goes, there will be many things getting in his way and not allowing him to do the things which properly concern him. For the fact is that spending much time in somebody's company and in continual drinking, or dicing, or in doing some other harmful and unprofitable thing are practices to be met with everywhere​3 — and wasting all one's time in palavering with anyone you happen to meet, and in listening to talk that is utterly futile, or spending your time discoursing about the affairs of the Emperor or of what's his name, as some one has said. 4 For the fool is not master of his own soul, but is whirled this way and that and is easily led by any chance pretext or association.

 p251  Consequently the majority of men are just like spendthrifts, who would be unable to render an accounting for the money they have spent, explaining what they have spent each several item for, although enormous sums have clearly been expended: so neither could these men render an accounting for what they have spent each day, or month, or year, although life is clearly passing by and time being spent, this being of no little value to man, of no less value to him, in my opinion, than money. 5 But all the same, when one drachma has been lost, the man cannot help noticing it and being in some way distressed; and if a person loses several, there are not many who remain undisturbed by such a matter. I do not mean that they are pained and hurt because of their carelessness and because they failed to give heed to avoid such conduct as should properly have hurt them, but simply at the loss of the drachmas. 6 But when a day is gone and lost, or two or three of them, there is no one who gives that a thought! Yet in the one case they are able to reckon thus much: that if they fail to give heed and take thought of such matters, all their property may slip away and be lost without their noticing it. But in the matter we are now discussing, men are not able to apply the same method of reckoning in order to reach the same conclusions, to wit, that if they do not take thought for each day and watch lest they aimlessly throw it away, their whole life may slip away and be lost before they know it.

7 But clearly it is not the place where you are nor this going abroad that affords an escape from doing sundry trivial things, nor is it even one's having  p253 retired to Corinth or to Thebes,​4 but rather the being occupied with one's own self, when one so wishes. For in Thebes and in Megara, yes, anywhere almost that one may go, whether in Greece or in Italy, it is possible for one to live in idleness and to take one's ease; and one will not lack a pretext, wherever he happens to be, for spending quite a good deal of time, if it so happens, in busying one's self with affairs as well as in loafing. 8 I am therefore inclined to think that the best and most profitable kind of retirement is retirement into oneself and giving attention to one's own concerns, whether one happens to be in Babylon, or in Athens, or in a military camp, or alone on a little island.​5 For retirements and sojournings abroad of the kind we have mentioned conduce very little to one's having leisure and doing only what one ought to do. Sick persons, for instance, by changing from one bed to another do sometimes get a little relief, but certainly not enough nor such as would rid them of their malady. 9 And we often see how even in the midst of a very great turmoil and throng the individual is not hampered in carrying on his own occupation; but, on the contrary, the man who is playing the flute or teaching a pupil to play it devotes himself to that, often holding school in the very street, and the crowd  p255 does not distract him at all, nor the din made by the passers-by; and the dancer likewise, or dancing master, is engrossed in his work, being utterly heedless of those who are fighting and selling and doing other things; and so also with the harper and the painter. But here is the most extreme case of all: The elementary teachers sit in the streets with their pupils, nothing hinders them in this great throng from teaching and learning. 10 And I remember once seeing, while walking through the Hippodrome,​6 many people on one spot and each one doing something different: one playing the flute, another dancing, another doing a juggler's trick, another reading a poem aloud, another singing, and another telling some story or myth; and yet not a single one of them prevented anyone else from attending to his own business and doing the work that he had in hand.

11 However, you will object, there is none of these occupations that concentrates the mind, steadies it, and causes it to look with disdain upon all other things; and education, apparently, and philosophy, which best accomplish this, do require great seclusion and retirement; and, just as the sick, unless there is silence and quiet all about them, are unable to get any sleep, so, you see, it is with seekers after learning — unless everybody about them is quiet, and unless there is nothing distracting to be seen or heard, their mind will find it impossible to give attention to its own affairs and to concentrate on these.

12 Yet I for my part notice that people who live  p257 by the sea are not affected by its sounds, but are able to put their minds on anything they like, that they speak and listen and sleep when they feel that the time has come for these things, because they think that the sound is no concern of theirs and so do not mind it. But if they did care to take notice when the roar increased or diminished, or to count the waves that break upon the shore, or to watch the gulls and other birds, how they alight on the waves and float easily on them, they would not have time to do anything else.

13 So, too, the man who can bring himself to reflect in regard to the crowds and the din they cause and their various affairs, that these things differ not one whit from what takes place on the sea, will not be troubled by any of them. Nay, we have in this, it would seem, a very valuable lesson and bit of instruction — that we should accustom the mind to follow reason​7 and not to let it be diverted to any other thing whatsoever than the matters which are before it and thought to be fitting. 14 And when we have thus accustomed the mind by reason will be able to accomplish all its proper work; but the mind that spins this way and that and fidgets and turns to one thing after another, whenever anything comes in sight at any time which offers some pleasure or relaxation, like water that turns in every way as it chances on a piece of uneven ground, will derive no benefit whatever from even perfect quiet and seclusion.

15 I myself know that when well trained​8 and willing  p259 dogs are unleashed, they straightway pick up the trail, and not even if all the hunters should try to call them back, would they ever leave it; no, not even if many voices from all sides should reach them and many odours emanating from the fruits and flowers should be mingled with the scent, and a great host of men and other creatures should come to view, and tracks of horses here and cattle or sheep there. Such a dog sees none of these things, picks out the trail on all sides and follows until she finds and puts up the hare; and after this she keeps up the pursuit, no matter what country she has to pass through, and neither plain nor road nor exceedingly rough ground, nor ravine nor stream can stop her, in spite of all the doublings the hare makes in its attempts to put her off the scent. 16 But ignorant and untrained dogs I find are slow to pick up the trail and quick to give up the chase, and if a noise reaches their ears from any quarter, whether the barking of dogs, or the shouting of men, whether wayfarers or herdsmen, they straightway lift their noses from the trail and rush off in that direction. For all these things, just as I have said, habit is responsible. And in the same way the mind also should be made accustomed never to turn aside or withdraw from what it regards as its proper work. Otherwise it will not be easy to rise above one's surroundings or to accomplish anything satisfactorily.

17 Or is it not wildernesses and places undisturbed by sounds, or chiefly there, that foolish men, trying not to concentrate their thoughts upon the essential  p261 things, have conjured up many strange imaginings, things amid which they yearn to live, shaping for themselves in fancy sovereign power and riches and other such marvels? Some dig up treasures of gold and silver and thus suddenly come into possession of an enormous quantity of them; and others make themselves emperors and absolute rulers of cities and nations, then straightway putting into practice everything that goes with a tyranny: putting some to death and banishing others, making free with any virgins or boys or matrons that they choose, and taking part in the most costly banquets and feasts; 18 others put out money on usury or engage in other enterprises, dreaming all kinds of bright dreams to themselves just as if they were wide awake with their eyes open. Aye, and sometimes, to be sure, as the result of these dreams there comes from them the most trivial and absurd awakening from such dreams! For tyrannies are not at all likely to spring from such things, since a tyranny is not apt to be sought by a mind that is slothful and in a sense always asleep, but on the contrary, by keen and unsleeping thought. But lavish expenditures, love intrigues, and such like adventures have undoubtedly often fallen to the lot of many.

19 I may cite Alexander​9 as an instance: I fancy that, when he happened to be enjoying a respite from his herdsman's duties on Mount Ida, the thought and with it the desire came to him, what a fortunate and blissful thing it would be to have the most beautiful woman in the whole world to wife, and that neither a throne was as valuable as this prize, nor wealth, nor the conquest of the whole world in war; next he  p263 began to speculate as to who and where this woman of his fancy might be, among what people she lived, and by what means he could compass to splendid an alliance; 20 and so he began to despise the nymphs and maidens of Ilium with a prince's disdain and to think them not worth his winning, and in the same way also he despised the women of Lydia and Phrygia, and those in Lesbos and Mysia. But learning that in Sparta there was a certain reputed daughter of Zeus, living in wedlock with Menelaus, a king in his own right and brother of the king of all Greece,​10 a woman whom the first and foremost of the Greeks had wooed and sought to win by offering many wedding-gifts and presents and, to crown all, that she had, according to report, brave brothers twain, Polydeuces and Castor, true sons of Zeus. So he coveted this woman for his wife. 21 Now in the ordinary course of events he thought that this was not at all feasible, but that if some god should promise and give her, so wild an ambition might perhaps be realized. What goddess, then, he asked himself, was likely to grant favours of this kind other than she who held authority and ruled over all that pertained to marriage and to love? Therefore, if she offered him this bride, he thought the marriage not impossible. How, then, could he persuade her to grant him this favour unless in some way he should ingratiate himself with the goddess by giving her some boon or favour? But he reflected that she did not stand in need of wealth, since she was 'golden'​11 and possessed all the wealth in the world, absolutely;  p265 nor sacrifices either, since all men everywhere offered her sacrifice; nor would she readily heed anything else one might say or any mere petition.​12 But if, he thought, one were to present her with the thing which she desired most of all, what she had looked upon as the most valuable thing in the world, and should bear witness for her that she was the most beautiful goddess, perhaps she would consent. 22 Then to win the victory and to be preferred in this contest of beauty — over what divinity, he asked himself, would she think she could afford to prevail except over the foremost and greatest of them, Athena and Hera? And this would be all the more so if these two should put in an appearance, offering great and wonder­ful gifts for the sake of winning. So after canvassing the matter in this way and elaborating his own imagining and conceit, like a soul which in its sleep follows out its phantasies and imaginings and spins out some long and coherent dream, he is appointed by Zeus, he fancies, umpire over the goddesses; and as to the other goddesses, he disregarded both their persons and their gifts, and chose the third in return for the bribe and gift of winning that woman as wife who had been the object of his thoughts and for whom he had prayed.

23 If, then, he had been nothing more than a herdsman and a commoner in rank, no trouble would have come to him from that ambitious dream. But as it was, since he was of kingly blood and a mighty prince, and of great influence owing to his wealth and the dominion over the greatest city of those days, and the affection which his parents bore for him, he forthwith realized the rest of his dream, just as if the first part had actually happened; and after building  p267 ships and assembling a retinue, he sailed for Greece and Sparta, entered the home of Menelaus and Helen, where he was hospitably received, induced her to leave her husband and Hellas, and then returned to his home, bringing into Troy the beginning of many grievous troubles and disasters.

24 Thus, whereas the thoughts and desires of the soul of a man in private station and without influence are wind-begotten and ineffectual, and no difficulty arises from them, but just as real dreams are gone at once when the dreamers rise from their beds, and no part of them can endure the sun or the day, as the saying is, so it is with desires and hopes of this kind; yet those of monarchs, on the other hand, or of men of wealth or of those who possess some other power, quite often reach a fulfilment that is both grievous and terrible. 25 And this sort of thing, in my opinion, is just like wind-begotten products of generation. For they do indeed say that some eggs are produced in this way without the intercourse and impregnation of the male seed, and they are called wind-eggs as if begotten by a gust of wind. And this is the reason, as it seems to me, why even Homer, in the belief that it was not impossible or incredible that a wind-begotten breed of horses should have appeared to men, said that the North Wind, becoming enamoured of some Trojan mares, impregnated them with his seed so that a breed of horses came from them.​13 In like manner, what begins with a mistaken and impossible idea often ends in an accomplished fact.

 p269  26 All that I have said follows from that initial digressive remark that the mind should accustom itself to do and think what is essential to it everywhere, even in a perfect din as well as in perfect quiet. Otherwise seclusion and quiet offer no advantage and no greater safeguard, for men who are fools, to keep them from conceiving and committing many strange and wicked deeds.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Compare Lycurgus, Against Leocrates 21 ff.

2 The λειτουργία was a public service which wealthy men of Athens, and of some other Greek states, were required to perform at their own expense in order to lighten the financial burdens of the state as such. At Athens there were both ordinary and extraordinary ones. Of the former kind the most important was the χορηγία, that is, paying the expense of outfitting and training a chorus for one of the Athenian state festivals, in which were included the tragic contests and later, the presentations of comedies; next in importance was the τριηραρχία, which imposed the obligation to equip a trireme and to maintain it in service for a year.

3 Cf. Lysias 16.11 and Isocrates 15.286 ff.

4 Corinth was noted for its elegant and expensive women, Thebes for its dullness. Cf. the proverb: "Not every man can afford the trip to Corinth" — οὐ παντὸς ἀνδρὸς εἰς Κόρινθόν ἐσθ’ ὁ πλοῦς.

5 Seneca (Letters 56.5) says: "Of what advantages silence all around if the feelings are clamouring?" — Quid prodest totius regionis silentium si adfectus fremunt? — Compare also Horace, Epistles 1.11.27‑30: "Their sky, not their soul, those change who run across the sea. A strenuous inactivity busies us. We seek the good life in ships and chariots. What you seek is here, is at Ulubrae, if you possess an unruffled soul" — Caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt. Strenua nos exercet inertia: navibus atque quadrigis petimus bene vivere. Quod petis hic est, est Ulubris, animus si te non deficit aequus.

Thayer's Note: The exact site of Ulubrae is not known, but it was an insignificant village in the unhealthy, still undrained Pomptine Marshes — in Roman times, the quintessential nasty, lost little place.

6 The hippodrome, or track for chariot-racing, was found in many ancient cities. The most famous one was at Olympia. For a description of it see Pausanias 6.20.10 ff.

7 Socrates was ever exhorting his hearers to do this. See, for example, Plato, Gorgias 527E.

8 The phrase καλῶς ἀχθείσας occurs also in Xenophon, Memorabilia of Socrates 4.1.3.

9 More commonly known as Paris.

10 That is, Agamemnon.

11 Aphrodite is here called 'golden' because of the wealth of her shrines and the golden adornment of her statues. In passages such as Homer, Iliad 5.427 and 19.282 the term refers primarily to her radiant beauty. See also the footnote on p261 of vol. I.

12 i.e., if unaccompanied by a gift of some sort.

13 See Homer, Iliad 20.223‑229.

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