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Bill Thayer

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Discourse 26

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 28

(Vol. II) Dio Chrysostom

 p349  The Twenty-seventh Discourse:
A Short Talk on What Takes Place at a Symposium

The qualities of mind and character of individual men stand revealed at our national festivals​1 no less than at symposia,​2 except that at festivals the revelation is more varied and extends over a longer period of time.3

As of the symposia, we may assume that some persons attend for the sake of drinking and devote themselves to that, just as thirsty wayfarers when they come to a spring stoop down and drink. Yet travellers, when they have drunk their fill and quenched their thirst, quietly go their way without having done or said anything indecorous, but the others, on the contrary, both say and do many disagreeable things at times. 2 For Dionysus does not welcome his votaries who need him with the same sort of welcome as the Nymphs do theirs;​4 but since he is of a frenzied nature  p351 and the child of lightning and thunder, as the poets say, he literally fills with fire those who use him in too ignorant a way, and actually makes the majority of them thunderstruck or stupefied. Nay rather, his votaries, being practically crazed, do many evil things, just as Homer says of the Centaur that in a fit of drunkenness he wrought evil in the home of Peirithoüs.​5 3 And others, too, who are naturally loquacious, feeling that they have got their table-companions for an audience, recite stupid and tedious speeches; while still others sing in tune and out of tune,​6 although they have no gift whatever for music; and one might almost say that they give more annoyance than those who quarrel and use abusive language. But there is another class of men who claim to be abstemious and temperate, that bore people to death by their disagreeable manner,​7 since they will not condescend either to drink moderately or to take part in the general conversation. 4 But the man that is gentle and has a properly ordered character, easily endures the rudeness of the others, and acts like a gentleman himself, trying to the best of his ability to bring the ignorant chorus into a proper demeanour by means of fitting rhythm and melody. And he introduces appropriate topics of conversation and by his tact and persuasiveness attempts to get those present to be more harmonious and friendly in their intercourse with one another.

5 So much for symposia. But people also attend the national festivals, some just to see the sights  p353 and the athletic contests in particular; and all those who take a very great interest in these continue doing nothing else from early dawn. Many too bring in merchandise of all sorts, the tradespeople, that is; and some display their own arts and crafts; 6 while others show off their accomplishments, many of them declaiming poems, both tragedies and epics, and many others prose works, so that they annoy the man who has come for a rest and wishes to have a holiday. And these people seem very much like those who hum tunes and sing songs at the symposia, whom you cannot help hearing even if you do not wish it.

But the man who in the midst of these folk has the ability to speak words edifying and profitable and thus make the whole gathering more decorous and better, because of the general disturbance and the great throng of those of the other sort keeps quiet and withdraws into himself.

7 For really most men feel towards the words of philosophy exactly as they do, I believe, toward the drugs which physicians administer; that is, no one resorts to them at first, nor buys them until he contracts some unmistakable illness and has pain in some part of his body. And in the same way people are, as a general rule, not willing to listen to the words of the philosopher until some affliction visits them, something which men consider grievous. 8 To give an illustration: the prosperous man — I use the term in the sense in which the majority use it — for instance, a man who derives a large income from his loans, or has a good deal of land, and not only enjoys good health, but has children and a wife living, or a man who has some position of  p355 authority and a high office without war, or rebellion, or any open dangers — such a person you would not easily find approaching these philosophers, or caring to listen to the teachings of philosophy. 9 But if some disaster should overtake any one touching his livelihood, and he should become either poor after having been wealthy, or weak and powerless after having been influential, or should meet with some other misfortune, then he becomes much more friendly disposed toward that craft, somehow manages to endure the words of the philosophers, and practically admits that he needs comfort. And if it is his misfortune to lose any of his relatives, either his wife, or child, or a brother, he asks the philosopher to come and speak words of comfort, as if he thought it were only then necessary to consider how one may endure with resignation what happens and be able to face the future; before that he does not. 10 It is much the same as the feeling of ignorant persons in regard to their bodies: ordinarily they have no concern whatever about their health, but enjoy foods, wine, and women, and all their other regimen as intemperately and unconcernedly as possible; but if any weariness or fever does unexpectedly seize them owing to the changes in the weather, then they indeed demand to be treated, since their health is greatly disordered and they are suffering from severe illnesses, such as you expect would attack people of this sort. But how to avoid having any need of a physician is a problem which they do not consider at all.8

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 The panegyris was an assembly of the people of a particular district, province, tribe, or nation to worship at a common sanctuary. In addition, there were spectacles, amusements, games, chariot races, political discussions and resolutions, buying and selling, etc. For further details see § 5 of this Discourse, and Discourses eight and nine. In many respects it resembled a modern fair. As illustrations we think first of the Olympian, Pythian, Isthmian, and Nemean games.

Thayer's Note: For a more detailed look at them, with sources, see the article Panegyris in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

2 The symposium (a drinking together) was the name given the entertainment which followed a δεῖπνον or dinner-party. In it the pleasure of drinking wine was heightened by agreeable conversation, music, dancing, games, philosophical discussion, etc.

3 For the same thought cf. Discourse 8.6; 30.33; 32.53; 33.14 f.

4 In other words, the effects of wine and of water upon those who partake of them are quite different.

Dionysus, the god of wine, was the son of Zeus, the god of thunder and lightning. When Zeus appeared in that character before Semelê, the mother of Dionysus, she was consumed by the lightning, but her child was saved. The nymphs, goddesses of lesser rank, were attached to various kinds of places. Dio is here thinking of those who haunted springs, who were called specifically ναϊάδες. Cf. Discourse 12.30 νάμασι νυμφῶν ποτίμοις, "drinkable rills of nymphs."

5 See Homer, Odyssey 21.295‑298 and Ovid, Metamorphoses 12.219. Peirithoüs, leader of the Lapithae in Thessaly, invited the Centaurs to his wedding feast, when one of them, named Eurytion (Eurytus according to Ovid), became drunk with wine and attacked the bride Hippodameia. Πειρίθοος shortened to Πειρίθους, gen. Πειρίθοῦ.

6 See Discourse 14.4 for the same expression.

7 See Demosthenes 21.153 for the same expression.

8 In Discourse 8.6 ff. Diogenes says that physicians have the advantage in being consulted more readily than philosophers are.

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Page updated: 12 Mar 08