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Bill Thayer

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Discourse 27

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 29

(Vol. II) Dio Chrysostom

 p357  The Twenty-eighth Discourse: Melancomas II​1

Dio, accompanied by at least one friend, comes up from the harbour — of Naples presumably — to witness the athletic contests then being held, and has his attention drawn especially to a tall handsome boxer who is training, surrounded by a great crowd of admirers. On asking one of the bystanders who the man is, he learns that it is the boxer Iatrocles, so often the antagonist of Melancomas, who has recently died. This bystander speaks in the highest terms of Melancomas both as a boxer and as a man, and is evidently greatly distressed by his death. Thereupon Dio offers various reflections to comfort him.

vonº Arnim, chiefly from a study of this Discourse and the following one, which is the funeral oration for Melancomas,  p358 comes to the conclusion that the occasion of it was the Games in honour of Augustus (Ludi Augustales) as held at Naples in the year A.D. 74, when Titus, soon to be emperor and now thirty-three years old — Dio himself would be of about the same age — was either Director of Games (γυμνασίαρχος) there or Exhibitor of Games (ἀγωνοθέτης).​a

On the other hand, Lemarchand (Dion de Pruse, Les Oeuvres d'avant l'Exil,º p30 ff.) gives various reasons for thinking that Melancomas is a purely imaginary character. He considers it rather remarkable that, apart from one passage in Themistius (i.e. Oration 10, p139), who got his information from Dio (see Scharold, Dio Chrysostomus und Themistius, Burghausen 1912), there is no other reference in ancient literature to this incomparable athlete and boxer, no inscription that has come to light commemorating any victory of his. He also shows in detail that this Melancomas is the embodiment of all the youthful qualities and virtues for which Dio shows admiration in other Discourses, and that Dio at times, as in the Euboean Discourse, describes what is ideal rather than actual. And in Dio's time, he adds, the Romans began to take an interest in athletics, so that outstanding athletes came from Greece and Asia Minor to give exhibitions — note that Melancomas' father is represented as coming from Caria in Asia Minor. Their contests served to recall the glorious past of Greece. Therefore, may not Dio, who was an ardent Hellenist and who looked with disapproval on the cruel gladiatorial exhibitions (see Discourse 31.121), have wished to increase the interest in athletics by creating and describing this ideal athlete, this gentle boxer, who would not think of injuring his opponent by striking him with his fist armed with the terrible caestus?​b But this gentleness would make little appeal to most men of Dio's time.

As a literary effort the twenty-eighth Discourse is superior to the twenty-ninth, and toward the end the hortatory and preaching element, which is regarded as typical of what Dio wrote during his exile, is somewhat in evidence. It is possible, then, that this Discourse was written considerably later than the following one.

 p361  The Twenty-eighth Discourse: Melancomas II

After coming up from the harbour, we strolled over at once to have a look at the athletes, just as if the sole purpose of our trip had been to view the contests. When we got near the gymnasium we saw a number running on the track outside of it, and there was a roar as the crowd cheered them on; and we also saw the athletes who were exercising in other ways. To those, however, we thought it hardly worth while to pay attention; but wherever we saw the biggest crowd, there we would stroll. 2 So we noticed a great number of people standing near the Arcade of Heracles and a stream of others coming up, and some also going away because they could not see. At first we tried to see by looking over other people's shoulders, and with difficulty managed to catch a glimpse of the head of a man who was exercising with his hands up.​2 Then we gradually got in closer. He was a very tall and beautiful young man; and besides, the exercises he was taking made his body seem, quite naturally, still taller and more beautiful. He was giving a most brilliant performance, and in so spirited a way that he seemed more like a man in an actual contest. 3 Then, when he stopped exercising and the crowd began to draw away, we studied him more  p363 closely. He was just like one of the most carefully wrought statues, and also he had a colour like well blended bronze.3

4 After he had gone, we asked one of the bystanders, an old man, who he was; and the man said with a frown:

"Why that is Iatrocles, the opponent of Melancomas, the only man who would not give in to him, at least, that is, if he could help it. Still he could not get the better of him, for he was always defeated, sometimes after competing for a whole day. However, Iatrocles had already given up trying, so that in the last contest here in Naples, Melancomas defeated no opponent more quickly than he did Iatrocles. But you see how confident he is now, and how large a crowd he has about him as he takes his exercise. For my part, I really believe that he feels a malicious joy at the other man's misfortune; and naturally enough, for he knows that not only the next crown​4 but all others are now his own."

5 "What!" I exclaimed, "Is Melancomas dead?" — for even we knew his name at least, although we had never seen the man himself.

"Yes," he replied, "he died not long ago. I believe this is the second day since he was buried."

"And in what respect," I asked, "was he superior to this man and to the others also? Was it in size, or in courage?"

"That man, sir," he replied, "was more courageous and bigger than any other man in the world, not merely than any of his opponents; and furthermore, he was the most beautiful. And if he had remained an amateur and had not gone in for boxing at all, I believe that he would have become widely known  p365 simply on account of his beauty; for even as it was, he attracted everybody's attention whenever he went anywhere, even that of people who did not know who he was. 6 And yet he did not dress up in fine clothes or in any other way try to attract notice rather than to remain inconspicuous; but when he was stripped, nobody would look at anyone else, although many boys and many men were training.​5 And although beauty is wont to lead to softness, even with those who are only moderately endowed with it, beautiful as he was, he was even more remarkable for his self-control and moderation; and though despising his beauty, he none the less preserved it in spite of his rough profession. 7 At any rate, although boxing was his specialty, he remained as free from marks as any of the runners; and he had trained so rigorously and went so far beyond others in toilsome exercising that he was able to remain for two whole days in succession with his hands up, and nobody could catch him letting them down or taking a rest, as athletes usually do. Then he used to force his opponents to give up, not only before he himself had received a blow but even before he had landed one on them. For he did not consider it courage to strike his opponent or to receive an injury himself, but thought this indicated lack of stamina and a desire to have done with the contest.​6 8 But to last out the full time without either being done up by the weight of his arms, or becoming out of breath, or being distressed by the heat — that, he thought, was a splendid achievement."

 p367  "He had the right idea though," said I, breaking in. "For in war the worst soldiers throw away their shields though they know well enough that when unprotected they are more apt to be wounded. Thus, we see, they are overcome more by their exhaustion than by their wounds."7

9 "That is just the reason," he rejoined, "why, from the time Melancomas began to compete in the Pythian games, he was the first man to our knowledge who remained undefeated, after winning the most and the greatest crowns and facing antagonists who were neither negligible nor few in number.​8 And his own father — a very famous man, the well-known Melancomas who came from Caria and among his other victories also won at Olympia — he had surpassed before he came to manhhod; for his father did not remain undefeated.​9 However, splendid as this young athlete was, 10 he came to a wretched end, after enduring the laborious work of athletics to the uttermost without experiencing any of the joys of life. And he was by nature so exceedingly ambitious that even on his deathbed he inquired of Athenodorus, the pancratiast,​10 who had been his friend from boyhood, just how many days of the athletic meet were left." And as he said this, the old man burst into tears.

11 "Ah!" said I, "it is pardonable in you to grieve so excessively; he must certainly be related to you in some way."

"In heaven's name no," he answered, "no relation of mine. For he was neither a blood kinsman of mine, nor was he trained by me; no, I trained one of the boys among the pancratiasts. As for him, he was  p369 such a splendid fellow that all who know him felt grief at his death."

12 "Then," said I, "you have no reason for calling him wretched. On the contrary, he must be most blessed and fortunate if he was the sort of man report makes him. It was his good fortune to come of an illustrious family, to possess beauty, and, in addition, courage, physical strength, and self-control — things that are certainly the greatest blessings. But what was indeed the most surprising thing about a man is, to have remained undefeated not only by his opponents but also by toil and heat and gluttony and sensuality; for the man who is going to prove inferior to none of his opponents must first be undefeated by these things. 13 And as for pleasures, who ever enjoyed greater than he, who, being very ambitious, always won, and being admired, knew that he was admired? And it seems to me that the gods loved him exceedingly and honoured him especially in his death, in order that he might experience none of life's great sorrows.​11 For if his life had been spared, he would inevitably have become more ugly after being most beautiful, weaker after being strongest,​12 and perhaps have been defeated too. But the man who passes away in the midst of the greatest blessings after the finest achievements, that man has the happiest death; and you will find that in ancient times too, those whom the gods loved had a short span of life."13

 p371  "Whom do you mean?" he asked.

14 "Achilles," I replied, "and Patroclus and Hector and Memnon and Sarpedon,"​14 and as I was going on to name still others, he exclaimed:

"What you have said is well suited to comfort those who are in mourning, and I wish that I could listen to you longer; but really it is high time for me to be at the training of the boy, and I am off."

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Some of the codices which contain all of Dio's eighty extant Discourses have these Discourses arranged in the order followed in this edition. This has been the common and accepted order, and the Discourses are always referred to by the numbers of this arrangement. But the other complete codices use a different order, which was followed by Photius. vonº Arnim in Hermes, vol. 26, has shown this to be the earlier and preferable order. He introduced it in his edition of Dio, and was followed by De Budé in his.

The MSS. U, B, and M, which give the Discourses in the common and accepted order, put Melancomas II before Melancomas I, so that they appear as Nos. 28 and 29 in the series; but these MSS. show in two ways that this order is not the natural one. The Discourse that would naturally come second is called II; and then the added words, "in its position I," (τῇ τάξει α´) indicate once more that this natural order has been reversed.

2 He was shadow-boxing.

3 Cf. Discourse 12.2. Dio refers to Sicyonian blending of copper and tin which produced rich brown.

4 The party for boxing at the games then being held.

5 Cf. Discourse 29.3 ff.

6 For the contents of §§ 5‑7 cf. Discourse 29.4‑8 and Themistius 10.139. Themistius got this information from Dio.

7 Cf. Discourse 8.18 and 19.13.

8 Cf. Discourse 29.11.

9 That is, in his youth.

10 A youth who competed in both wrestling and boxing.

Thayer's Note: No. The pancratiast competes in Pancratium (q.v.) — which is one sport, not two: it combines boxing and wrestling, and then some.

11 Cf. what Herodotus (1.31 ff.) says about the two young men, Cleobis and Biton, who in their lives and deaths were much like Melancomas.

12 Cf. Xenophon, Apology of Socrates 6 and Memorabilia 4.8.8.

13 Cf. Menander as reported by Plutarch in Consolation to Apollonius 119E, Frag. 125 (Kock): "He whom the gods love dies young" — ὃν οἱ θεοὶ φιλοῦσιν ἄποθνήσκει νέος; Plautus, Bacchides, 4.7.18 f.: Quem di diligunt adulescens moritur; Lord Byron, Don Juan 4.12; Dio, Discourse 29.20. Wordsworth in The Excursion says, "The good die first." The same idea is found in Homer, Odyssey 15.245‑247 and in Plutarch, op. cit. 111B.

14 See Discourse 29.20 for a somewhat longer list. Sarpedon, a Lycian prince and ally of the Trojans, who was slain by Patroclus. Not to be confused with his grandfather of the same name, who lived for three generations.

Thayer's Notes:

a See the articles Gymnasium and Agonothetae in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

b For details, see the article Cestus (the usual spelling) in Smith's Dictionary.

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