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Discourse 28

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 30

(Vol. II) Dio Chrysostom

 p373  The Twenty-ninth Discourse: Melancomas I​1

This Discourse is in the form of a funeral oration for a young boxer Melancomas, who had died very suddenly. As to the question whether there ever was such a Melancomas and as to the time and place of this oration the reader is referred to the Introduction to the preceding Discourse.

If we follow von Arnim and others in believing that there really was such a Melancomas and that this funeral oration really was delivered, then arises the question of who delivered it. Apparently it was not Dio himself, because the speaker had been a close friend of the deceased and was deeply moved by his death; while Dio, on the other hand, had known Melancomas only by name, as he says in Discourse 28.5. Then too, the speaker represents himself as quite youthful and not a fluent speaker. But if Dio merely wrote the oration for some one else to deliver, who was that person? One thinks first of Titus, who according to a Neapolitan inscription was the agonothete at the Games in Naples three times and gymnasiarch once before A.D. 81 and was reputed to have been a lover of Melancomas (Cf. Themistius, Oration 10, p139 Hard.). But it seems unlikely that a man of Titus' disposition, high place, and maturity — he was possibly thirty-three years old at the time when this oration is supposed to have been delivered — and fresh from the capture of Jerusalem, would have represented himself as youthful and immature; or have ranked athletics higher than warfare, as the speaker does in § 15. It is more likely that this oration was delivered by a Greek who was a high official at the Games.

The thought content of this Discourse and the information given about Melancomas are practically the same as in the preceding Discourse; but a good deal more is said in praise of the deceased; and athletics, as already said, are put on a higher plane than warfare.

 p375  The Twenty-ninth Discourse: Melancomas I​2

Ah sirs! I cannot think of anything at all to say, so great is my grief alike and my consternation at this sudden bereavement; for not only on account of the office which I hold does the disaster come home to me more than to any other citizen, but Melancomas was also a personal friend of mine beyond all others, as most of you know. And to me at least it seems an absurd custom, when citizens die, that those most deeply afflicted should be thought the most fitting persons to speak at their obsequies; since those who are most grief-stricken are for that very reason incapable of speech. 2 Moreover, I am at the time of life when all men find that, while their ability to speak is always less than it was, yet the emotions of both joy and sorrow​3 are greatest in intensity. Since, however, a eulogy spoken by a general over a good soldier who has passed away does him a greater honour, and one spoken by any ruler a greater honour than one spoken by a private citizen, so it devolves upon me also, in view of the office I hold, to speak to the best of my ability. And it would be in keeping with the merit of the deceased and my own youth to demand of me no lengthy or studied eulogy, but praise that comes from the heart.

 p377  In the first place, he had the good fortune to be truly well-born. For it is not because he chanced to have forebears who were rich — nay, not even if they were kings but in other respects were quite without merit — that this man was well-born. 3 That term applies to those who have come from good parents, as this man did.​4 For his father stood out conspicuous among all men of his time for those fairest gifts — nobility of soul and bodily strength. This is proved by the victories that he won, both at Olympia and in the other games.5

Then he was himself by nature's gift the most beautiful of men, not only of those of the present day but, as one may infer from his surpassing beauty, of absolutely all those of all time who have been renowned for beauty, all those, I mean, who were born mortal. 4 For the majority of those who have been regarded as beautiful because they did possess comeliness in certain parts of their body afterwards have got the reputation of being beautiful; since the eye ever wishes to direct itself to the most pleasing things to the neglect of what is inferior. And certain others were not favoured by nature with a beautiful body, but a lovely prime had arrived for them, so that those who met them, succumbing thereto, called it beauty, since the heyday of life always bourgeons in all animals and plants alike. 5 Thousands of persons of this sort can be found who at one time seem beautiful and at another time ugly; and though they please some exceedingly, with others they get no notice at all. But when it is a question of perfect and true beauty, it would be surprising if anyone ever possessed it as this man did. For he had it in his whole body and always  p379 to the same degree, both before he reached years of manhood and afterward; and he would never have lived long enough, even if he had reached an extreme old age, to have dimmed his beauty.6

6 And here is an indication of the surpassing quality of his beauty: not that he stood out pre-eminent in any company of professional men, or was admired merely by some few who saw him, no indeed, but that he was always admired when in a company of those who are perhaps the most beautiful men in the world — the athletes among whom he moved. For the tallest and most comely men, whose bodies receive the most perfect care, are these. And he was seen by practically all mankind. For there was no city of repute, and no nation, which he did not visit; and among all alike the same opinion of him prevailed — that they had seen no one more beautiful. And since he was admired by the greatest numbers, and amongst the most beautiful men he alone possessed the fame of sheer beauty, it is evident that he was blest with what we may term a form truly divine.

7 I therefore in the first place felicitate him for his beauty, a thing which certainly is the most conspicuous of the blessings that can fall to man, which, while being most pleasing to gods and most pleasing to men, is yet fraught with least pain to its possessor and is easiest to recognize. For while the other blessings that a man may have might easily pass unnoticed, such as courage and temperance and wisdom, unless some deed should happen to reveal them, yet beauty cannot remain hidden. For it becomes manifest the moment its possessor appears; nay, one might say that it becomes manifest even  p381 sooner, so penetrating is the impression it makes on the senses. Furthermore, most men envy all other blessings and become hostile to their possessor, but beauty makes friends of those who perceive it and allows no one to become an enemy.7

8 But if anyone says that I am uttering an encomium of beauty and not of the man himself, his criticism is unjust. To illustrate: it would be called a eulogy of a man if we should dwell upon his manly courage. Very well, then: when it is a matter of dispute as to whether a person possesses any given quality, then it is necessary to prove he does; but when he is known to possess it, we need only to praise the nature of the good trait which is admittedly his. For the eulogy of this will be at the same time also a eulogy of its possessor.

And what is most admirable in Melancomas is that, with all his beauty of figure, he surpassed in manly courage. 9 Indeed, it seems to me that his soul vied with his body and strove to make herself the means of his winning a greater renown. He therefore, recognizing that, of all the activities conducive to courage, athletics is at once the most honourable and the most laborious, chose that. Indeed, for the soldier's career no opportunity existed, and the training also is less severe. And I for my part would venture to say that it is inferior also in that there is scope for courage alone in warfare, whereas athletics at one and the same time produce manliness, physical strength, and self-control.​8 10 Furthermore, he chose,  p383 not the easiest branch of athletics, but the most laborious, since he trained for boxing. Now it is difficult to reach the top even in the humblest branch, let alone to surpass all others in the greatest and most difficult one, as this man.

To give the full record, one after another, of his crowns and the contests in which he won them is superfluous in the presence of you who know of them, and especially since anyone could name others who gained these same victories. But that which has fallen to the lot of no one else, 11 although you are aware of it as well as I, yet for that very reason must be mentioned; for even those who do not know of it also find it difficult to credit — I mean that, although he met so many antagonists and such good ones, he went down before none of them, but was himself always victorious.​9 Yet you could find in all the past no general who was never defeated, no hero in war who did not actually some time or other flee from battle. For one could not say of our friend that he remained undefeated simply because he died early, since, after all, he went through far more contests than anyone else; and the chance of losing depends upon the attempts made and not upon the length of life. Furthermore, a person might have been amazed at this — that he won all his victories without being hit himself or hitting his opponent, so far superior was he in strength and in his power of endurance. 12 For often he would fight throughout the whole day, in the hottest season of the year, and although he could have more quickly won the contest by striking a blow, he refused to do it,  p385 thinking that it was possible at times for the least competent boxer to overcome by a blow the very best man, if the chance for making it were offered; but he held that it was the truest victory when he forced his opponent, although uninjured, to give up; for then the man was overcome, not by his injury, but by himself; and that for an adversary to give up because of the condition of his whole body and not simply of the part of his body that was struck, meant brilliant work on the part of the victor; whereas the man who rushed in to win as quickly as possible by striking and clinching was himself overcome by the heat and by the prolonged effort.10

13 But if anyone does not look at the matter in this light, let him reflect that boars and stags, as long as their strength holds out, do not come to close quarters with either men or dogs, and that it is only when they give out from exhaustion that they come in close and prefer wounds and death to enduring the fatigue of pursuit any longer. It is the same with men in war: although they know well that they are more likely to be struck when in flight than when they stand their ground, yet because they are unwilling to suffer distress through weariness any longer, they retire, in this way exposing themselves to the blows of their enemies in their rears. Therefore contempt for wounds is not a mark of courage but of the opposite.

14 So I think that under one and the same head everything has been said, not only about manliness and courage, but also about self-control and about temperance. For if Melancomas had not been self-controlled and temperate, I imagine that he would not have been so superior in strength, even if nature did make him the strongest man. And I for my part  p387 should not hesitate to say that even of all the ancient heroes whose praises everyone chants, he possessed valour inferior to none, inferior neither to those who warred at Troy nor to those who in later times repulsed the barbarians in Greece. Indeed, if he had lived in their day, his deeds would have matched theirs.

15 And, speaking generally, I give athletics the preference over distinction in warfare on the following scores: first, that the best men in athletics would distinguish themselves in war also; for the man who is stronger in body and is able to endure hardship the longer time is, in my opinion, he who, whether unarmed or armed, is the better man; second, it is not the same thing to contend against untrained opponents and men who are inferior in every way, as it is to have for one's antagonists the best men drawn from the whole inhabited earth. Besides, in war the man who once conquers slays his antagonist, so as not to have the same opponent the second time; whereas in athletics the victory is just for that one day, and afterwards the victor has for his opponents, not only the men he has beaten, but anyone else who cares to challenge. 16 Further, in athletics the better man proves superior to the inferior man, since he must conquer with nothing else but his courage and physical strength; while in war the might of steel, which is much superior to mere human flesh, does not allow the excellency of men's bodies to be tested and often takes the side of the inferior man.​11 Moreover, everything that I have said about athletics I have also said about one who was an athlete, aye, and one who has been proved to be the best of the men in  p389 that profession; and perhaps both for me and for this audience my speech may appropriately show that this is for the best.12

Now since his was beauty of body, his was courage and a stout heart and, besides, self-control and the good fortune of never having been defeated, what man could be called happier than he? 17 And yet for a man like him these twin virtues, courage and self-control, are most difficult to achieve; since beauty is stronger than any other influence to make people conceited and to entice them to a life of luxury and ease, as though they had no need of any other glory when they are noted for their comeliness, and as though an idle life were more pleasant. And one might find in reckoning over the most beautiful men of former times from the beginning that the great majority of them did no deed which gave proof of manliness or of virtue in general. Nay, while in the case of Ganymede they thought it was because he disappeared from the sight of man when a boy that he did not perform any brilliant exploit; 18 yet regarding Adonis,​13 or Phaon,​14 or similar men, all of whom gained extraordinary fame for their loveliness, we hear nothing except about their beauty. The only exceedingly beautiful men who were brave that we can mention were Theseus and Achilles, and these men did not have very much self-control; for otherwise the former would not have carried off Helen by force,​15 and the other would not have quarrelled at  p391 Troy for reasons that he did. Hippolytus​16 did have self-control, but it is not clear whether or not he had manly courage, since hunting is no real proof of it.

19 But the man who actually gained all the blessings found among mankind must be worthy to be accounted happy in his death also. For if the longest possible time were best for man, we might well have lamented over him in that regard; but as it is, seeing that all the life given to man is but short, you will find that with very many men it would have been much better if they had died sooner, so many are the misfortunes that overtake them. 20 Again, in the case of the most eminent men of ancient times, history tells us that none of them reached a great age, neither Patroclus nor Antilochus, and further, neither Sarpedon, nor Memnon, nor Achilles, nor Hippolytus; nor the Boeotians, Otus and Ephialtes, who, Homer says, were the tallest and handsomest men ever born next to Orion,​17 nor Orion​18 himself. But these men perished owing to their folly, while the others whom I have mentioned were called by men children and offspring of gods. Now the gods would not have given an early death to their own children and those whom they especially loved if they did not consider this a good thing for mankind.

21 Therefore, sirs, you should take these considerations into account and regard him as blessed, and should yourself therefore be none the less eager for toil and the distinction it brings, since you may be sure that, if it should be anyone's lot to die too soon, he will be without part in any of these blessings; for the man  p393 who gains fair renown departs laden with blessings. Come then, train zealously and toil hard, the younger men in the belief that this man's place has been left to them, the older in a way that befits their own achievements; yes, and take all the pride in these things that men should who live for praise and glory and are devotees of virtue. 22 And after the departed, honour him by remembrance, not by tears; for that tribute would not be a seemly one for noble men to give a noble man, nor should I commend Homer for saying that the sands and their armour were bedewed with the tears of the Achaeans.​19 However, he aimed rather to give poetic pleasure when he pictured excessive lamenting, but do you bear your grief with self-control.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 After the numeral Α´ the MSS. add τῇ τάξειº β´ — "in its position II."

2 Cf. note on the title of Melancomas II.

3 Cf. Sophocles, Trachinians 137: χαίρειν τε καὶ στέρεσθαι.

4 Cf. Dio, Discourse 15.29.

5 Cf. Discourse 28.9 ff.

6 For the same thought see Xenophon, Symposium 4.17, and for the opposite thought Discourse 28.13.

7 Cf. Discourse 28.5 and 6. Perhaps Dio got some of these ideas on beauty from Plato's Phaedrus, 250B‑E.

The whole of § 7 is copied out in Stobaeus, Florilegium 65.9.

8 Cf. §§ 15 and 16.

9 Cf. Discourse 28.9.

10 Cf. Discourse 28.7 f.

11 Cf. § 9.

12 That is, conducive to the development of the virtues; cf. § 21.

13 A beautiful youth beloved by Aphroditê.

14 A boatman of Mitylene who was given youth and beauty by Aphroditê. Sappho because slighted by him threw herself from the Leucadian rock, so the story has it. Iasion (see critical note), son of Zeus and Electra, was beloved by Demeter.

The critical note to the Greek text reads:

Φάωνος Wifstrand: Ἰασίωνος Emperius: ἰάσονος.

15 See Herodotus 9.73 and Plutarch, Life of Theseus 31‑33.

16 Hippolytus, beloved by Phaedra, wife of his father Theseus; he was devoted to the chase.

17 Cf. Homer, Odyssey 11.310.

18 Handsome Boeotian giant and hunter. Placed among the stars after his death.

Thayer's Note: A comprehensive look at the many and complex mythological traditions surrounding Orion is given in Allen's Star Names.

19 See Homer, Iliad 23.15 f.

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