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Discourse 62

This webpage reproduces one of the

Dio Chrysostom

published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1951

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 64

(Vol. V) Dio Chrysostom

 p33  The Sixty-third Discourse: On Fortune (I)

The authenticity of this encomium on Fortune was denied long ago by Emperius, and his judgement has been reaffirmed by Arnim. The criteria are stylistic: there is a notable disregard of hiatus, a phenomenon not to be expected of an able sophist in a composition such as this — Arnim cites the particularly objectionable passage in § 5: πολλὰ δὲ αὕτη ἔχουσα χρώματα ἐοικότα ἀφρῷ ἡμαγμένῳ ἐφήρμοσε τῇ γραφῇ — and the subject matter is treated in a dull and uninspired fashion. The one redeeming feature of the document is the anecdote, elsewhere recorded only by Sextus Empiricus, of Apelles and his sponge.

Although Tychê appears in Hesiod's Theogony among the progeny of Tethys and Oceanus and is occasionally named by poets of later date, notably Pindar, the personification seems not to have taken firm hold upon Greek imagination. With the Romans, however, the case was different, and Tychê in her Latinized form, Fortuna, received ample honours as a deity in many parts of the Empire, being intimately associated with the ruling house.

 p35  The Sixty-third Discourse:
On Fortune (I)

Mankind seems to feel toward Fortune as sailors do toward the winds that waft them on their way; for sailors gladly and with vigour apply themselves to their course, and those who have the breeze reach the port for which they aimed, while those who are abandoned by it in the midst of the open sea lament to no avail; so too when men have Fortune with them they rejoice and are glad, but when she is absent they are grieved and distressed. Yes, everything is the work of this goddess, for indeed when she is present the difficult appears easy, the weak strong, the ugly beautiful, and poverty turns to wealth.

2 For instance, when Fortune comes at sea a ship has fair sailing, and when she shows herself in the atmosphere a farmer prospers. Moreover, a man's spirit rejoices when uplifted by Fortune, yet should Fortune fail, it goes about in its body as in a tomb. For neither does a man win approval if he speaks, nor does he succeed if he acts, nor is it any advantage to have been born a man of genius when Fortune fails. For when she is not present learning is not forthcoming, nor any other good thing. Why, even valour gains recognition for its achievements only when Fortune  p37 is present; on the other hand, if valour should be left to itself it is just a word, productive of no noble action. In time of war Fortune means victory; in time of peace, concord; at a marriage, goodwill; with lovers, enjoyment — in short, success in each and every undertaking.

3 When Fortune deserts a land, then that land is shaken and trembles and tosses the lovely things upon it in all directions — this too a disease of the earth, Fortune not being present. Again, as a ship moves aimlessly and founders quickly when deprived of a pilot, or as fortifications crumble when foundations are damaged, so a city goes to utter ruin for lack of Fortune. Athens once suffered wrong to its orators and Demosthenes was haled to prison,​1 all because Fortune no longer was watching over Athens. But, methinks, even the sky has Fortune, when it has clear weather instead of darkness.

4 But one should consider also the resourcefulness of the goddess. For example, there have been times when a man who had fallen overboard from a ship at sea was able to save his life because Fortune came to his aid. Moreover, what happened to Apelles the painter because of Fortune deserves recounting.​2 For, as the story goes, he was painting a horse — not a work-horse but a war-horse. Its neck was high arched, its ears erect, its eyes fierce, like one come not from work but from war, with the spirit of the charge in theirº glance, and its feet were rising in the  p39 air, touching the ground lightly one after the other. Moreover, the driver had a firm grip on the reins, throttling the martial gallop of the horse in mid-career. 5 But though the picture had everything true to life, there was lacking a colour wherewith to depict froth such as there would be when blood and saliva have mixed in constant intermingling, the panting breath driving before it the moisture of the lips and forming froth because of laboured breathing, while the cruel bit spattered blood upon the froth. So, then, Apelles knew not how to represent froth of a horse wearied in action. But as he was more and more perplexed, finally in a fit of desperation he hurled his sponge at the painting, striking it near the bit. But the sponge, containing as it did many colours, which when taken together resembled bloody froth, fitted its colour to the painting. And at the sight Apelles was delighted by what Fortune had accomplished in his moment of despair and finished his painting, not through his art, but through the aid of Fortune.

6 Again, what else was it that made Heracles most mighty? Why, he not only throttled and choked to death a lion, pursued winged creatures of the air, ejected the Hydra from the swamp, crushing its heads, and refused to be frightened by the boar which haunted Erymanthus; he even journeyed to the West and bore away the fruit of the tree which grew there. Moreover, he carried off the cattle of Geryones, fine animals that they were, admonished Diomedes the Thracian to give his horses grain, not men, to eat, and proved the Amazons to be mere women.​3 But all these exploits he was able to accomplish because Fortune attended him.

 p41  7 Moreover, the riddles​4 of the ancients in their representations of Fortune are not without merit. For instance, some have placed her on a razor's edge,​5 others on a sphere, others have given her a rudder to wield, while those who depict her most effectively have given her the horn of Amaltheia, full to overflowing with the fruits of the seasons, the horn which Heracles in battle broke off from Acheloüs.​6 Now the razor's edge betokens the abruptness with which good fortune changes; the sphere, that change of fortune is easy, for the divine power is, in fact, ever in motion; the rudder indicates that Fortune directs the life of men; and the horn of Amaltheia calls attention to the giving of good things and prosperity. Let us not, then, call any fortune evil; for one does not say that virtue is evil, or that goodness is evil.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Though the text is corrupt, the allusion seems to refer to the Harpalus affair. Several Athenian politicians were suspected of embezzlement and Demosthenes was even lodged in prison.

2 Apelles flourished in the time of Philip and Alexander. His fame as a painter was such that many stories gathered about his name; this particular story is recorded also by Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism 1.28.

3 Our author has here listed eight of the famous "labours" of Heracles. The remaining four were the capture of the Cerynean hind, the cleaning of the Augean stables, the vanquishing of the Cretan bull, and the theft of Cerberus.

4 The Greeks used the word aenigmata to denote that which was not plainly stated but rather hinted.

5 The "razor's edge" to denote fine balance is a figure as old as Homer; cf. Iliad 10.173.

6 According to Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2.7.5, Heracles fought with the river-god Acheloüs for the hand of Deïaneira. Having broken off one of the horns of Acheloüs, who took the form of a bull, Heracles restored it to him in exchange for the horn of Amaltheia, daughter of Haemonius, which had the power of bestowing abundant food and drink in answer to the prayer of him who possessed it. Sophocles describes briefly but vividly the encounter with Acheloüs in his Trachiniae (504‑530).

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