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Bill Thayer

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Discourse 64

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 66

(Vol. V) Dio Chrysostom

 p73  The Sixty-fifth Discourse: On Fortune (III)

This essay deals with the injustice of human behaviour with respect to Fortune. Unlike the two essays on Fortune which precede it, there seems to be no good reason to doubt its authenticity; yet there are signs which suggest that its present form is not that in which it was composed. The author seems to repeat himself to an extent not to be expected in so brief a composition. Besides, one misses from time to time those particles and formulas commonly employed by Dio and other Greek writers to indicate transition and to knit together the argument, e.g., at the beginning of the new paragraph in § 7 and at the beginning of §§ 8, 10, and 13. On the other hand, the γὰρ which is found in the beginning of the new paragraph in § 4 seems so unwarranted in that setting that Wilamowitz proposed to strike it out. In view of these phenomena it is not unlikely that we have before us, not one unified composition, but rather a collection of passages drawn from various contexts and here put together because of their common theme. It is possible that Dio's editor desired thus to preserve passages in writings now lost to us which he deemed noteworthy; though Dio himself may for his own convenience have grouped together paragraphs on related topics. It is worth noticing that the passages that have been cited as marked by asyndeton have the earmarks of prooemia. For a fuller discussion of the general problem see von Arnim, Dio von Prusa 268‑271.

 p75  The Sixty-fifth Discourse:
On Fortune (III)

Those who have relied greatly on Fortune and are elated by her presence are, it seems to me, her most effective advocates and insure that, whenever she does shift, no one shall blame her for it. For, on the contrary, all men, being disgusted at the offensiveness of those who enjoy good fortune and having come to hate their insolence, as soon as Fortune abandons any of these, applaud and declare that the change of fortune they have experienced is deserved. Nay, men of intelligence should so employ the blessings which so come to them unearned that, while they last, no one may censure them and, if some day they come to an end, no one may rejoice thereat. 2 For it is altogether better that one should be in straitened circumstances but well liked, and that he should be thought by all to be getting less than his deserts, than, on the contrary, that he should be prosperous but hated, and, besides, become the occasion for blasphemous railing at Fortune as preferring to benefit the wicked rather than the good. Now though most men say that those who are obnoxious in their use of the gifts of Fortune are wicked and unworthy of their blessings, they assuredly do not as a rule call them unfortunate; yet to me, on the contrary, such persons seem to have become the most unfortunate of all. 3 For when from what commonly are deemed  p77 blessings one reaps nothing that is good, but rather vilification and hatred, besides making his own wickedness more notorious for all the world, how can that be anything but a great and conspicuous misfortune? And so, in my opinion, for those who lack intelligence it is in every way more profitable to be in needy circumstances and to acquire neither power nor riches nor any such thing at all. For as long as they were in lowly station most persons would fail to perceive their true character, whereas if they are exalted by Fortune their villainy is made conspicuous. 4 Accordingly, just as with those whose bodies are in bad condition it is better that they undress in private and never in public, in order that they may have no witness of their shame in that respect, in the same way, I fancy, those whose misfortune it has been to possess a soul which is ignoble and corrupt would surely find it to their interest to remain inconspicuous as to their lives and obscure as to their fortunes.

It seems to me unfair that most men arraign Fortune on the ground that she has no stability or trustworthiness but all too speedily deserts those whom she visits and shifts to others. 5 For if we could observe that the recipients of her blessings were for the most part making an honourable use of them and not, on the contrary, becoming filled immediately with arrogance and malevolence and effrontery, Fortune would not be acting right if she did not remain with the same people; but as it is, I imagine, she chooses in each instance to benefit a person because she supposes him to be a good man and worthy of her gifts, but when she finds him to be  p79 mean and base, bringing shame upon her benevolence, with good reason she leaves him and seeks somebody else in turn, hoping to find some one who is more honourable. 6 But since most men are evil and human nature rarely produces anybody fitted to enjoy prosperity, Fortune must needs shift continuously, and much rather because of our nature than because of her own. Yet it is strange that one who cannot himself endure some who enjoy the favours of Fortune, but who after a brief association leaves them and prefers to bear his own poverty as best he can rather than put up with cheap and senseless manners, nevertheless expects Fortune, goddess though she be, to live with these same persons for ever and, though frequently subjected to outrageous insults, to remain with an utterly worthless slave! 7 For the fact is that the insolence shown by the rich toward the human beings with whom they live consists of abusive language, contumely, ridicule, and often a blow, but toward Fortune herself it is arrogance, harshness, captiousness.

Most unfair, it seems to me, are the charges most men bring against Fortune. For as it is they find fault with her as being untrustworthy and having no constancy at all. Yet if she always stayed with the same persons she would inevitably incur an altogether more serious and justifiable accusation. For when you now see that the prosperous are so base and disagreeable, even though what is in store for them is uncertain, with what arrogance and boorishness do you suppose they would be filled if they were not at all apprehensive of a change?

 p81  8 Many charge that Fortune lacks discrimination and stays with bad persons but neglects the good, when they observe that those who have been deemed worthy of her favours are disagreeable and hard to deal with and ignoble. But it seems to me that Fortune might justly say to them that, being naturally benevolent, she is always helping some among us, without selecting the deserving or the base either, but that invariably the character they have when she comes to them is that which they show when the moral test is applied; and that therefore they should blame their own nature, not hers, 9 as being so constituted that he who is faring somewhat badly immediately seems worthy of better fortune, while he who receives her favours turns out to be a knave. Aye, it is very much as if, given a number of vessels and not one of them sound, one were to find fault with the person pouring liquid into them, on seeing that whatever vessel was being filled leaked. For the man might say, "Why, they all are like that: however, so long as they are empty it is unnoticed."

10 I wonder why in the world most persons say that Fortune is precarious and that none of her gifts is to be relied upon. For whenever she gives any one her good things — wealth, power, fame, honours — she never prevents him from using these in a proper way or, by Heaven, from storing them away in safety for himself; and I do not mean indoors in the house, or in the storehouse, or putting them under lock and key — for none of her gifts is protected by these things — but rather storing them away in goodwill toward mankind, in service to one's country, in aid to friends.  p83 11 Assuredly, Fortune never takes away from those who have once acquired them any of the things thus stored away. For these are dependable repositories and visible to all wherein to store the windfalls of Fortune. However, if after having got them a man squanders them or even, by Heaven, puts them in the wrong place, trusting to doors and seals and locks, no longer, I fancy, is their loss ascribable to her.

12 And here is something else which is very strange; besides the many verbal blasphemies against Fortune, sculptors and painters alike also traduce her, some representing her as mad and tossing her gifts recklessly about, some as standing on a sphere, as if to say that she has no safe or secure support, whereas it is ourselves that we ought to mould or paint like that, since we treat everything in a mad and evil fashion — and not, by Heaven, standing on a sphere but rather on folly — in place of idly finding fault with Fortune.

13 While on virtually every topic most men make incorrect assumptions, the opinion they hold regarding Fortune is particularly false and erroneous. For they say that, though she gives mankind their good things, she lightly takes them away again; and for that reason they malign her as being untrustworthy and jealous. But I claim that Fortune does not really give any of these things, as most men think she does. 14 For that which gives each man control over his possessions and through which alone it is possible to have secure possession of one's goods she does not bestow upon them along with their wealth and fame  p85 and power. No, that thing it is without which it is not possible to possess any of the other things but only to imagine that one does and to be the victim of delusion. For example, just as when we bring some one into our house or our farm or when we provide certain equipment, we ourselves do not forthwith appoint him master over those things, unless there is included in the transaction some written guarantee, so also Fortune does not make any one master of the things offered by her, unless there is attached to the grant the stipulation that they are accepted with intelligence and good judgement.

15 Most men, of course, are wont immediately to congratulate those whom they see supplied with the gifts of Fortune, just as people rejoice with men at sea when they observe they have a breeze, although they know neither whether this breeze is favourable to them nor whether they have a helmsman with experience. But as for myself, I believe the time to judge fortunate those who are surrounded in abundance with the gifts of Fortune is when they have prudence too. For manifestly these gifts of themselves, should they become the property of fools, might be a source of danger and disaster.

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