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Bill Thayer

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Discourse 66

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.
If you find a mistake though,
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Discourse 68

(Vol. V) Dio Chrysostom

 p117  The Sixty-seventh Discourse: On Popular Opinion

Although its Greek title is the same as that of the preceding Discourse, Or. 67 gives to the word a different meaning, that of opinion. It is argued that opinion is a poor guide and that, it discover the truth about external things, one must first obey the famous motto inscribed on Apollo's temple at Delphi — Know Thyself — the motto which formed the basic principle of the philosophy of Socrates. Proceeding from this fundamental concept, the author demonstrates the futility of being swayed by the opinions of others.

Here again we have what professes to be the report of a conversation between Dio and one of his followers. The abruptness with which it begins and ends has led Arnim to conclude that Dio did not intend it to be published, at least not in its present form. He regards it as what might be termed a stenographic record, which in some way or other found its way into the hands of Dio's editor.

 p119  The Sixty-seventh Discourse:
On Popular Opinion

Interlocutor. Well, in what particular does it seem to you that the man of self-control, the philosopher, most especially is superior to us who constitute the majority of mankind and are moved by random impulse?

Dio. It seems to me, if one should express an opinion in such plain and unadorned terms, that he is superior in respect to truth and knowledge, not merely to the majority of mankind, but also to the very few, those who are regarded as favoured by fortune — the philosopher is, I mean.

Int. Indeed your statement is truly plain and unadorned.

Dio. Well, by Heaven, tell me this. You mean, do you not, that the philosopher is superior to all others in truth and in his examining each thing in the light of truth and not in accordance with opinion?

2 Int. Why, my good sir, he would be using a poor straight-edge with which to gauge his problems, one altogether crooked, a straight-edge, by Zeus, with not just one bend but thousands, and all running counter to one another, if he tried to set things straight by means of opinion.

Dio. Well then, suppose that he views all else in the light of truth, never applying opinion as a gauge,  p121 because he believes this to be, in fact, a false and untrustworthy measuring-line, a straight-edge such as you have just described it, yet if he should measure himself with that kind of straight-edge and that kind of measuring-line, would he be acclaimed as worthy?

Int. No, by Heaven, not by any means.

Dio. Yes, it is plain that he could never come to know himself if he examined himself in that fashion.

Int. Why, of course he could not.

3 Dio. Consequently he would no longer be obeying the Delphic injunction, which has prescribed that, above all, a man must know himself.

Int. Why, of course he would not be obeying it.

Dio. Then he will not know any of the other things either, since he does not know himself, nor will he be able to examine things in the light of truth, since he has failed with himself to begin with?

Int. Why, certainly.

Dio. Then he will bid farewell to honours and dishonours and to words of censure and of praise uttered by foolish persons, whether they chance to be many or whether they be few but power­ful and wealthy. Instead, what is called popular opinion he will regard as no better than a shadow, seeing that sometimes the popular view makes much of small matters and little of great ones, and often concerning the same matters it is at one time greater and at another smaller.

Int. You seem to me to have made a very excellent comparison.

4 Dio. Suppose, then, there should be a person so constituted as to live with an eye to his own shadow, with the result that as it grew he would become  p123 elated and boastful and not only offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the gods himself but also bid his friends to do so, while as his shadow diminished he would be grieved and show himself more humble, and the more so the smaller his shadow became, just as if he himself were wasting away, methinks he would afford wondrous amusement.

Int. Yes, he would be a much bigger booby than Margites,​1 who did not know how to treat his wife once he had married her.

5 Dio. Yes, for on the same day sometimes he would be sad and sometimes happy. For instance, early in the day, when he saw his shadow at dawn very long, almost larger than the cypresses or the towers on the city walls, manifestly he would be happy, supposing himself to have suddenly grown to the size of the sons of Aloeus,​2 and he would go striding into the market-place and the theatres and everywhere in the city to be observed by one and all. However, about the middle of the morning he would begin to grow more sad of countenance than he had been and would go back home. Then at noon he would be ashamed to be seen by anybody and would stay indoors, locking himself up, when he saw his shadow at his feet; yet again, toward afternoon, he would begin to recover and would show himself ever more and more exultant toward evening.

6 Int. You certainly seem to me to be fashioning a strange disposition and a foolish kind of man.

 p125  Dio. Well then, he who pays heed to popular opinion is not a bit better, but rather far more pathetic. For often he would undergo several changes on one and the same day, yet not, like the man I have imagined, at certain definite times, but, alike in the afternoon or in the early morning, nothing will keep him from being the most unfortunate of mortals, now being swept along and flying higher than the clouds, if it so happen that any have sent him forth under full sail and have praised him, now taking in his sails and abasing himself, his spirit experiencing, methinks, far more waxings and wanings than the moon. 7 Has he not, then, drawn a more wretched fate and a far more luckless lot than they say fell to Meleager, son of Althaea and Oeneus, whose span of life, men say, was in the keeping of a mere firebrand? So long as the brand blazed and the fire remained in it, just so long Meleager lived and throve, but as the brand lost its strength, he too wasted from grief and despondency, and when the fire went out he died and was gone.3

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Hero of a satiric poem of the same name sometimes ascribed to Homer by the ancients. Among the few lines now extant we get the following description of him: πόλλ’ ἠπίστατο ἔργα, κακῶς δ’ ἠπίστατο πάντα.

2 They were said to have grown three cubits each year and, at the tender age of nine years, to have tried to scale the heavens by piling Ossa on Olympus and Pelion on Ossa.

3 During the famous boar-hunt associated with his name, by way of avenging a slight cast upon Atalanta by the brothers of his mother Althaea, he slew them out of hand. His mother, hearing of the deed, snatched the fatal brand from its place in the ashes, hurled it into the flames, and thus ended the life of her son.

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