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Bill Thayer

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Discourse 68

This webpage reproduces one of the

Dio Chrysostom

published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1951

The text is in the public domain.

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Discourse 70

(Vol. V) Dio Chrysostom

 p137  The Sixty-ninth Discourse: On Virtue

The theme of this Discourse is the doctrine that the virtuous life is the happy life. Dio bemoans the fact that most men give their whole attention to the so‑called practical pursuits to the neglect of their spiritual well-being and development. Striving to attain success in any number of material enterprises, they miss true happiness through their failure to see that character is its sure foundation. Without good character laws are of little avail, and happiness is the gift of the gods, who are not inclined to favour ignorance and inattention to the needs of the soul. It is interesting to find Dio here expressing the belief that those who would commit a crime but are prevented from so doing through fear are as guilty as those who actually yield to the temptation.

 p139  The Sixty-ninth Discourse:
On Virtue

It seems to me a fact hard to explain, that people praise and admire one set of things yet aim at and have seriously pursued a different set. For instance, virtually all praise and refer to as "divine" and "august" such things as valour and righteousness and wisdom and, in short, every virtue. Moreover, whomever they believe to be, or to have been, characterized by such virtues, or nearly so, him they admire and celebrate in song; and certain ones they represent as gods and others as heroes — for example, Heracles, the Dioscuri, Theseus, Achilles, and all the demigods, as they are called. And whomever they suppose to be like those beings they one and all are ready to obey and to serve, no matter what orders he may give, and they are ready to appoint as their king and ruler and to make the guardian of their possessions any man whom they suppose to be really prudent and righteous and wise and, in a word, a good man.

2 Therefore in this respect no one could censure them as not perceiving that virtue is something august and precious and all-important; yet they really desire any and every thing in preference to becoming good, and they busy themselves with everything in preference to the problem of becoming self-controlled and wise and righteous and men of merit, competent  p141 to govern themselves well, to manage a household well, to rule a city well, to endure well either wealth or poverty, to behave well toward friends and kinsmen, to care for parents with equity, and to serve gods with piety. 3 But some busy themselves with farming, some with trading, some are devoted to military affairs, some to the medical profession, some acquire a thorough knowledge of carpentry or of shipbuilding, some of playing the lyre or the flute or of shoemaking or wrestling, some devote their whole attention to gaining a reputation as clever speakers in Assembly or in law-court, some to becoming strong in body. And yet the traders, farmers, soldiers, physicians, builders, lyre-players, flautists, athletic trainers, yes, and the orators, as they are called, and those who have great strength of body — all these one would find to be pitiable and unfortunate in many, or indeed in almost all, instances.

4 On the other hand, if their soul becomes rational and their mind really good, and if they are able to manage successfully their own affairs and those of their neighbours too, these men will necessarily also lead happy lives, having shown themselves to be law-abiding, having obtained a good genius to guard them, and being dear to the gods. For it does not stand to reason that one set of men are wise and another set versed in human affairs, nor yet that some are conversant with human affairs and some with affairs divine, nor that some men have knowledge of divine things and others are pious, nor that some  p143 are pious and others dear to the gods; nor will a separate group be dear to the gods and another group be favoured by fortune. Nor is there one class of men who are fools but another class ignorant of their own affairs; nor are those who are ignorant of their own affairs informed about things divine; nor are those who have formed mistaken opinions about things divine free from impiety. And surely those who are impious cannot be dear to the gods nor those who are not dear to the gods be other than unfortunate.

Why in the world, then, do not those who aim to attain a happy life do their best to make themselves happy instead of devoting their entire attention to things which do not at all prevent their leading a bad, yes wretched, existence? 5 Yet without flute-players and lyre-players and shoemakers and athletic trainers and orators and physicians it is not impossible for men to live very good and ordered lives, and, I fancy, even without farmers and builders. 6 At any rate the Scythians who are nomads, though they neither have houses nor sow seed nor plant trees and vines, are by no means prevented from playing their part as citizens with justice and in accordance with law; yet without law and justice men cannot avoid living badly and in much more savage fashion than the wild beasts. Moreover, where shoemakers and farmers and builders are of inferior quality, no serious harm results on that account; it is merely that the shoes are inferior and the wheat and barley scarcer. On the other hand, where rulers and judges and laws are inferior, the  p145 affairs of those people are in worse condition and their life is more unfortunate, and factions, injustices, deeds of arrogance, and impiety flourish in abundance with them.

7 Furthermore, though when one is not himself a shoemaker it is profitable to purchase shoes from another person, and when one does not understand building, to hire another person for that work, and when one is not a farmer, to purchase grain and pulse; on the other hand, when one is himself unjust, it is not profitable to get his justice from another, nor, when one lacks wisdom and does not know what he ought to do and what he ought to refrain from doing, to be constantly regretting every single act and resorting for knowledge to another person. For, in addition to all the other considerations, he who needs money or clothing or house or anything else not only knows that fact but also seeks to get these things from those who have them; whereas he who has no sense does not even know just this very fact, that he has no sense; instead, he himself claims to be competent and obstinately persists in his folly, everything he does or says being witless, and he denies that he is unjust or foolish or lawless but insists that is ever so competent in these matters, though he has never paid any attention to them or learned anything as far as those things are concerned.

8 In fact, these men do not even believe in the existence of a knowledge in accordance with which they will know what they ought to do or what they ought not to do and how they will live correctly; nay, they believe that the laws are sufficient for them for that purpose, the laws on the statute books; but how they are to obey the laws and voluntarily do  p147 what those laws prescribe is a matter to which they give no serious thought. And yet how is he any less a thief who refrains from thieving out of fear, if he approves but does not loath and condemn the business, than those who actually commit theft — unless also he who does not do his thieving by day, not only after nightfall, is to be called no thief in daytime, but rather a man of probity? Besides, such persons require the presence of many to threaten and restrain them, since they are not able of themselves to refrain from their misdeeds, but even when at home are men of thievish disposition. However, though they are of such character, they choose the law-givers and punish the lawless, just as if persons who are unmusical were to choose the musicians, or as if those who know nothing of surveying were to choose the surveyors!

9 And here is an indication of the depravity of mankind. If men were to do away with the laws and licence were to be granted to strike one another, to commit murder, to steal the property of one's neighbours, to commit adultery, to be a footpad, then who must we suppose would be the persons who will refrain from these deeds and not, without the slightest scruple or hesitation, be willing to commit all manner of crimes? For even under present conditions we none the less are living unwittingly with thieves and kidnappers and adulterers and joining with them in the activities of citizen­ship, and in this respect we are no better than the wild beasts; for they too, if they take fright at men or dogs set to guard against them, refrain from thieving.

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