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Bill Thayer

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Discourse 69

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,
please let me know!


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Discourse 71

(Vol. V) Dio Chrysostom

 p149  The Seventieth Discourse: On Philosophy

This brief dialogue, like others in our collection, both begins and ends abruptly. It has the appearance of being an excerpt from a lengthier discussion, probably selected for publication because it contained a noteworthy tribute to the essential nature of philosophy. The rôle of the student in this document — if it was a student — is decidedly minor, consisting chiefly in assenting to the statements made by the principal speaker. Dio is emphasizing the crucial difference between pseudo-philosophers and those who are philosophers in deed as well as in word. In Truly Socratic fashion he leads up to his main thesis by citing examples of pretence in fields such as farming, trading, hunting, and the like, showing in each instance that no one is misled by profession of interest unaccompanied by fitting conduct.

 p151  The Seventieth Discourse:
On Philosophy

Dio. Come now, suppose you should hear some one say that he wants to be a farmer, but should observe that he is doing nothing toward that end, neither buying or raising cattle nor preparing ploughs or the other equipment needed in farming, nor even living on a farm himself, either as owner or as tenant of another, but rather in town, spending his time principally about the market-place and the gymnasium and occupied with drinking parties and courtesans and that sort of frivolity — in such a case will you treat seriously what he says rather than what he does? And will you say the fellow is a farmer and a producer, or one of the lazy and frivolous set?

Interlocutor. One of the lazy set, of course.

2 Dio. Very good. But suppose a man were to say that he is a huntsman, and that he surpasses Hippolytus himself or Meleager in both his valour and his diligence, but it should be obvious that he is engaged in no activity of that nature, since he has acquired neither dogs nor hunting-nets nor a horse and never goes out after game at all but, on the contrary, neither has been tanned by the sun nor is able to endure cold, but has been reared in the shade and is soft and very like the women, could you possibly  p153 believe that this man is telling the truth and that he has anything to do with hunting?

Int. Not I.

3 Dio. Correct; for it is absurd that we should know and pass upon every man's life on the strength of what he says rather than of what he does. Again, if some one should offer his services as an expert in music and as one who devotes his time to this, and yet no one should ever hear him either playing the cithara, nay, even see him holding a cithara or a lyre, or descanting on any subject related to music — that is, apart from his offering his services and saying that he has a better knowledge of music than Orpheus and Thamyras​1 — but if one should see him training and rearing game-cocks or quails and spending his time for the most part in company with those of like interests, ought one to conclude that he is a musician, or, on the contrary, one of the set with which he associates and whose pursuits are the same as his?

Int. Evidently one of that set.

4 Dio. Again, if one were to profess that he is an astronomer and that he knows most accurately how the orbits and courses and the intervening distances stand with relation to one another in the case of sun and moon and similar heavenly bodies, and also celestial phenomena, and yet the man has shown no predilection of this sort and has no serious interest in these matters, but rather prefers to associate with gamblers, lives his life in their company, and is seen with them day after day, will you call this man an astronomer or a gambler?

 p155  Int. Nay, by heaven, I would not consider that he had anything at all to do with astronomy, but much rather with gambling.

5 Dio. Again, given two persons, one of whom says he intends to sail immediately and will gain much profit from trading, although he has not provided himself with either ship or sailors, has no cargo whatever, but, in fact, never goes near the harbour at all, or even the sea; whereas the other occupies himself constantly with these matters, examining thoroughly a boat and putting on board a pilot and a cargo — which of the two will you say is seriously interested in trading? The one who says he is, or the one who works at it and provides himself with all that the voyage and the business of trading demand?

Int. I should say the latter.

6 Dio. In every matter, then, will you consider that the word alone, unaccompanied by any act, is invalid and untrustworthy, but that the act alone is both trustworthy and true, even if no word precedes it?

Int. Just so.

Dio. Well then, if there are certain functions and articles of equipment peculiar to farming or to seafaring and different ones appropriate to the hunter, the astronomer, and all other professions as well, then has philosophy no function peculiar to itself, no activity, no equipment?

Int. Most assuredly it has.

7 Dio. Well, are those things obscure which belong to the philosopher and to philosophy, while those  p157 which belong to the traders and farmers and musicians and astronomers and those whom I have just named are conspicuous and manifest?

Int. No, I think not obscure.

Dio. But surely there are certain words which one who goes in for philosophy must hear, and studies which he must pursue, and a regimen to which he must adhere, and, in a word, one kind of life belongs to the philosopher and another to the majority of mankind: the one tends toward truth and wisdom and toward care and cultivation of the gods, and, as regards one's own soul, far from false pretence and deceit and luxury, toward frugality and sobriety.

8 And, in fact, there is one kind of dress for the philosopher and another for the layman, and the same holds good as to table manners and gymnasia and baths and the mode of living generally, and he who is guided by and employs these distinctions must be thought to be devoted to philosophy; whereas he who does not differ in any of these matters and is not at all unlike the world in general must not be classified as a philosopher, not even if he says he is a thousand times and makes public profession of philosophy before the popular assembly of Athens or of Megara or in the presence of the kings of Sparta; instead, we must banish this man to the company of impostors and fools and voluptuaries.

9 And yet it is not impossible to be musical without engaging in musical activities; for the art of music does not compel one to devote his attention to it and to regard nothing else of greater moment. Again,  p159 if one is an astronomer, possibly nothing prevents his keeping game-cocks or throwing dice; for in no wise does astronomy prevent his doing what is not right! Furthermore, by Heaven, if one has become an expert horseman, or a good pilot, or a surveyor, or a literary critic, it is nothing surprising that he should be seen in the apartments of either the courtesans or the flute-girls. For the knowledge of those skills does not make the human soul one whit better or turn it aside from its errors; 10 but if one is devoted to philosophy and partakes of this study, one could never desert the highest things, nor, neglecting these things, could he prefer to engage in anything which is shameful and low, or to be lazy and gluttonous and drunken. For to refuse to admire these things and to banish the desire for them from the soul and on the other hand, to lead the soul to hate and condemn them, is the essence of philosophy. However, possibly there is nothing to prevent one's claiming to be a philosopher and at the same time playing the impostor and deceiving himself and everybody else.

The Loeb Editor's Note:

1 Like the more famous Orpheus, Thamyras — or Thamyris, as the name is sometimes given — was reputed to have been a Thracian bard of extraordinary skill. He is said to have challenged the Muses to a competition and, when defeated, to have been deprived of his sight.

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