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Discourse 74

This webpage reproduces one of the

Dio Chrysostom

published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1932

The text is in the public domain.

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Discourse 76

(Vol. V) Dio Chrysostom

 p239  The Seventy-fifth Discourse: On Law

On stylistic grounds this Discourse has been assigned to the sophistic period of Dio's career. It is an encomium such as is familiar in sophistic literature, and it exhibits both the merits and the defects of that form of composition. Careful attention is paid to matters of detail connected with rhetorical effect, but one misses the note of sincere conviction to be found in many other writings of our author.

The topic chosen for eulogy is νόμος. As is well known, that word covers a wide range, meaning at one time usage sanctified by long tradition, at another divine ordinance, and at another statutory law. Dio treats all three varieties impartially, passing lightly from one to another and back again. The opening phrase, ἔστι δέ, suggests that our Discourse was preceded by an introductory composition no longer extant.

 p241  The Seventy-fifth Discourse:
On Law

The law is for life a guide, for cities an impartial overseer, and for the conduct of affairs a true and just straight-edge by which each must keep straight his own conduct; otherwise he will be crooked and corrupt. Accordingly, those who strictly observe the law have firm hold on safety; while those who transgress it destroy first of all themselves and then their fellows too, providing them with an example and pattern of lawlessness and violence. Yes, just as at sea those who do not miss the beacon are most likely to come through with their lives and to find their havens, so those who live according to the law journey through life with maximum security and reach the right destination. 2 There have been, it is true, instances in which one who has used a human being as counsellor has done so to his sorrow, but not so with the law. So much more serviceable is it for our cities than their walls that many of them still remain unwalled, but without law no city can be administered.

But the law is of advantage not only to mortals, but to the gods as well. At any rate the universe always preserves the same law inviolate, and nothing which is eternal may transgress it. It is for that reason, methinks, that the law has appropriately  p243 been called "king of men and gods";​1 for law does away with violence, puts down insolence, reproves folly, chastises wickedness, and in private and public relations helps all who are in need, succouring the victims of injustice, and to those who are perplexed about a course of action making known what is their duty. 3 Whenever, for instance, a man is confronted by a perplexing situation and is seeking to discover what is expedient for him, he need not, I believe, call in friends or kinsmen, but rather go to the laws and pose his question. For the law would not, having an eye to its own advantage, give him inferior advice, nor yet through ignorance of the better course, nor would it because of some engagement or lack of interest beg its consultants to let it be excused. For, on the contrary, it has regard for all alike, and it has leisure for the problems of all others, and for it there is no private or special interest.

4 Again, law is more serviceable than the oracular responses of the gods in that, while there have been some who did not understand the oracles, and, supposing that they were acting in harmony with them, have done the very opposite — which accounts, I imagine, for their having met with disaster — from the law there proceeds nothing which is tortuous or ambiguous, but, instead, it puts in simple phrases everything which is appropriate for those who are in need. Besides, though ruler and master of all things, it exercises its authority without the use of arms and force — on the contrary, law itself does away with force; nay, it rules by persuasion and governs  p245 willing subjects. For it is because it first persuades men and secures their approval that law comes into being and acquires its own power.

5 But so great is the power it possesses, that it is the law which assists even the gods. For example, the sacrilegious and those who violate the reverence due to the gods it punishes. Moreover, the law itself no one has the power to injure. For every one who transgresses the law harms, not the law, but himself. 6 But such is the righteousness and benevolence which pervades the law, that for the unfortunate it has proved even more helpful than their blood relatives; and for the victims of injustice it has proved more potent than their own might; and for fathers, more kindly than their sons; for sons, more kindly than parents; for brothers, than brothers. At any rate many, when wronged by their closest kin, seek refuge with the law. Then too, though it has experienced no kindness at the hands of any one, the law renders thanks in full to all for the kindnesses which they show to others, exacting thanks alike for fathers from their sons, for those who have in private done some deed of kindness from those whom they have benefited, and for those who display public spirit in municipal affairs from their city.

7 Furthermore, most beautiful are the rewards which it has established for their benefactions, having devised crowns and public proclamations and seats of honour, things which for those who supply them entail no expense, but which for those who win them have come to be worth everything. Indeed, whatever it so desires, however inexpensive it may be, the law immediately renders important and precious. It is the law which has made the wild olive so important,  p247 worth so much devoted effort, 8 just as also with the parsley, the pine, and the olive crown;​2 it is the law which has made the three words with which each good man is publicly acclaimed​3 more precious to many than life itself. It is the law which convenes the national festive gatherings, which honours the gods, which exalts virtue; it is the law which purges the sea,​4 makes civilized the land, is the veritable son of Zeus, the possessor of invincible, insuperable might​5 for it is so far superior to all else in temperance and trustworthiness that not only partner­ship with women but also the bloom of maidens and the prime of lads we all have entrusted to the law. Besides, though Justice is a virgin, such is his continence that Law dwells with her without a chaperon.

9 Law is a protector of old age, a schoolmaster of youth, of poverty a fellow labourer, a guard of wealth, to peace an ally, to war a foe. Nay, even in war itself law has the greater might. For instance, the herald who is dispatched from one's bitterest foes the law protects and guards, giving him as a weapon more mighty than any corselet or any shield the herald's staff — in fact, this is a symbol of the law. Because of the law the slain are deemed no longer to be foes, nor are hatred and insult wreaked upon their bodies.

10 Again, so much more useful is the law to our cities  p249 than rudders are to our ships that, whereas a ship which has lost its rudders​6 would not perish unless a storm should overtake it, a city cannot be saved if the law has been destroyed, not even when no dire disaster befalls it from without. But just as each of us is governed and safeguarded by the intelligence which is in him, while its destruction entails madness and insanity, similarly, if one expels the law from his life, just as if he had lost his mind, I believe he will be brought into a state of utter madness and confusion.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Cf. Pindar, frag. 169. Dio here puts into prose the most significant part of the passage; Plato quotes several lines from it in Gorgias 484B.

2 The crown of wild olive was awarded at the Olympic Games, the parsley at Nemea, and the pine at the Isthmus. Distinguished public service at Athens was also rewarded by "the olive crown"; cf. Aeschines 3.187.

3 The words in question may be ἀνὴρ ἀγαθός ἐστι, a phrase which occurs with great regularity in honorific decrees.

4 That is, rids it of pirates.

5 The law is here being compared to Heracles, whose labours consisted largely in ridding civilization of its foes.

6 Greek ships commonly had two rudders, one on each side.

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