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Discourse 79

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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on Hair

(Vol. V) Dio Chrysostom

 p313  The Eightieth Discourse: On Freedom

Conditions surrounding the Greek title of this Discourse are the opposite of those noted in connexion with that of the one preceding, for in the present instance all manuscripts except Parisinus 2985 add the phrase τῶν ἐν Κιλικίᾳ. What was said in the Introduction to Or. 79 regarding the problem presented by that phrase is equally appropriate here, for once more we get no clue to the place of delivery.

The freedom which the speaker has chosen as his theme is the freedom which characterizes himself, the philosopher — freedom to come and go as suits his fancy, freedom from the anxieties and inconveniencies that harass mankind at large, freedom from the temptations which assail seekers after riches or fame or self-indulgence. Such freedom belongs to him who leads the simple life, obedient to the ordinances of Zeus rather than to those of some imperfect, earthly law-giver. This creed is abundantly fortified with illustrations drawn from Greek myth and history.

 p315  The Eightieth Discourse:
On Freedom

You perhaps are surprised and consider it past all belief and a mark of one who is by no means of sound judgement if a person abandons all that most men view with serious regard and, as one might say, permits riches and fame and pleasures to drift downstream but goes about as neither farmer nor trader nor soldier nor general, nor as shoemaker or builder or physician or orator, nor as one engaged in any other customary occupation, but, on the other hand, comes and goes in this strange fashion and puts in an appearance in places where he has no business at all but rather where chance and impulse may lead him. 2 Council chambers and theatres and assemblies he has held in light esteem, and yet he conducts a popular assembly all by himself; the spectacles which attract his gaze are not dancers or singers or boxers or wrestlers, but buyers and strollers and talkers and fighters; sometimes all these receive his very strict attention, and he derives from them much more enjoyment than do boys at athletic contests and theatrical performances, although he does not come ahead of time or keep awake all night to get a seat or get crushed by the crowd; at other times on the contrary, he neither hears nor sees any single one of them, but ignores their existence, thinking of anything that suits his fancy and acting without fear.

 p317  3 As for myself, however, I regard it as a splendid and blessed state of being, if in the midst of slaves one can be a free man and in the midst of subjects be independent. To attain this state many wars were waged by the Lydians against the Phrygians and by the Phrygians against the Lydians,​1 and many, too, by both Ionians and Dorians and, in fact, by all peoples, yet no one has ever, because he was enamoured of independence in the spiritual sense, undertaken to use his own personal laws; instead they all wrangle over the laws of Solon and Draco and Numa and Zaleucus,​2 bent on following the one code but not the other, though, on the other hand, not even one of these law-givers had framed the sort of laws he should. Why, Solon himself, according to report, declared that he was proposing for the Athenians, not what satisfied himself, but rather what he assumed they would accept.3

4 Evidently, therefore, he composed bad laws, if indeed he composed the laws which would satisfy bad men; but, for all that, even Solon himself used these laws, bad as they were and not satisfactory to himself. Clearly, then, not one of these law-givers had any claim to independence, nor did they exert themselves or wage war for the purpose of  p319 being free; on the contrary, after they had gathered within the compass of their city walls slavery without bound or limit, thereupon with ramparts and towers and missiles they tried to protect themselves against the chance that slavery might make its entry among them from without, just as if, when a ship's seams have opened up and the hold is already taking water, one were to take measures of prevention and be concerned lest perchance the sea might sweep over from above. Accordingly, just as it is said that the Trojans for Helen's sake endured siege and death, although she was not at Troy but in Egypt,​4 just so has it been with these men — in behalf of their freedom they fought and struggled, when all the while they had no freedom.

5 Yet not only did these men of old profess to be enduring all things in defence of the laws, but even now men say that justice resides in whatever laws they themselves, luckless creatures that they are, may frame or else inherit from others like themselves. But the law which is true and binding and plain to behold they neither see nor make a guide for their life. So at noon, as it were, beneath the blazing sun, they go about with torches and flambeaux in their hands, ignoring the light of heaven but following smoke if it shows even a slight glint of fire. Thus, while the law of nature is abandoned and eclipsed with you, poor unfortunates that you are, tablets and statute books and slabs of stone with their fruitless symbols are treasured by you.

6 Again, while the ordinance of Zeus you transgressed  p321 long ago, the ordinance of this man or of that you make it your aim that no man shall transgress. Moreover, the curse which the Athenians established in connexion with Solon's laws against all who should attempt to destroy them​5 you fail to see is more valid touching the laws of Zeus, for it is wholly inevitable that he who attempts to nullify the ordinance of Zeus shall be an outlaw — except that in this instance children and kinsmen of the guilty are not included in the punishment, as they were at Athens; instead, each is held accountable for his own misfortune. Whoever, therefore, tries to rescue this ordinance as best he can and to guard his own conduct I for my part would never say is lacking in judgement.

7 But much more do I marvel at and pity you​6 for the grievous and unlawful slavery under whose yoke you have placed your necks, for you have thrown about you not merely one set of fetters or two but thousands, fetters by which you are throttled and oppressed much more than are those who drag themselves along in chains and halters and shackles. For they have the chance of release or of breaking their bonds and fleeing, but you are always strengthening your bonds and making them more numerous and stronger. Moreover, merely because you do not see your bonds, do not think that these words of mine are false and untrustworthy; nay, consider Homer — who in your estimation is wisest of all — and what kind of bonds he says made Ares captive,

 p323  Although the fleetest of the gods who hold

Olympus, bonds like filmy spider-webs,

Which no man e'en could see.​7

8 Then, think not that Ares, god that he was and mighty, was made captive by bonds so delicate and invisible withal, and yet that you yourselves, of all creatures the weakest, could never be made captive by means of bonds that are invisible but only by such as have been well made of steel and brass.​8 Your bodies, to be sure, being solid and for the most part composed of earth,​9 require bonds of that kind to master them; but since soul is invisible and delicate by nature, why might it not get bonds of like description? But you have made for yourselves stubborn, adamantine bonds, contriving them by any and every means, surpassing even Daedalus himself in your craft and in your eagerness to insure that every particle of your soul shall have been fettered and none of it be free or independent. 9 For what were the dungeon of the Cnossians and the crooked windings of the Labyrinth compared to the crookedness and the intricacy of folly? What was the Sicilian prison of the Athenian captives, who were cast into a sort of rocky pit?​10 What was the Ceadas of the Spartans,​11 or the ash-filled room that the Persians  p325 had,​12 or, by Zeus, what were the cruel fathers of certain maidens, who, as the poets tell us,

Immured them in prison cells of encircling bronze?​13

But, methinks, I too am no longer acting sensibly in giving more space in my remarks to the misfortunes of mankind than to the disgraceful, odious slavery in which you all have been enslaved, a slavery from which men cannot escape by providing themselves with fine threads by the aid of a foolish maiden, as the famous Theseus is said to have escaped in safety from Crete​14 — at least, I fancy, not unless Athena herself were to lend her aid and join in the rescue. 10 For if I should wish to name all the prisons and the bonds of witless, wretched human beings by means of which you have made yourselves prisoners, possibly you would think me an exceedingly disagreeable and sorry poet for composing tragedies on your own misfortunes.​15 For it is not merely with bonds such as confine those whom you consider criminals — bonds about neck and arms and legs — but with a special bond for the belly and for each of the other parts that they have been made captive, and with a constraint which is both varied and complex;  p327 moreover, I believe that any one who had seen the spectacle would have been delighted by it and would exceedingly admire the conceit.

11 For first, I fancy, there comes to each a mistress who is in other respects harsh and ill-disposed and treacherous, but in appearance cheerful and with a smile for all,

A smile of portent grim,​16

and in her hands she bears fetters to match her nature, flowery and soft at first glance, such as those with which one might expect that kings or tyrants have been bound; yet nothing is more grievous than these bonds, nothing clings more closely and exerts more pressure. 12 After her there comes a second, bearing a sort of collar of gold or silver. Having put this about their necks, she drags men in private station around every land and sea, yes, and kings as well, according to Hesiod,​17 and she drags generals of cities to the gates, so as to open them and act the traitor. And yet she professes to be solicitous for these whom she destroys, and to be making them happy — just as once upon a time Cyrus bound Astyages with golden fetters, as being, evidently, solicitous for his grandfather!18

13 But it would be a huge undertaking to enumerate  p329 all the varieties of the fetters. Still, one variety deserves not to be over­looked, the most amazing of them all and the most complicated, one carried by the harshest mistress, a combination of gold and silver and all sorts of stones and pebbles and horns and tusks and shells of animals and, furthermore, purple dyes and countless other things, a sort of costly, marvellous necklace which she had contrived, imitating in it many patterns and forms — crowns and sceptres and diadems and lofty thrones — just as the over-subtle craftsmen in fashioning certain couches or doors or ceilings of houses contrive to make them appear something different from what they are; I mean, for example, making bosses on doors resemble heads of animals, and likewise with bosses on columns. 14 And, furthermore, in this collar are found noise and sound of every kind, both of clapping hands and of clucking tongues.​19 So this collar, in turn, is placed about the necks of both demagogues and kings. But let us not ourselves be carried along too far by our simile, as if actually following a word-phantom, as Homer caused Achilles to go a long way off in following the phantom of Agenor.​20 This will suffice.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 How much did Dio know of this warfare? Herodotus begins his account of Lydia at the point where all the country west of the Halys River was subject to the Lydians.

2 The causal reference to Numa, legendary king and law-giver of Rome, suggests that the audience either was well educated or else contained persons with a Roman background. To be sure, at about this time Plutarch was composing his life of Numa, but the name appears rarely in Greek writings. Zaleucus, early law-giver of Locri in Italy, had been discussed by Ephorus (4th century B.C.) in his Universal History.

3 The fragments of Solon's poems bearing upon his legislation testify to his pride in the achievement; however, Plutarch reports (Solon 15.2) that, in defence of his laws, Solon once said that they were "the best laws the Athenians would have accepted."

4 Stesichorus is said to have invented this version of the Helen story, incorporating it in his famous palinode, four lines of which have been preserved by Plato (Phaedrus 243A). Herodotus tells the story in great detail (2.112‑119), and Euripides used that version for the framework of his Helen.

5 Cf. Aristotle, Athen. Pol. 16.10.

6 Dio here recalls his opening statement, that his hearers may be surprised at his conduct.

7 A fusion of Odyssey 8.331 and 8.280.

8 Literally, mountain-copper, mentioned as early as the Hesiodic Shield of Heracles (122), the greaves of the hero being of that material.

9 Possibly an allusion to the tradition that Prometheus formed the human race of clay; cf. Pausanias 10.4.4.

10 After the collapse of the Sicilian Expedition in 413 B.C., the Athenian captives were thrown into the quarries of Syracuse; cf. Thucydides 7.86‑87.

Thayer's Note: The famous Latomiae. An excellent, graphic description and a good photo are found in Marion Crawford, The Rulers of the South, Vol. I, pp146‑150.

11 A chasm or ravine into which great criminals were hurled; cf. Thucydides 1.134 and Pausanias 4.18.4.

12 Referred to by Ctesias (48, 51, 52).

13 Attributed by Wilamowitz to Euripides' Danaë; but Sophocles also dealt with the same theme.

14 Ariadnê, daughter of Minos, gave Theseus the thread by which he made his escape after slaying the Minotaur.

15 Possibly a reminiscence of the affair of the tragic poet Phrynichus, whom the Athenians fined one thousand drachmas because by his Capture of Miletus he had revived their sorrow over the fate of their Ionian kinsmen: cf. Herodotus 6.21.

16 Odyssey 20.302, spoken of Odysseus when he had dodged the ox-hoof hurled at him by Ctesippus.

17 In his Works and Days (38‑39 and 263‑264) he calls them δωροφάγοι.

18 Herodotus devotes much space (1.107‑129) to the tale of Cyrus and Astyages, but he says nothing of golden fetters. Dio may be hinting that gold was used by Harpagus and Cyrus to corrupt the soldiers of Astyages, who in the final battle were strangely ready to desert.

19 The word ποππυσμός signified the noise Greeks made with their lips to express surprise and admiration.

20 Iliad 21.595‑605.

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Page updated: 21 Apr 18