Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.06.12

Paola Volpe, Franco Ferrari, Ricerche su Dione di Prusa.   Napoli:  Luciano Editore, 2001.  Pp. 180.  Lire 12.480.  

Contributors: Paola Volpe, Franco Ferrari, Laura Baldi, Guglielmo Caiazza, Maria Di Florio, Anna Ricciardi, Rosario Scannapieco

Reviewed by Mary-Anne Zagdoun, CNRS, France (
Word count: 1409 words

There are very few collective books on Dio of Prusa. They are therefore always welcome. This book was initiated by the Università degli Studi di Salerno and its authors are apparently graduate students. It complements the recent collection of essays on the same author edited by Simon Swain under the title Dio Chrysostom. Politics, Letters, and Philosophy (Oxford 2000). There is no repetition whatsoever in the Italian essays, as the authors investigate little-known aspects of Dio or well-known problems in a new and synthetic manner.

In their Introduction, pp. 7-13, Paola Volpe and Franco Ferrari emphasize Dio's complicated situation in the eclectic culture of his time, in which different trends intermingle and are sometimes very difficult to identify. They also stress the emergence of characteristic values, such as philanthropia, which assume a strong meaning in the relations between Roman administration and the Greek masses. The essays presented in this book study Dio's situation in relation to the political and social changes of his time and to a tradition that can be followed back to the Vth century B.C.

The five essays that follow this Introduction do in fact shed a new light on this difficult problem. Laura Baldi, "La XXXVIII orazione di Dione di Prusa: una traduzione umanistica", pp. 15-26, studies the central problem of homonoia in Dio's political speeches. Her topic is followed, pp. 26-38, by Carlo Valgulio's Latin translation of the famous oratio XXXVIII to the Nicomedians, on concord (in their quarrel with the citizens of Nicaia). Pp. 39-40 contains Laura Baldi's editorial remarks on the Latin text.

Guglielmo Caiazza, "Un esempio di interpretazione omerica: Dione di Prusa sulla questione del muro acheo a Troia (or. XI.76)", pp. 41-63, shows Dio's pragmatic use of Homer. Deprived of any theoretical attitude towards Homer's poetry, Dio makes use of whatever may suit his purpose, without adopting a philosophical line on the much debated problem of Homer's worthiness or credibility.

Maria di Florio, "Tra Aristofane e Menandro: per un'estetica del comico in Dione di Prusa", pp. 65-84, studies a little-known aspect of Dio's aesthetics. If Dio sincerely appreciated Aristophanes' comical wit, he preferred Menander's insight into human nature.

Anna Ricciardi, "eudaimon daimon: Nota alla orazione XXV di Dione di Prusa", pp. 85-97, studies Dio's approach to this very popular theme of his time. Dio treats the subject in a rather non-philosophical manner, happy to interest his public with historical reminiscences.

Rosario Scannapieco, "L'Euboico di Dione di Prusa: coscienza della crisi ed etica della filantropia", pp. 99-153, studies Greek tradition and historical innovation in this famous work. The author of this paper shows that both trends converge towards the Greek concept of philanthropia.

The book ends with the Bibliografia, pp. 155-168, followed by an Indice dei testi antichi, pp. 169-177, both rich and useful.

Now, for a few slight criticisms and remarks.

I was thrilled to find at the end of the first paper Valgulio's translation of Dio's XXXVIIIth Discourse. Simon Swain, in the book mentioned above, presents Valgulio's work published in 1497 as having a link with political unrest in Italy. Swain adds that Valgulio's volume of translations, that comprised socio-political essays or discourses of Plutarch, Aelius Aristides, and Dio, was explicitly enriched, when it came to Dio's speeches, by personal remarks on the state of Italy. I would have liked Laura Baldi to give me even more details. But it is not the case. In fact, I was obliged to turn to Swain's remarks to fully understand the interest of giving this rather obscure translation. In the same way, I was pleased to read the editorial remarks on the translation, but I would very much have appreciated a short study of Valgulio's Latin, style and manner as a translator. Laura Baldi has certainly given us a very precious document but in perhaps a rather incomplete way, and we would have liked to know more about it.

In this same paper, I would like to add a remark on homonoia. Laura Baldi studies different occurrences of this word in the XXXVIIIth Discourse and in other speeches of Dio. She emphasizes the moral value of the word. Thus Dio considers this concept to be a supreme value, a sort of supernatural good (p. 21). It also has a social utility. But Laura Baldi does not comment on the political sense of homonoia. In XXXVIII, 42, Dio says that, thanks to homonoia, Nicomedia and Nicaia would double their advantages, their wealth and their power. Each citizen would in fact have two cities and the advantages of both. This passage could be understood in a better manner, if we remember that A.R.R. Sheppard, in Ancient Society, Louvain, 15-17 (1984-1986), pp. 229-251, considers homonoia between two Greek cities of the Roman Empire as a substitute for isopoliteia.

The two following papers are a fundamental contribution to the evaluation of Dio's aesthetics. Guglielmo Caiazza explains the seemingly contradictory passage in Dio's Discourse XI.76 (Dio usually speaks of Homer in enthusiastic terms) by means of his eclectism and pragmatism. Dio does not follow a systematic interpretation of Homer but adapts the poet to the needs of his speeches. This is a very important point for understanding Dio's aesthetics. This paper is thus also a contribution to the paideia of the second Century A.D.

Maria Di Florio's paper on Dio's aesthetics is thorough and useful as far as Dio's views on comedy are concerned. Dio's relation to Aristotle and the Cynics, but also to Plato and the Stoics in this respect are clearly indicated. The views presented here are very new. Aristophanes' comical wit appears as being more appropriate to political life, and here Dio seems to follow an Aristotelian idea on the role of comedy. But Menander's comical wit seems for Dio to be more profound, more rich and more general.

Anna Ricciardi's study of daimon situates Dio in the rational tradition of Euhemerus since for Dio the daimon can only be a historic person inspiring future generations. Eudaimonia, derived from this word, is to be understood in Dio as a philosophical notion inspired by the Stoa. This paper is thus an important contribution to our knowledge, always uncertain where Dio's eclectism is concerned, of the influence of the Stoa on Dio.

The last contribution, by Rosario Scannapieco, is a thorough study of L'Euboico, one of Dio's most famous fictions, by which Dio illustrates, in Discourse VII, some of the socio-economic problems that disrupted Greek imperial cities of his time. As always in Dio, Cynic, Stoic and Platonic traditions intermingle. The modern literature on this Discourse is usually very sensitive to the Stoic influence on this speech. The Cynic influence is analysed here at length in an interesting way. It must, however, be remembered that Stoics and Cynics are very close. A book just published by M.-O. Goulet-Cazé, Les Kynika du stoïcisme, Hermes Einzelschriften, Vol. 89, emphasizes this point. Cynic interaction with Dio's criticism of society explains his flight to Utopia. Dio's picture of the cities' poverty, quest for pleasure in connection with the arts, and decline of morality, is then analysed in contrast with the freedom and happiness of the Euboean countrymen, who constitute an ideal community. It is among them that philanthropia develops as a typically Greek value, rooted in Greek tradition and philosophy, especially among the antagonist followers of Epicurus (whom Dio loathed) and the Stoa. In discussing the arts and their relation to pleasure and the decline of morality, Dio evokes the concept of poikilia (variety) in a negative way that recalls Plato, as Rosario Scannapieco remarks, p. 121, note 70 and p. 122, note 71. I would like to add that in Plato this concept can also have favorable connotations, as later on in the Stoa, where it counts among the criteria of cosmic beauty (see my book La Philosophie stoïcienne de l'art (2000), p. 85).

I personally enjoyed reading this book, in spite of its sometimes rather too systematic presentation, with the different items a little too rigidly indicated by numbers in the text. It seems to have been written by graduate students of a high level. The notes are very professional, the developments are thorough and easy to follow and the book, of small dimensions, is a handy companion for those who wish to read Dio. This book is thus at the same time most attractive and very serious. Well-documented, novel in many aspects, this scholarly book will be useful to all those interested in Dio and his time.

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