Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.10.51

Cécile Bost-Pouderon, Dion Chrysostome: Trois discours aux villes (Orr. 33-35). Tôme 1: Prolégomènes, édition critique et traduction; Tôme 2: Commentaires, bibliographie et index. Cardo: Études et Textes pour l'Identité Culturelle de l'Antiquité Tardive, 4-5.   Salerno:  Helios Editrice, 2006.  Pp. 179; 400.  ISBN 978-88-88123-11-0.  €38.00/€50.00.  

Reviewed by Tonnes Bekker-Nielsen, University of Southern Denmark, Kolding (
Word count: 2128 words

By any reckoning, Dio of Prusa ranks among the most fascinating figures of the Second Sophistic. He was famous for his rhetorical skills and known to admirers as chrysostomos, the "golden-mouthed". Of his works, a corpus of 80 orations has been preserved (though not all are genuinely Dionian, nor orations in the strict sense), dealing mainly with social philosophy and its applications at all levels from the imperial down to the municipal: Dio was a city councilor of his native Prusa and a self-appointed advisor to many other cities of Roman Asia Minor. The speeches presented and analyzed in this two-volume work, which is based on the author's doctoral thesis, were delivered in Tarsus (Or. 33-34), and in Phrygian Apameia, also known as Celainia (Or. 35). Volume 1 presents a critical edition of the texts, a French translation with detailed commentary, and a discussion of the manuscript tradition and other aspects of the textual history of Orr. 33-35. Volume 2 follows up with a detailed analysis of selected rhetorical and philosophical problems and places Dio's work in relation to other ancient writers.

Modern translations of the Dionian corpus are available in English (J.W. Cohoon (Orr. 1-31) and H. Lamar Crosby (Orr. 32-80), in the Loeb Classical Library) and German (Winfried Elliger in the Artemis series; not in Bost-Pouderon's bibliography) but not in French, though some speeches have been translated, notably the Bithynian orations (Orr. 38-51) by Marcel Cuvigny.1

The Greek text and apparatus criticus of this edition are based on Bost-Pouderon's meticulous analysis of the manuscript transmission (summarized vol. 1, pp. 19-58). The French follows the original more closely than the Loeb version, yet reads well. Original and translation are presented as separate chapters, presumably for the convenience of readers with no Greek, but many users will find this separate-but-equal arrangement less practical than the traditional use of facing pages for original and translation. Volume 2 is divided into three main parts, devoted to the context (including the dates) of the orations, Dio's intentions and ideas, and the rhetorical and philosophical background of his times, followed by a brief conclusion, bibliography and index locorum.

The numbering of the Dionian corpus is not chronological but loosely thematic, and the orations have been arranged in more than one way; the Bibliotheke of Photios lists the eighty speeches known to us in a different sequence. Thus, as Bost-Pouderon notes, the grouping of orations 33-35 within the corpus provides no clues to their place within Dio's oeuvre. For that, we must look to the internal evidence of the speeches themselves; affinities with other, datable speeches, and what little is known of Dio's biography.

Three important full-length studies of Dio have appeared. H. von Arnim2 viewed Dio within the intellectual milieu of the Second Sophistic and attempted to reconstruct the original sequence of the texts within the corpus. C.P. Jones3 focused on the author's person and the Sitz im Leben of his work, whereas P. Desideri4 explicitly renounced any interest in the private Dio and limited himself to the "public" Dio's philosophical and rhetorical development. Bost-Pouderon bases herself on all three, but her approach is clearly much closer to that of Arnim and Desideri than of Jones.

Central to our understanding of Dio's work, and to any serious reading of his orations as sources for the author's intellectual development, is the problem of their date. As there are few historical or autobiographical allusions in Orr. 33-35, Bost-Pouderon searches for thematic and structural affinities ("parentés") as chronological clues. The premise -- that those subjects which occupied Dio at a certain stage of his development will be reflected in his speeches composed during that period, and absent from others -- is eminently sensible, but is not followed through, nor are speeches outside the immediate focus of Bost-Pouderon's analysis taken sufficiently into account.

Bost-Pouderon starts off by considering the whole group of speeches 31-35. In the view of most scholars (conveniently summarized in the table, vol. 2, p. 40), the thirty-first ("Rhodian") oration can be securely dated to Dio's pre-exilic period by its reference to Nero's depredations as recent events (31.148-50). Opinion is divided concerning the thirty-second ("Alexandrian") oration. In 1978, both Jones and Desideri considered it to be pre-exilic, but recent scholarship tends towards a post-exilic date for Or. 32. Bost-Pouderon, however, has chosen to retain the traditional Vespasianic date.

Next follows oration 33, the "first Tarsian", which has much in common with the Alexandrian oration. Their subjects (the vices and disgraceful behaviour of the citizens) are similar; many themes and exempla recur; there is verbatim agreement between two passages (32.67 and 33.57). A further shared characteristic is the extensive -- not to say excessive -- use of literary quotations and allusions, perhaps a mark of a younger, less mature Dio. Given the close similarities between 32 and 33 and Bost-Pouderon's choice of a pre-exilic date for 32, oration 33 is assigned to the period before Dio's exile.

There are few points in common between 33 and 34. The themes are different, and the copious literary quotations found in 33 have no parallels in 34, the "second Tarsian". On the other hand, Bost-Pouderon notes the shared features of the 34th and the 38th ("Nicomedian") orations. This leads her to conclude that Or. 34 is post-exilic. Unfortunately, 34 also has some points in common with the "Rhodian" oration 31. An attempt to revise the established pre-exilic dating of Or. 31 is not carried through and she falls back on the hypothesis that the text of 31 has been rewritten or re-used at a later date.

Bost-Pouderon takes one step further to explore an old suggestion by Dietmar Kienast5 that Or. 34 should be dated to AD 112-113 or even 114, an idea that apparently finds her approval (vol. 2, p. 13, 89-90). But this is at variance with her declared methodology and her own emphasis on parenté as a dating criterion: while there are clear affinities between 34 and 38, there are no less evident parentés within the group 38-41, where oration 40 on internal evidence can be dated to the early Trajanic period (possibly earlier, but not later).

The dating of oration 35 is only briefly discussed. Bost-Pouderon identifies some resemblances between 35 on the one hand, 32 and 33 (both of which she takes to be Vespasianic) on the other, but also between 35 and 34 (assumed to be Trajanic). On balance, Bost-Pouderon prefers a pre-exilic date, while not entirely excluding the possibility that Or. 35 is in fact Trajanic.

Yet there are significant parentés linking Or. 35 to post-exilic speeches, not mentioned by Bost-Pouderon. The use of India's gymnosophists as an exotic exemplum (35.18ff) is reminiscent of Or. 37 (the "Borysthenic"); an oblique reference to gymnosophists is also found in 34.3. At 35.10, Dio condemns sophists who take pupils, a theme that recurs in 12.13 (the "Olympian"). The detailed exposition of the advantages of an assize city over its neighbours (35.15-17) might well be inspired by Dio's own efforts to secure that status for his home city of Prusa around the turn of the century and is also touched upon in 38.26 and 34.47, both post-exilic. While not in themselves conclusive, these thematic similarities all point to an early Trajanic date for Or. 35.

A second crucial question is the chain of transmission from the spoken original to the published text as we have it. Bost-Pouderon assumes that orations 33-35 were taken down by a shorthand writer ("tachygraphe") while Dion was speaking. This raises three problems.

First, in the Dionian corpus there are no traces of different "hands" among the tachygraphers, nor of misheard phrases or other telltale features that would reveal a shorthand original. Since even a skilled and well-educated tachygrapher would have found it difficult to render Dio's Atticisms and quotations from the classics correctly (the Alexandrian oration includes a cento poem of thirty-six lines), the tachygraphed text would have to be post-edited and corrected before incorporation into the corpus.

A second problem is the assumption that a shorthand writer would always be on hand. Shorthand was used in Rome for recording the senatorial Acta, but apart from the dubious case of P. Oxy. 37 (AD 49) there is no evidence for tachygraphic records in a provincial context before the time of Trajan. Well into the second century, municipal council proceedings were still taken down in note form and rendered in oratio obliqua.6

Third, in the orations as they now stand we find no interruptions or extempore replies to Dion's audience, in contrast to later council proceedings from Roman Egypt -- e.g. P. Oxy. 2407 -- which were presumably based on shorthand records. While some passages create the impression of a dialogue between Dion and his listeners, closer reading reveals them to be rhetorical answers to questions posed by the speaker on behalf of the audience ("you may ask me", "my detractors claim" etc.). Bost-Pouderon implies that "ruptures" in Dion's presentation could be due to his speaking "devant un auditoire turbulent" (vol. 1, p. 48) but in Or. 46, Dio faces a highly turbulent audience -- some of the listeners had attempted to burn his house down the night before -- and yet his line of argument runs clearly from end to end.

It has been observed how many of Dio's speeches, especially in the "Bithynian" group (38-51) lack a proper peroratio. Arnim7 assumed that some of these abrupt terminations reflected damage to the original text where the last part of a papyrus roll had been lost. Few Dionian orations, however, bear the typical marks of a true lacuna, with sentences or even words cut short in the middle (as in Or. 13). If the abrupt endings are indeed due to loss of text, then the concluding sentences must have been emended to their present form by a later copyist or editor.

Arnim's theory was modified by Gilbert Highet, who observed that in a papyrus scroll, the first (outer) sheet is far more liable to suffer damage than the last; in a codex on the other hand, the last leaf is as likely to be damaged as the first. Thus the endings were presumably lost after the papyrus originals had been recopied into codices, but before the time of Photios.8

Bost-Pouderon accepts the Arnim-Highet hypothesis as an explanation for the abrupt termination of the Celainian oration 35, but not the Tarsian orations 33-34. In her view, Or. 33 was cut short by the interpolation of par. 63-64 by a later editor, while the ending of Or. 34 ("I seem to be going too far ... like a swimmer who ventures too far in calm weather, I do not know what is in store") is Dio's way of closing the speech because he senses that his audience is growing tired of his advice -- "trop philosophique" -- and restless (vol. 2, p. 51).

Taken together, Bost-Pouderon's assumption of a shorthand original and the Arnim-Highet hypothesis imply that Dio's text passed through a number of stages. First, Dio's orations were taken down verbatim by tachygraphers; 2. the tachygraphed texts were edited and combined with others into a papyrus corpus; 3. the papyrus text was copied into a set of codices; 4. the last pages of some codices were lost; 5. the mutilated codices were combined into the Dionian corpus as we know it.

This is a perfectly possible sequence, but a complex one. A simpler version would be that 1. Dio wrote his speeches out in greater or lesser detail before delivering them, and retained the manuscripts for later re-use; 2. after his death, an editor reworked this mass of papers into the Dionian corpus as we know it.

On the latter reconstruction, some orations remain open-ended because Dion did not require a full manuscript for his speech. He could write out the opening paragraphs, then rely on his sophistic training and rhetorical experience to improvise the remainder of the oration and a conclusion tailored to the reactions of his audience. From time to time, he would recycle old material for new occasions -- which would explain the word-for-word correspondence between 32.67 and 33.57. This also suggest that caution is needed when applying parenté as a dating criterion. While it remains likely that speeches with many similarities or overlaps are broadly contemporaneous, re-use may explain similarities between speeches that on other criteria should be dated to different periods of Dio's life.

The observations above should not detract from the overall impression of Bost-Pouderon's work as an important contribution to the continuing study of Dio's work, and especially to an understanding of the author's intellectual milieu and development. Bost-Pouderon deserves credit for providing an up-to-date text and translation of these three important speeches, and for setting a high standard for future work in the field.


1.   Dion de Pruse: Discours bithyniens (Discours 38-51). Traduction avec introduction, notices et commentaire par Marcel Cuvigny. (Annales Littéraires de l'Université de Besancon, 520; Centre de Recherches d'Histoire Ancienne, 129). Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1994.
2.   Arnim, H. von, Leben und Werke des Dio von Prusa. Mit einer Einleitung: Sophistik, Rhetorik, Philosophie in ihrem Kampf um die Jugendbildung. Berlin: Weidmann 1898, repr. Hildesheim: Weidmann, 2004.
3.   Jones, C.P. The Roman World of Dio Chrysostom. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978.
4.   Desideri, P. Dione di Prusa. Un intellettuale greco nell'impero romano. Messina: G. D'Anna, 1978.
5.   Kienast, D. and H. Castritius, "Ein vernachlässigtes Zeugnis für die Reichspolitik Trajans: die zweite tarsische Rede des Dion von Prusa", Historia 20, 62-83, 1971, esp. p. 75.
6.   On the use of oratio recta and o. obliqua in council proceedings, see R.A. Coles, "Shorthand and the use of Oratio recta in reports of proceedings in the papyri", Atti dell'XI Congresso Internazionale di Papirologia, Milano 2-8 Settembre 1965, Milan: Istituto Lombardo di Scienze e Lettere, 1966, pp. 118-25; A.K. Bowman, The Town Councils of Roman Egypt (American Studies in Papyrology, 11), Toronto: Hakkert 1971, pp. 36-37.
7.   Arnim, H. von, "Entstehung und Anordnung der Schriftensammlung Dions von Prusa," Hermes 26, 366-407, 1891.
8.   Highet, G., "Mutilations in the Text of Dio Chrysostom", in R.J. Ball (ed.), The Classical Papers of Gilbert Highet, New York: Columbia University Press 1983, pp. 74-99.

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