BMCR 2010.07.07

Dion von Prusa: Der Philosoph und sein Bild. Scripta Antiquitatis Posterioris ad Ethicam Religionemque pertinentia (SAPERE) 13

, Dion von Prusa: Der Philosoph und sein Bild. Scripta Antiquitatis Posterioris ad Ethicam Religionemque pertinentia (SAPERE) 13. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009. xi, 317. ISBN 9783161494406. €29.00 (pb).

1 Responses

[For a response to this review by Eugenio Amato, please see BMCR 2010.08.14 ]

In recent years we have seen a growing interest in Dio Chrysostomos, the “golden-mouthed” philosopher and rhetorician from Prusa, and several studies focused on one part or another of his oeuvre have appeared, e.g., Cécile Bost-Pouderon on speeches 33-351 and Antonino Milazzo on speeches 3, 5, 7 and 8.2 This volume, published in the series SAPERE (Scripta Antiquitatis Posterioris ad Ethicam Religionemque pertinentia) is devoted to five lesser-known works by Dio, orations 54 ( Περὶ Σωκράτους), 55 ( Περὶ Ὁμήρου καὶ Σωκράτους), 70 ( Περὶ Φιλοσοφίας), 71 ( Περὶ Φιλοσόφου) and 72 ( Περὶ τοῦ σχήματος).

Though they have not received the same scholarly attention as Dio’s orations on kingship (Orr. 1-4), the Euboean idyll (Or. 7), the Borysthenic oration (Or. 36, the subject of an earlier volume in the SAPERE series3) or the speeches on municipal affairs (Orr. 33-35, 38-51), the opera minora presented in this volume are central to an understanding of Dio’s life and self-perception. Taken as a whole, the biographical information provided by other authors (this volume, pp. 259ff) is meagre, and any attempt at writing the intellectual history of Dio must, at the end of the day, base itself on his own writings. The picture of Dio that emerges from his works is, however, neither coherent nor consistent, and in order to deconstruct his self-representation, one needs to grasp Dio’s vision of the ideal philosopher, as revealed by these five speeches dealing with the proper behaviour and appearance of philosophers in general (Orr. 70-72) and the mores of Dio’s favourite philosopher and alter ego, Sokrates (Orr. 54-55).

The first half of the volume is devoted to the texts themselves, with introduction and notes by Eugenio Amato and Sotera Fornaro and German translation by Renate Burri, while the second half contains five essays on specific aspects of Dio’s work in its social, literary and philosophical context. The authors of the individual chapters disagree on a number of points, but there is no serious attempt at discussion or synthesis; in the brief introduction, the editor (Nesselrath) notes the “remarkably different views” of some authors but refrains from any attempts at harmonizing or reconciling their conflicting assessments.

The differences in approach are clearly visible from the very first pages of the introductory section, a sketch of “Dio as philosopher” by Fornaro, based on Dio’s intellectual self-portrait (“das Bild, das er … in seiner eigenen Redekunst entwickelt”, p. 4). This stands in contrast to the concluding chapter by Schamp, who takes a far more critical view of the sources and of Dio as a person, rejecting the story of Dio’s conversion from sophistry to philosophy (“eine Konstruktion von Dions Laufbahn, die auf dessen 13. Rede … beruht”, p. 259). In the next section of the Introduction, Eugenio Amato attempts to categorize the texts in terms of structure and literary genre. In his preface to the Loeb edition of Or. 54, Crosby assumed that this is the introductory fragment of a longer speech; this is accepted by Fornaro (p. 6, n. 5) whereas Amato (pp. 23-24) prefers to see Or. 54 as Dio’s personal “Arbeitsanmerkungen”. On the other hand, Fornaro sees Or. 71 as an integral whole (“schliesst mit einer unerwarteten Pointe”, p. 16) while Amato takes it to be a fragment and attempts a somewhat speculative reconstruction of its sequel (pp. 39-40).

The third section of the Introduction, by Amato, is devoted to the question of time and place: “Datierung und Vortragsort”. Or. 72 is held to be post-exilic and given in a city that Dio describes in 72.1-6; Amato, following the majority view, takes this unnamed city to be Rome (p. 46) though Dio’s references to sailors, ships and a statue of Poseidon suggest a seaport; nor would one expect to find “statues of kings with flowing beards” in Rome. Translating βασιλεύς as “emperor” (p. 103) rather than “king” is impossible: whatever its date, Or. 72 was composed before the accession of Hadrian, the first emperor to sport a flowing beard (cf. Borg, p. 218). Amato reads Dio’s remark that Sokrates “had no estate that could be made public property through confiscation” (Or. 54.2, Crosby’s translation4) as a reflection of Dio’s own experience of confiscation of his property (pp. 50-51; also Fornaro, p. 7), and thus as evidence that Or. 54 postdates Dio’s fall from imperial favour; from here, Amato goes on to construct an elaborate argument that Dio was punished for contumacia rather than for suspected anti-Domitianic sympathies.

This is an original contribution to the debate, going all the way back to Philostratos, on the nature of Dio’s punishment. Unfortunately, there is little in the extant texts to support Amato’s hypothesis. Even when comparing himself directly with Sokrates (Or. 43.8-11), Dio fails to mention any confiscation of his property and attributes its depreciation to his own absence in exile (Or. 40.2; 45.10; cf. the comparisons with Odysseus at 45.11 and 47.6). This also fits well with Dio’s choice of words in 47.21 where he speaks of having “found” only a fraction of the property that had been taken from him. There is, indeed, no compelling reason to assume that 54.2 is based on Dio’s personal experience of confiscation: the last years of Nero’s reign, for instance, were characterized by an almost unbroken succession of similar confiscations that would be well known to Dio’s listeners (and could, if one so wished, be used to support a pre-exilic date for Or. 54).

A discussion of the manuscript tradition and earlier editions (pp. 52-69) precedes the Greek text with a facing German translation (pp. 72-109). There is no apparatus criticus but the more important deviations from earlier editions are discussed in the notes (pp. 110-59), which also offer a detailed commentary on the content. The translation is slightly freer than its predecessors, for instance, οὐκ οἶδ’ ὅπως at 54.4 which was rendered by Crosby as “for some strange reason” and by Elliger5 as “wie, kann ich selbst nicht erklären” is given as “auf wundersamer Weise”. The opening sentence of Or. 55, “Da Du offenbar ganz allgemein ein Verehrer des Sokrates bist” perhaps fails to capture the full significance of φαίνῃ. Taken as a whole, however, the translation reads well and reflects the style and spirit of Dio’s text.

In the second half of the volume, we are treated to five thematic essays, each devoted to a specific aspect of Dio’s life and times. The first, by Fornaro, takes up a theme that was already touched upon in his introduction (pp. 4-5): for Dio and his contemporaries, philosophy was a doctrine not only to be taught, but to be lived; thus — with the possible exception of the Skeptics — the philosopher stood out from among the polloi and his very appearance made it possible to identify the school to which he belonged (pp. 163-4). One of the stock attributes of the philosopher was his beard, discussed in this volume by Fornaro (pp. 169-71) as well as Borg (pp. 215-17). Both emphasize the role of outward attributes such as dress in a society where social and intellectual interaction mainly took place in public spaces, in a “Welttheater” (Fornaro, p. 172; also Hahn, pp. 246-7) and dress formed part of the theatrical mise-en-scène orchestrated by the philosopher himself (Fornaro, p. 175; Hahn, pp. 247-8) and sometimes taken to extremes, e.g., by the Cynics (Hahn, pp. 252-4) though hardly by Dio himself: although Fornaro takes Dio’s statement (47.25) that he is wearing long hair and a purple cloak at face value (p. 172) this could equally well — or perhaps better — be taken as an ironical, rhetorical exaggeration.

Indeed, it is an open question how far the appearance of real-life philosophers conformed to the normative and somewhat extreme descriptions given by Dio and other authors. The chapter by Barbara Borg addresses this problem by confronting the iconographical evidence — mainly from sarcophagi — with that of the texts. She concludes that in the vast majority of cases, the visual message conveyed is one of generalized paideia, not of belonging to any specific philosophical school (p. 239). While some reservations may be in order — sarcophagi are not snapshots of everyday street life, and a Cynic philosopher would be unlikely (and financially unable?) to commission an elaborately sculptured sarcophagus for himself — Borg’s overall conclusion carries conviction and supports her other contention, that even if they liked to represent themselves as outsiders, the sophists of the second century AD often participated in social and political life on a par with the urban bourgeoisie, amassing riches and acting as urban benefactors. Borg offers the examples of Herodes Atticus of Athens and Polemon of Smyrna (pp. 230-1) to which one might add Flavios Damianos of Ephesus and, of course, Dio of Prusa.

Viewing St Paul against the background of contemporary pagan philosophy has contributed to a deeper understanding of the apostle’s writings 6 and the same may be said of Ramelli’s comparison of Paul and Dio (pp. 183-210). To what extent it also throws new light on Dio is less clear; certainly Paul takes centre stage for most of the chapter. Ramelli’s analysis does, however, highlight some points in common between the two, both in terms of style and philosophical outlook, at a time when the borderline between religion and philosophy was far from clear-cut. To those mentioned by Ramelli, one could add that in the case of Paul, as in that of Dio, most of the biographical information available to posterity comes from the writings of the author himself or his close collaborators. The peculiar problems that this raises are competently summarized by Jacques Schamp in the last of the five essays, following the reception of Dio from his own time to Photios and Johannes Tzetzes.

A newcomer to the field of Dionian studies may find the wealth of different and sometimes contradictory views presented in this volume stimulating rather than enlightening. For the specialist reader, the volume offers an up-to-date edition of five key texts, with a detailed commentary and état des quéstions. For both categories of reader, the book provides a selection of good starting-points for further investigations into the complex oeuvre of our philosopher-rhetorician from Prusa. Contents:
Einführung in Dions Reden 54, 55, 70, 71 und 72 (Eugenio Amato, Sotera Fornaro) 3-69
Text, Übersetzung und Anmerkungen (Eugenio Amato, Sotera Fornaro, Renate Burri) 72-159
Wahre und falsche Philosophen in Dions Werk und Zeit (Sotera Fornaro) 163-82
Philosophen und Prediger: Dion und Paulus — pagane und christliche weise Männer (Ilaria Ramelli) 183-210
Das Bild des Philosophen und die römischen Eliten (Barbara Borg) 211-40
Das Auftreten und Wirken von Philosophen im gesellschaftlichen und politischen Leben des Prinzipats (Johannes Hahn) 241-58
Rhetor, Philosoph und “Stinkmund”: Dions Bild bis zum Ende von Byzanz (Jacques Schamp) 259-82


1. Cécile Bost Pouderon: Dion Chrysostome: Trois discours aux villes (Orr. 33-35). 1: Prolégomènes, édition critique et traduction; 2. Commentaires, bibliographie et index. Salerno: Helios, 2006 (Cardo, vol. 4-5).

2. Antonino M. Milazzo: Dimensione retorica e realtà politica. Dione di Prusa nelle orazioni III, V, VII, VIII. (Spudasmata, vol. 115). Hildesheim: Olms, 2007.

3. Dion von Prusa. Menschliche Gemeinschaft und göttliche Ordnung: Die Borysthenes-Rede, eingeleitet, übersetzt und mit interpretierenden Essays versehen von Heinz-Günther Nesselrath, Balbina Bäbler, Maximilian Forschner und Albert de Jong. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2003 (SAPERE, vol. 6).

4. Dio Chrysostom, Discourses 37-60, with an English translation by H. Lamar Crosby (Loeb Classical Library), Cambridge, MA 1946.

5.Dion Chrysostomos, Sämtliche Reden, eingeleitet, übersetzt und erläutert von Winfried Elliger (Bibliothek der alten Welt), Zürich 1967.

6. E.g., Abraham Malherbe, Paul and the Popular Philosophers, Minneapolis 1989 ( not Philadelphia 1988 (p. 294)); B.W. Winter, Philo and Paul among the Sophists (Cambridge 1997).