BMCR 2018.11.11

Dion de Pruse dit Dion Chrysostome. Œuvres. Discours olympique, ou sur la conception première de la divinité (or. XII): À Athènes, sur sa fuite (or. XIII). Collection des universités de France

, , , Dion de Pruse dit Dion Chrysostome. Œuvres. Discours olympique, ou sur la conception première de la divinité (or. XII): À Athènes, sur sa fuite (or. XIII). Collection des universités de France. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2017. 774. ISBN 9782251006161 €75,00 (pb).

This is the second volume of Dio Chrysotom’s works to have appeared in Collection Budé’s Série grecque —following the publication in 2011 of Or. 33-36, edited by C. Bost-Pouderon 1—and it will be greeted warmly by scholars of Dio and imperial period Greek prose. It contains two famous speeches: the Olympian Oration (Or. 12), focusing on the human conception and comprehension of god, and In Athens, About Exile (Or. 13), which opens with an autobiographical account of how Dio embraced his banishment and ends with a speech of advice directed to Romans, exhorting them to reconsider their education. The critical edition of the Greek text, introduction, and commentary are by Gianluca Ventrella, while the French translation was produced by Thierry Grandjean and Lucie Thévenet.

This is a hefty volume, slightly short of 800 pages, of which about 60 (double numbered) are filled with the Greek text and a French translation; the rest is dedicated to introductions (p. 1-87 and 497-555) and extensive commentaries to the two speeches (p. 137-493 and 577-697), followed by a bibliography, index of personal and ethnic names mentioned in the Greek text, and an index of passages quoted by Dio. Ventrella has published several articles on Dio over the last few years, in particular on the Olympian Oration, including contributions on textual problems, chronology, and genre, and much of this work has been incorporated into the book. Since a general introduction to Dio and his corpus by Eugenio Amato is due to appear in the Collection Budé in a separate volume, Ventrella’s introductory sections are limited to questions pertaining to the two speeches: their dating, circumstances of delivery, genre, structure, style, philosophical and literary influences and inspirations, and manuscript tradition. The dating of neither speech is obvious. For Or. 12, Ventrella opts for the summer of 97 CE, shortly after Domitian’s death, as the probable date, as he believes that Dio’s criticism of Roman imperialism and his sympathetic portrayal of Getae must predate Trajan and his Dacian Wars. This is one of several dates that have been proposed by scholars (others include 85, 101, and 105 CE), and as there is no uncontested evidence and each date raises its own difficulties, this discussion will certainly continue. Much attention is dedicated to the question of the genre of the speech, which, as Ventrella proposes, partakes of the rhetorical traditions of the panegyric, prose hymn, and declamation, which are incorporated within a philosophically-toned whole; in his view, this philosophical intonation constitutes a unifying feature. As he rightly emphasizes, Dio partakes of the rhetorical tradition while at the same time underscoring his status as a philosopher, which allows him to bend the rules of sophistic and rhetorical performance. I found somewhat problematic Ventrella’s insistence on the “diatribic” character of the speech, as it is not clear how Ventrella understands “diatribe”. While on p. 21 he appears to follow Fuentes González (who argued that the term should be redefined and used in reference to texts that partake of the pedagogical tradition, the key feature of which is the existence of a master-disciple relationship 2), later on in his identification of the “diatribic” features of Or. 12 he relies on the understanding of diatribe of, e.g. Hirzel (1895) (p. 23, n. 4: poetic quotations as a typical feature of diatribe) and Weber (1895) (p. 225, n. 4: ethical interpretation of Homer as a characteristic feature of diatribe). In n. 1, p. 22, Ventrella notes that “La nature diatribique de l’ Olympique a été saisie aussi par Schmid 1903, col. 870-871”; but Schmid called all Dio’s extant writings Diatriben except his city speeches (Or. 31-36, 38-51) and consolations (28-30). 3 All this is quite confusing, as is Ventrella’s statement, p. 20, that “C’est donc Dion lui-même qui (…) définit son discours comme une ‘diatribe philosophique’” (referring to Dio’s ἅτε ἐν φιλοσόφῳ διατριβῇ in 12.26), as it suggests that Dio himself characterized his text as a diatribe in the sense (whatever that sense may be) the term has in modern scholarship ( nota bene the French translation renders the phrase as “dans un cours de philosophie”). In his thorough examination of the philosophical inspirations of Dio’s discussion of the human ἔννοια θεῶν, Ventrella emphasizes the influences of the Stoa (humans’ intuitive conception of the gods and the theologia tripartita) and of the Middle Academy (a parallel between an artist and a demiurge and Dio’s claim that the concept that an artist fashions his work after τὴν εἰκόνα ἐν τῇ ψυχῇ, “the image in the soul”); he also discusses the potential provenance of Dio’s theory of art and the preeminence he gives to Pheidias in the history of sculpture. Ventrella concludes that it is difficult to state with certainty whether this philosophical synthesis, combined with an endorsement of popular forms of devotion and piety, is to be attributed to Dio himself—many of the concepts he peruses were “in the air” at the time—or come from a philosopher of the Middle Stoa, such as Panaitios or Poseidonios, though the latter seems to him more probable.

In the introduction to Or. 13, Ventrella admits that there is not enough evidence to date this post-exilic speech precisely. He considers Dio’s return to Prusa from exile and the Bithynian proconsulate of Varenus Rufus as the terminus ante quem —if one believes that Dio visited Athens and delivered the speech there on his way home; but he also rightly points out the lack of evidence, aside from the title, that the discourse was delivered in Athens—moreover, some of its features undermine the case for its Athenian delivery (e.g. the fact that the Athenians are always talked about in the third person). In his discussion of the speech’s generic affiliation, he notes elements which distinguish it from exilic consolation literature and proposes to consider the discourse as an example of a lalia, a format described by Menander Rhetor in the late 3rd c. CE. Menander Rhetor’s passage provides a valuable context for Dio’s speech, though perhaps his statement “les recommandations de Ménandre … semblent en partie ignores par Dion” (p. 512) is unfortunate, not only because Menander postdates Dio, but also because the format (as Ventrella notes, p. 514) appears not yet to have crystallized. The remainder of the introduction examines parallels between Or. 13 and the (pseudo?-)Platonic Clitomachus and other Socratic literature (e.g. Plato’s Euthydemus, Xenophon’s Memorabilia); overall, Ventrella tends to see a variety of inspirations behind Or. 13 rather than the predominant influence of Antisthenes, which has been proclaimed by many scholars. There is a separate section discussing the nature of Dio’s exile, where Ventrella argues, as in his 2009 article, that Dio was never formally exiled, but was adnotatus requirendus. 4

Ventrella’s critical edition of the two speeches was produced on the basis of a fresh reconsideration of the manuscript tradition. The essential divergence from von Arnim’s text 5 is its different assessment of the manuscripts’ authority (preference is given to codex M and marginal/interlinear corrections in codices R and G), discussed methodically in the preface. One of the real strengths of Ventrella’s edition is his thorough familiarity with and careful examination of abundant previous scholarship, including an 1810 edition of Dukas and Emper’s commentary, preserved in manuscript, 6 which allows him to benefit from the cumulative effort of past generations. Ventrella also makes an admirable effort to understand the text as it was transmitted before suggesting interpolation or considering conjecture; as a result, his use of square brackets is much sparser than von Arnim’s, and on multiple occasions he retains the lectio of the manuscripts where von Arnim thought that conjecture was necessary. His choices are amply and persuasively discussed in the commentary, though as one would expect, some are more convincing than others (I have doubts, for instance, about keeping λόγος in Or. 12.11: οὐ γὰρ μόνον πλούτῳ φασὶν ἀρετὴν καὶ κῦδος ὀπηδεῖν, ἀλλὰ καὶ λόγος ἀρετῇ συνέπεται ἐξ ἀνάγκης, where von Arnim proposes πλοῦτος). He considers thoroughly previous editions and critical discussions of individual passages, and proposes several new conjectures, taking into account the potential palaeographical mechanisms of corruptions (to note just a few of Ventrella’ new propositions: Or. 12.19: ἀμμιλλοτέρους: von Arnim μετεώρους; 12.28: τὸ τορὸν: von Arnim τὸ γαῦρον; 12.36: δαίμονα ὀκνηρὰν καὶ ἄλυπον: von Arnim δαίμονα πονηρὰν καὶ ἄλυπον; 12.57: μηχανὴν: von Arnim ἱκανὴν).

Ventrella’s edition not only provides scholars with a thoroughly reconsidered Greek text, but also with a wealth of material discussed in the commentary, in which difficult passages and various attempts to improve them are meticulously discussed; this is an invaluable resource for any scholar working on the two speeches. The commentary also contains an abundance of explanatory and interpretative material, discussing issues of an historical and linguistic nature, providing ample background for Dio’s philosophically-charged passages, and pointing out overlaps and parallels between Dio’s other texts and those of other authors, all in dialogue with previous scholarship. The wealth of material gathered and discussed here is extraordinary; it is a testimony to the author’s immense scholarly labor and dedicated effort.

Ventrella’s work is a significant contribution to Dionian scholarship. We are offered a thoughtful, thoroughly reconsidered, meticulously annotated edition of two of the most important of Dio’s speeches, with a comprehensive overview of previous scholarship. The accompanying French translation appears faithful and accurate as well as readable.

Some spelling mistakes and omissions noticed in passing include: p. 10, n. 5 should read “Alcock” instead of “Alcok” p. 31 “Schmid 1887-1897” instead of “Schmid 1897-1897”; on p. 84 and 555 von Arnim’s edition is given without a publication date; p. 85 and 752 in the title of Russell 1992 should be “Chrysostom” instead of “Chrysotom”; p. 514-5 n. 2 should read “Ventrella 2016a” instead of “Ventrella 2016”; p. 669 DL 2.25 instead of 2.55; p. 703 in the title of Anderson 1989, “pepaideumenos” instead of “pepaideuomenos”; p. 763 Ventrella’s own 2014 article appears to be quoted under the wrong title. In the first line of the footnotes on p. 516, the reference to n. 64 and n. 66 is enigmatic. There are also slips in the index locorum, e.g. p. 771, the quotation of Herodotus is in Or. XIII 7, 18-20 (not 12-20), and the quotation of Homer’s Iliad IV 443 is in Or. XII 72, 1 (not 19).


1. Dion de Pruse dit Dion Chrysostome, Œuvres. Premier discours à Tarse (Or. XXXIII), Second discours à Tarse (Or. XXXIV), Discours à Célènes de Phrygie (Or. XXXV), Discours Borysthénitique (Or. XXXVI), texte établi et traduit par Cécile Bost-Pouderon, Paris 2011.

2. P.P. Fuentes González, Les diatribes de Télès, Paris 1998, 50-56.

3. W. Schmid, “Dion (18)”, RE V.1, col. 848-877.

4. G. Ventrella, “Dione di Prusa fu realmente esiliato? L’orazione tredicesima tra idealizzazione letteraria e ricostruzione storico-giuridica (con un’appendice di E. Amato)”, Emerita 77 (2009) 33–56.

5. H. von Arnim, Dionis Prusaensis quem vocant Chrysostomum quae extant omnia, vol. I-II, Berlin 1893-6. In recent years, new critical editions of Or. 12 and 13 were published by Italian scholars: L. Torraca, A. Rotunno, R. Scannapieco, Dione di Prusa. Olimpico (or. XII), Napoli 2005 and A. Verrengia, Dione di Prusa. In Atene, sull’esilio (or. XIII), Napoli 2000; both are taken into account by Ventrella.

6. The part of the commentary that deals with Or. 12 was published by Ventrella, “Il commentario inedito di Adolf Emperius (ms. Leid. BPG 89, ff. 213r-267r) all’Olimpico di Dione di Prusa”, Göttinger Forum für Altertumswissenschaft 15 (2012) 1-60.