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Dio Cocceianus

(c. 40—110 ad)


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Later called Chrysostom (c.ad 40/50—after 110), Greek orator and popular philosopher. Born of wealthy family in Prusa in Bithynia, Dio began a career as a rhetorician at Rome, but soon fell under the spell of the Stoic philosopher Gaius Musonius Rufus. Involved in a political intrigue early in the reign of Domitian, he was banished both from Rome and from his native province, and spent many years travelling through Greece, the Balkans, and Asia Minor as a wandering preacher of Stoic-Cynic philosophy. Rehabilitated by Nerva, he became a friend of Trajan, but continued to travel widely as an epideictic orator. He later retired to his family estates in Bithynia and became a notable in the province (he figures in the Letters of Pliny the Younger as the defendant in a prosecution arising out of a public building contract).

Of the 80 speeches attributed to him, two are actually the work of his pupil Favorinus. Many are display-speeches, but others, e.g. those delivered before the assembly and council at Prusa, deal with real situations. His themes are varied: mythology, the Stoic-Cynic ideal monarch, literary criticism, popular morality, funeral orations, rhetorical descriptions, addresses to cities, etc. He sees himself as a teacher of his fellow men, and his stock ideas are the Stoic concepts of physis (‘nature’), aretē (‘virtue’), and philanthrōpia (‘philanthropy’). His language and style are Atticist (i.e. they imitate classical Athenian Greek), though he avoids the extreme archaism of some representatives of the 2nd-cent. ad rhetorical revival known as the Second Sophistic, and often aims at an easy, almost conversational style, suggestive of improvisation. Plato and Xenophon are his main models. Dio idealizes the Hellenic past, and feels himself the heir to a long classical tradition, which he seeks to revive and preserve. His Stoic-Cynic philosophy has lost its erstwhile revolutionary élan, and become essentially conservative, though he still insists on the philosopher's right to free speech and criticism. His Greek patriotism is in no way anti-Roman. Like his contemporary Plutarch, he reflects the attitudes and culture of the upper classes of the eastern half of the empire, who were beginning to reach out to a share in political power. He gives a vivid and detailed picture of the life of his times.

Robert Browning; Nigel Guy Wilson

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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