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Dio Chrysostom: Greed leads to internal strife and foreign wars


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Dio Chrysostom: On the fate of states educated only for war


Dio Chrysostom
From The Seventeenth Discourse: On Covetousness
Translated by J.W. Cohoon

In this passage [from Euripides], then, are enumerated all the consequences of greed: that it is of advantage neither to the individual nor to the state; but that, on the contrary, it overthrows and destroys the prosperity of families and of states as well; and, in the second place, that the law of men requires us to honour equality, and that this establishes a common bond of friendship and peace for all toward one another, whereas quarrels, internal strife, and foreign wars are due to nothing else than the desire for more, with the result that each side is deprived even of a sufficiency. For what is more necessary than life, or what do all men hold as of more importance than this? But nevertheless men will destroy even that for money, and some too have caused even their own fatherlands to be laid waste. The same poet then goes on to say that there is no greed among the divine beings, wherefore they remain indestructible and ageless, each single one keeping its own proper position night and day and through all the seasons. For, the poet adds, if they were not so ordered, none of them would be able to survive. When, therefore, greed would bring destruction even to the divine beings, what disastrous effect must we believe this malady causes to human kind? And he aptly mentions measures and weights as having been invented to secure justice and to prevent any man from over-reaching another.

And Hesiod says that the half is even more than the whole, having in mind, I presume, the injuries and losses resulting from greed. For what king or potentate or people has ever attempted to transgress the principle of justice and grasp at the greater share but he has lost all his former felicity and has suffered great and overpowering disasters, bequeathing to all men thereafter unmistakable examples of folly and wickedness? Or of those who were willing to receive the lesser share and to endure cheerfully the seeming defeat, what man has not gained more than the others many times over, things that accrued to him automatically and without effort on his part, and has gained for the longest time fair prosperity and in the greatest security has enjoyed Fortune’s blessings?

Illustrations are at hand: Did not the sons of Iocasta, when they became at variance in their desire for more, the one wishing to be sole ruler, and the other seeking by fair means or foul to secure his portion of the kingdom – did they not, though brothers, slay each the other and bring the greatest evils, both of them, upon those who espoused their causes, since the invaders of the land straightway perished, while those who fought to defend it were worsted soon after because they would not allow the corpses to be buried? And again, on account of the greed of one man who carried off Helen and the possessions of Menelaus, the inhabitants of Asia’s greatest city perished along with their children and wives, for harbouring one woman and a little property they paid so huge a penalty. Then take the case of Xerxes, the master of the other continent. When he cast covetous eyes upon Greece too, and collected and brought against her so mighty a fleet and so many myriads, he shamefully lost all his armament and with difficulty saved his own person by taking to flight himself; and afterwards he was forced to endure the ravishing of his country and of his cities on the seacoast. As a further illustration take Polycrates: They say that so long as he was ruler of Samos alone he enjoyed the greatest felicity of any man in the whole world; but that when he wished to meddle somewhat in the affairs of the people of the opposite mainland and sailed across for the purpose of getting money from Orestes, he met with no easy death, but was impaled by that barbarian prince and thus perished.

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