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

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Dio Chysostom: Greed leads to internal strife and foreign wars

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Dio Chrysostom
From The Thirteenth Discourse:
In Athens, about his Banishment

Translated by J.W. Cohoon

And thus it came about that I too endeavoured to talk to the Romans when they had summoned me and invited me to speak, but I did not take them by twos and threes in wrestling-schools and cloistered walks; for it was not possible to meet them thus in that city; but when a great number had gathered in one place, I would tell them that they needed a better and more carefully planned education, if they were ever to be happy in truth and reality and not merely in the opinion of the majority, as was now the case; that if anyone should win them to this view and take them in charge and teach them that not a single one of those things is a good to which they devoted themselves and which they strove with all their zeal to acquire, in the belief that, the more they acquired, the better and happier their life would be; but that if they wholeheartedly practised temperance, manliness, and justice, and took them into their souls, securing from somewhere teachers who taught these things and all the other things too, not caring whether the men were Greeks or Romans, or, for that matter, if there is among the Scythians or the Indians a man who teaches the things of which I have spoken, – not, as I think, archery and horsemanship, but far better, if there were a physician who, knowing how to treat the infirmities of the body, is in that way competent to heal the maladies of the soul – a teacher, I mean, who would be able to rid of licentiousness and covetousness and all such infirmities those who were dominated by them – of that man, I say, they should take possession and lead him to their homes, inducing him to come either by argument or by friendship – for by money such a man cannot be induced nor by any other gifts – and after establishing him on their acropolis they ought to issue an edict bidding all the young men to resort to him regularly and associate with him, and equally the older men too, until all of them, having become enamoured of righteousness, and having learned to despise gold and silver and ivory, yea, and rich food too and perfume and the lust of the flesh, should thereafter live happy lives, and be masters first and foremost of themselves and afterwards of all other men as well.

“For only then,” I continued, “will your city be great and strong and truly imperial, since at present its greatness arouses distrust and is not very secure. For,” said I, “in proportion as courage, justice, and temperance increase among you, in that degree there will be less silver and gold and furniture of ivory and of amber, less of crystal and citron-wood and ebony and women’s adornments and embroideries and dyes of many hues; in short, all the things which are now considered in your city precious and worth fighting for, you will need in smaller quantities, and when you have reached the summit of virtue, not at all. And the houses in which you live will be smaller and better, and you will not support so great a throng of idle and utterly useless slaves and – the most paradoxical thing of all – the more god-fearing and pious you become, the less frankincense and fragrant offerings and garlands there will be among you, and you will offer fewer sacrifices and at less expense, and the whole multitude that is now being supported in your city will be much smaller; while the entire city, like a ship that has been lightened, will ride higher and be much more buoyant and safer…But as your possessions are now, on account of the great amount of wealth, all of which has been collected from all the world into this one place, luxury and covetousness being prevalent, the situation is similar to that in which Achilles, after heaping high the pyre of Patroclus with many logs of wood, with many coverlets and garments, and also with fat and olive oil in addition, summons the winds, with libations and promise of sacrifices, to come and set it afire and burn it. For such possessions as yours are no less likely to kindle the wanton spirit and licentiousness of human beings.”

I did not, however, maintain that it was difficult for them to become educated, “for,” said I, “although you have hitherto been no whit better than other men, you learned easily enough all the other things that you wished.” I refer to horsemanship, archery, fighting in heavy armour .

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