that is, Dion the golden-mouthed, a surname which he owed to his great talents as an orator.
He bore also the surname Cocceianu (Plin. Epist
10.85, 86), which he derived from the emperor Cocceius Nerva, with whom he was connected by intimate friendship. (Orat.
xlv. p. 513.) Dion Chrysostomus was born at Prusa in Bithynia, about the middle of the first century of our era, and belonged to a distinguished equestrian family. Reimarus has rendered it very probable that a daughter of his was the mother of Dio Cassius, the historian. His father,Pasicrates, seems to have bestowed great care on his son Dion's education and the early training of his mind; but he appears to have acquired part of his knowledge in travels, for we know that he visited Egypt at an early period of his life.
At first he occupied himself in his native place, where he held important offices, with the composition of speeches and other rhetorico-sophistical essays, but on perceiving the futility of such pursuits he abandoned them, and devoted himself with great zeal to the study of philosophy : he did not, however, confine give himself up to any profound speculations, his object being rather to apply the doctrines of philosophy to the purposes of practical life, and more especially to the administration of public affairs, and thus to bring about a better state of things. The Stoic and Platonic philosophies, however, appear to have had the greatest charms for hilm. Notwithstanding these useful and peaceful pursuits, he was looked upon in his native place with suspicion and hostility (Orat.
xlvi. p. 212, &c.), which induced him to go to Rome Here he drew upon himself the hatred of Domitian, who had so great an aversion to philosophers, that by a senatus-consultum all were expelled from Rome and Italy, and Dion found himself obliged to quit Rome in secret. (Orat.
xlvi. p. 215, xiii. p. 418.) On the advice of the Delphic oracle, it is said, he put on the attire of a beggar, and with nothing in his pocket but a copy of Plato's Phaedon and Demosthenes's oration on the Embassy, he undertook a journey to the countries in the north and east of the Roman empire.
He thus visited Thrace, Mysia, Scythia, and the country of the Getae, and owing to the power and wisdom of his orations, he met everywhere with a kindly reception, and did much good. (Orat.
xxxvi. p. 74; comp. xiii. p. 418.) In A. D. 96, when Domitian was murdered, Dion used his influence with the army stationed on the frontier in favour of his friend Nerva, and seems to have returned to Rome immediately after his accession. (Orat.
xlv. p. 202.) Nerva's successor, Trajan, entertained the highest esteem for Dion, and shewed hint the most marked favour, for he is said to have often visited hill, and even to have allowed him to ride by his side in his golden triumphal car. Having thus received the most ample satisfaction for the unjust treatment he had experienced before, he returned to Prusa about A. D. 100.
But the petty spirit he found prevailing there, which was jealous of his merits and distinctions, and attributed his good actions to impure motives (Orat.
l. p. 254, &c.), soon disgusted him with his fellow-citizens, and he again went to Rome. Trajan continued to treat him with the greatest distinction: his kindly disposition gained him many eminent friends, such as Apollonius of Tyana and Euphrates of Tyre, and his oratory the admiration of all.
In this manner he spent his last years, and died at Rome about A. D. 117.
Dion Chrysostomus is one of the most eminent among the Greek rhetoricians and sophists.
This is the opinion not only of the ancients who have written about him, such as Philostratus, Synesius, and Photius, but it is also confirmed by the eighty orations of his which are still extant, and which were the only ones known in the time of Photius, who, however, enumerates them in a somewhat different order from that in which they now stand.
These orations are for the most part the productions of his later years, and there are very few, if any, among them that can with certainty be at tributed to the early period of his life. They are more like essays on political, moral, and philosophical subjects than real orations, of which they have only the form. We find among them λόγοι περὶ βασιλείας
or λόγοι βασιλικοί
, four orations addressed to Trajan on the virtues of a sovereign ; Διογένης σἢ περὶ τυραννίδος
, on the troubles to which men expose themselves by deserting the path of nature, and on the difficulties which a sovereign has to encounter; essavs on slavery and freedom; on the means of attaining eminence as an orator; further, political discourses addressed to various towns which he sometimes praises and sometimes blames, but always with great moderation and wisdom; on subjects of ethics and practical philosophy, which he treats in a popular and attractive manner; and lastly, orations on mythical subjects and show-speeches. Besides these eighty orations we have fragments of fifteen others. Suidas, in enumerating the works of Dio Cassius, mentions one on the Getae, which Casaubon was inclined to attribute to Dion Chrysostomus, on account of a passage in Philostratus ( Vit. Soph.
1.7), who says, " how fit Dion (Chrysostomus) was for writing history, is evident from his Getica."
There are extant also five letters under the name of Dion, and addressed to one Rufus. They are published in Boissonade's Ad Marini Vit. Procl.
p. 85, &c., and some critics are inclined to consider them as productions of Dion Chrysostolmus. All the extant orations of Dion are distinguished for their refined and elegant style; the author most successflly imitated the classic writers of Greece, such as Plato, Demosthenes, Hyperides, and Aeschines. His ardent study of those models, combined with his own eminent talents, his firm and pleasing voice, and his skill in extempore speaking, raised him at once above all contemporary rhetoricians. His style is throughout clear, and, generally speaking, free from artificial embellishment, though he is not always able to escape from the influence of the Asiatic school of rhetoric. His sentences are often interrupted by the insertion of parenthetical clauses, and his prooemia are frequently too long in proportion to the other parts of his discourses. " Dion Chrysostomus," says Niebuhr (Lecturses. on Rom. Hist.
ii. p. 263, ed. Schmitz), " was an author of u ncommon talent, and it is much to be regretted that he belonged to the rhetoricians of that unfortunate age.
It makes one sad to see him waste his brilliant oratorical powers on insignificant subjects. Some of his works are written in an excellent and beautiful language, which is pure Attic Greek and without affectation : it is clear that he had made the classical language of Athens his own, and he handled it as a master.
He appears in all he wrote as a man of an amiable character, and free from the vanity of the ordinary rhetoricians, though one perceives the silent consciousness of his powers.
He was an unaffected Platonic philosopher, and lived world, and which made him forget Rome, its emperor, and everything else. All this forms a very charming feature in his character. Whenever he touches upon the actual state of things in which he lived, he shews his master-mind.
He was the first writer after Tiberius that greatly contributed towards the revival of Greek literature." (Comp. Philostratus. Vit. Soph.
1.7; Photius, Bibl.
Cod. 209; Synnesius, Δίων ἢ περὶ τῆς κατ᾽ διαγωγῆς
; Suid. s. v. Δίων
; Westermann, Gesch. d. Griech. Bereds.
§ 87, &c., and Beilage x. p. 317, &c.; Emperius, de Exilio Dionis Chrisostomi,
Braunschweig, 1840, 8vo.)
Passing over the editions of separate orations of Dion Chrysostomus, we mention only those which contain all of them. The first was edited by D. Paravisinus at Milan (1476, 4to.)
, and was followed by that of Aldus Manutius. (Venice, 1511, 8vo.) The next edition of importance is that of Cl. Morel (Paris, 1601)
, which was reprinted in 1623
with a Latin translation of Naogeorgius and notes by Morel. A very good critical edition is that of Reiske, Leipzig, 1784, 2 vols. 8vo. The first volume of a new critical edition by Emperius appeared in 1844.