Episode 12 (Dio Chrysostom)


Dio Chrysostomlived in the 1st and 2nd century. He was a writer, an orator, a philosopher and a historian during the times of the Roman Empire. He was born in Pursa (today’s Bursa in Turkey). As a young man he left for Rome. He was close with the Roman emperors Nerva and Trajan. Most of his works are not preserved today, or are just in fragments.

In his work “Discourses”, Dio Chrysostom gives an interesting legend about the origin of the Macedonians, which was told by a certain Phrigian in Alexandria. Here we read:

          “And I have, furthermore, a story to tell that I heard from a Phrygian, a story that he told about Orpheus and yourselves… Well then, the man from Phrygia said that Orpheus sang his songs throughout Thrace and Macedonia, as we have been told, and that the creatures there came up to him — a great company, I imagine, of all the animals. ‘And,’ he continued, ‘most numerous among them were the birds and the sheep… So then, as long as Orpheus was alive they followed him from every quarter, listening as they fed — for indeed he spent his time for the most part on the mountains and about the glens; but when he died, in their desolation they wailed and were distressed; and so it came bat that the mother of Orpheus, Calliopê, because of her goodwill and affection toward her son, begged Zeus to change their bodies into human form; yet their souls remained as they had been before… For the Phrygian went on to say that from those wild creatures whom Zeus transformed, a tribe of Macedonians was born, and that it was this tribe which at a later time crossed over with Alexander and settled here. He added that this is the reason why the people of Alexandria are carried away by song as no other people are, and that if they hear music of the lyre, however bad, they lose their senses and are all aquiver in memory of Orpheus. And he said that they are giddy and foolish in behaviour, coming as they do from such a stock, since the other Macedonians certainly have shown themselves to be manly and martial and steadfast of character.  (SOURCE: Dio Chrysostom “Discourses”, Vol. III).

This testimony is very interesting from several aspects. First, the Macedonians are clearly considered as special people with a mythical origin. Furthermore, we see that they were present in Alexandria even in Dio Chrysostamos’s time, which means around 400 years after this city was founded by Alexander the Great of Macedon. The description of the Macedonians as a musical nation is also very interesting. They originated from the singing birds that accompanied the mythical singer Orpheus while he was strolling around Macedonia and Thrace. Practically, the love towards the song (which is witnessed here among the Macedonians in Alexandria) is just another segment that the ancient and the present day Macedonians have in common.

Dio Chrysostom gives another very interesting testimony. For the inhabitants of the isle of Rhodos, he writes that he kept on getting different information about the same things. We read:

For instance, one and the same statue, they say, is at one time a Greek, at another time a Roman, and later on, if it so happens, a Macedonian or a Persian.” (SOURCE: Dio Chrysostom Discourses, Vol. III, 159).

In this testimony we can see that even the inhabitants of Rhodos made a clear difference between the Macedonian and the Greek cultural values.

In “The Fourth Discourse on Kingship”, Dio Chrysostom describes a fictional dialogue between Alexander the Great of Macedon and Diogenes. In this dialogue Alexander asked Diogenes:

“And what enemy have I still left,” said he, “if I capture those peoples I have mentioned?”

Diogenes replied:

          “The most difficult of all to conquer,” he answered, “one who does not speak Persian or Median as Darius does, I presume, but Macedonian and Greek.”

          At this Alexander was troubled and sore distressed for fear the other knew of someone in Macedonia or Greece who was preparing to make war on him,  and asked, “Who is this enemy of mine in Greece or Macedonia?”(SOURCE: Dio Chrysostom, “The Fourth Discourse on Kingship”).

To this Diogenes replied that he knew his enemies very well.

We won’t give any more extractions from this dialogue, but we will look at it from the aspect that we’re focusing on. We see that Dio Chrysostom (from the supposed reply from Diogenes) clearly consideres the Macedonian and the Greek language as two separate spoken languages. He does the same with the ethno-cultural territories of “Macedonia and Greece” which he mentions separately, as Alexander did.

Further on in the dialogue, Alexander declared himself as “the leader of the Greeks and king of the Macedonians“, once again pointing out the differences between the ancient Macedonians and Greeks.

In the end we can conclude that Dio Chrysostom is just another ancient author who clearly pointed out the ethno-cultural differences between the Macedonians and the Greeks.