Dio of Prusa’s 18th Discourse begins with this eulogy to a statesman, seeking to further his education. I dedicate its reproduction here to all later learners, and especially to my father, a septuagenarian learner at Edinburgh.
Although I had often praised your character as that of a good man who is worthy to be first among the best, yet I never admired it before as I do now. For that a man in the very prime of life and second to no one in influence, who possesses great wealth and has every opportunity to live in luxury by day and night, should in spite of all this reach out for education also and be eager to acquire training in eloquent speaking, and should display no hesitation even if it should cost toil, seems to me to give proof of an extraordinarily noble soul and one not only ambitious, but in very truth devoted to wisdom. And for that matter the best of the ancients said that they went on learning not only in the prime of life but also as they grew old.
Anyone who’s read ancient literature cannot help but compare and contrast the situations described with today’s world. Dio of Prusa ((ca. 40 – ca. 120) goes to Alexandria, to the theatre, to address a large crowd and bring a warning about the short-comings of the citizens (32nd Oration). Reading this, I idly and rather unkindly wrenched Dio from his slumbers in the past and sat him at a football match, or stood him in the crush at a gig, or perhaps sat him in the living room of someone’s house to peruse the adulation of celebrities (or wannabe celebrities) on the Saturday night TV schedules…!
“it is a city that is mad over music and horse-races and in these matters behaves in a manner entirely unworthy of itself. For the Alexandrians are moderate enough when they offer sacrifice or stroll by themselves or engage in their other pursuits; but when they enter the theatre or the stadium, just as if drugs that would madden them lay buried there, they lose all consciousness of their former state and are not ashamed to say or do anything that occurs to them. And what is most distressing of all is that, despite their interest in the show, they do not really see, and, though they wish to hear, they do not hear, being evidently out of their senses and deranged — not only men, but even women and children. And when the dreadful exhibition is over and they are dismissed, although the more violent aspect of their disorder has been extinguished, still at street-corners and in alley-ways the malady continues throughout the entire city for several days; just as when a mighty conflagration has died down, you can see for a long time, not only the smoke, but also some portions of the buildings still aflame.
“Directing our attention to the spectacle itself, is the conduct of the spectators not disgraceful and replete with every variety of wantonness? — I mean the intensity of their gaze, their souls all but hanging on their lips — as if, one would think, it were through the ear that men receive felicity — and applying the terms ‘saviour’ and ‘god’ to a pitiful human being! With what boundless laughter, think you, must the gods laugh you to scorn, when next in your worship of them you conduct yourselves in the same fashion and find yourselves compelled to use those same terms in honouring the deity?”
Earlier this year, I prepared some of my work on John 1:51 for publication. The resulting article, entitled ‘Heaven Opened: Intertextuality and Meaning in John 1:51’, is about to be published in Tyndale Bulletin (issue 63.2).
You can read the article here.