Dio’s Oration at Alexandria

Ancient AlexandriaAnyone 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?”

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