On Socrates’ Jokes and Homer’s Lions

Dio Chrysostom, Oration 55.10 On Homer and Socrates

“Dear Friend, if we compare the fox with [Homer’s] lions and leopards and we claim that it either not at all or a just a little different. But, perhaps, you approve of those kinds of things in Homer, when he brings up starlings, or jackdaws, or ashes, or beans, lentals, or when he depicts people winnowing or these portions seem to you to be the worst part of Homer’s poems. So you admire only lions, eagles, Skyllas and Kyklopes, the things he used to enchant dumb people, just as nurses tell children about the Lamia. Truly, just as Homer tries to teach people who are really hard to teach through myths and history, so Sokrates often uses a similar technique, at times he feigns joking because he might help people this way. Perhaps he also butted heads with myth-tellers and historians.”

Δ. Εἴπερ γε, ὦ μακάριε, καὶ τὴν Ἀρχιλόχου ἀλώπεκα τοῖς λέουσι καὶ ταῖς παρδάλεσι παραβάλλομεν καὶ οὐδὲν ἢ μὴ πολὺ ἀποδεῖν φαμεν. ἀλλὰ γὰρ ἴσως καὶ τῶν Ὁμήρου τὰ τοιαῦτα ἀποδοκιμάζεις, ὅπου μέμνηται ψαρῶν ἢ κολοιῶν ἢ ἀκρίδων ἢ δαλοῦ ἢ τέφρας ἢ κυάμων τε καὶ ἐρεβίνθων ἢ λικμῶντας ἀνθρώπους πεποίηκεν, ἀλλὰ ταῦτά σοι δοκεῖ τὰ φαυλότατα εἶναι τῶν Ὁμήρου· μόνους δὲ θαυμάζεις τοὺς λέοντας καὶ τοὺς ἀετοὺς καὶ τὰς Σκύλλας καὶ τοὺς Κύκλωπας, οἷς ἐκεῖνος ἐκήλει τοὺς ἀναισθήτους, ὥσπερ αἱ τίτθαι τὰ παιδία διηγούμεναι τὴν Λάμιαν. καὶ μὴν ὥσπερ Ὅμηρος διά τε μύθων καὶ ἱστορίας ἐπεχείρησε τοὺς ἀνθρώπους παιδεύειν, σφόδρα ἐργώδεις ὄντας παιδευθῆναι, καὶ Σωκράτης πολλάκις ἐχρῆτο τῷ τοιούτῳ, ποτὲ μὲν σπουδάζειν ὁμολογῶν, ποτὲ δὲ παίζειν προσποιούμενος, τούτου ἕνεκεν ἵν᾿ ἀνθρώπους ὠφελοῖ· ἴσως δὲ προσέκρουσε τοῖς μυθολόγοις καὶ τοῖς συγγραφεῦσιν.


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