Only Humans Are Unlucky

Dio Chrysostom, 23rd Discourse on a Wise Man

[In response to Iliad 17.476-477]

“For there is nothing more pitiful than a human being
Of all the creatures who breathe and creep on the earth.”

οὐ μὲν γάρ τί πού ἐστιν ὀϊζυρώτερον ἀνδρὸς
πάντων, ὅσσά τε γαῖαν ἔπι πνείει τε καὶ ἕρπει.

“Ah, but that poet seems to talk nonsense to me. Still, Homer’s line upsets me because, even though he is wise, he has this kind of opinion about mankind.

Response: Why is it strange? He does not claim that all human beings are terrible but that there is no creature more wretched than a human being when they are wretched, just we would say I think. For perhaps humans are not the only unlucky creatures, just as we are not the only lucky ones. But only a human is “senseless” just as only a human is “thoughtful”. Clearly, a horse can’t be unjust or immoderate and neither can a pig or a lion, just as they can’t lack culture or be illiterate.”

Ἀλλὰ οὗτός γε ὁ ποιητὴς ληρεῖν ἔμοιγε φαίνεται. τὸ δὲ τοῦ Ὁμήρου ταράττει με, ὅτι οὕτω σοφὸς ὢν1 ὑπὲρ τῶν ἀνθρώπων ταύτην ἀπεφήνατο τὴν γνώμην.

Δ. Καὶ τί ἄτοπον εἴρηκεν; οὐ γὰρ ὡς ἅπαντες οἱ ἄνθρωποι ἄθλιοί εἰσί φησιν, ἀλλ᾿ ὅτι οὐθέν ἐστι ζῷον ἀνθρώπου ἀθλιώτερον τοῦ γε ἀθλίου, ὥσπερ ἀμέλει καὶ ἡμεῖς φαῖμεν ἄν. ἴσως γάρ τοι καὶ μόνος τῶν ἄλλων ὁ ἄνθρωπος κακοδαίμων ἐστίν, ὥσπερ καὶ εὐδαίμων· ἐπεί τοι καὶ μόνος ἄφρων, ὥσπερ καὶ φρόνιμος. οὔτε γὰρ ἄδικος οὔτε ἀκόλαστος εἴη ἂν ἵππος ἢ σῦς ἢ λέων, ὥσπερ οὐδὲ ἄμουσος οὐδὲ ἀγράμματος.

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