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Dio of Prusa and the Flavian dynasty.

After his return from exile in A.D. 96 Dio of Prusa claims that even before it he had known the homes and tables of rich men, not only private individuals but satraps and kings (i.e. governors and emperors, Or. 7.66). Following the lead of Philostratus (V.A. 5.27-38) modern scholars have seen Dio as a confidant of the Flavian dynasty:(1) amicus to Vespasian, possibly a special envoy of Vespasian to the Grek east,(2) amicus to Titus, and friend and adviser to a minor member of the house T. Flavius Sabinus.(3) These views are important not only for the biography of Dio, but also for the general question of relations between powerful Romans, above all emperors, and Greek philosophers and other intellectuals.

On re-examination the modern orthodoxies disappear. No evidence convincingly attests Dio as amicus to either Vespasian or Titus. While T. Flavius Sabinus cannot definitely be ruled out as the patron whose downfall caused Dio's exile, a better case can be made for Nerva's nephew L. Salvius Otho Cocceianus.(4) Reasons can be found for the unhistorical elevation of Dio to the status of Flavian adviser both by Philostratus and by modern scholars, and are revealing of the presuppositions which may be brought to discussions of the role of an intellectual under the Roman empire.

Only one piece of evidence explicitly links Dio and Vespasian. Philostratus in the Life of Apollonius depicts Dio, Euphrates and Apollonius advising Vespasian in Alexandria at the outset of his reign on the best type of constitution.(5) This scene, however, is a piece of fiction,(6) `simply an agreeable reworking of two standard historiographical [unknown character]: the discussion of the ideal constitution (Otanes, Megabyzus and Darius in Herodotus; Agrippa, Maecenas and Octavian in Cassius Dio) and the encounter of the great king and the great philosopher (Croesus-Solon, Alexander-Diogenes)'.(7)

Philostratus wished to give his wonder-working hero respectability as a philosopher and adviser to the great; and so forged links between him and real philosophers (Dio and Euphrates) and the emperor (Vespasian). Philostratus to some extent based the life of his hero on the life and works of Dio.(8) A possible inspiration for Philostratus' including Dio in the scene in Alexandria was Dio's Alexandrian Oration (Or. 32). Philostratus had drawn on the Alexandrian Oration for Apollonius' denunciation of the Alexandrian's passion for horse racing just before he introduced Dio as a character in the novel.(9) Philostratus' fiction does not prove a historical link between Dio and Vespasian.(10)

Dio in the Alexandrian Oration says that he has been sent to Alexandria by a god and compares himself to Hermes sent by Zeus (Or. 32.21-2). Modern scholars have suggested that he may be hinting that he has been sent to the Alexandrians by Vespasian (see above n. 2). There are three objections to this suggestion.

First, the date of the Alexandrian Oration is controversial. It may well be that it should be dated not to the reign of Vespasian but to that of Trajan.(11)

Second is a general objection that, to my knowledge, the employment of a Greek as an imperial `envoy' to a Greek city which was not his own would be unique in the principate.(12) This suggests that the `post' of `imperial envoy to a Greek city' is a modern fiction comparable to `adviser to a leading Roman on Greek affairs'.(13)

Third, a reading of Or. 32.21-2 which sees a reference to the emperor is extremely tendentious. Dio was prone to claiming divine sponsorship for his works. Already in the Alexandrian Oration he had claimed that he had chosen his role as corrector of the Alexandrians at the will of a god, Serapis (Or. 32.12). In the first Oration On Kingship Dio claimed that he was `retelling' his `Choice of Herakles' to the emperor by divine command (Or. 1.56-8). In his `Choice of Herakles' Dio sets up a series of delicate parallels (Herakles being led to his `Choice' by Hermes -- Dio experiencing the `Choice of Herakles' when he is told the story by a Dorian seeress -- Trajan experiencing the `Choice' as Dio retells the story), and in so doing equates himself with Hermes.(14)

The final supposed link between Dio and Vespasian also does not stand scrutiny. Synesius tells us that Dio wrote a work Against the Philosophers [unknown character] [unknown character], Dion 37b). Almost certainly referring to the contents of this work, Synesius says that Dio `hurled at Socrates and Zeno the coarse jests of the Dionysiac festival and demanded that their disciples be expelled from every land and sea in the belief that they are messengers of death to states and civic organisation alike' (Dion 38b). This has long been plausibly connected to Vespasian's expulsion of the philosophers in A.D. 71.(15) It, however, does not prove that Dio was an amicus of Vespasian. To use it to prove such a link one would have to presuppose that all literary works which endorsed imperial measures were commissioned directly by the emperor. While such a model was not unknown in the empire,(16) it cannot be considered a universal norm.

If evidence for Dio's supposed friendship with Vespasian is insubstantial, the evidence which might connect him to Titus is almost non-existent. Dio wrote Orations 28 and 29 as obituaries for a young athlete called Melancomas. Themistius said (Or. 10.139) it was rumoured [unknown character] that Titus was a lover of Melancomas. The juxtaposition of these two pieces of evidence does not demonstrate that Dio was an amicus of Titus.

It has been doubted that Melancomas was historical.(17) Possible support for the reality of Melancomas comes from the identification of an Athenodorus named by Dio (Or. 28.10) as a friend of Melancomas with an Olympic victor called Athenodorus mentioned by Eusebius (Chron. 101 Karst). The identification is possible, but there are problems. Dio says that Athenodorus was a [unknown character], while Eusebius' Athenodorus was a victor in the Stadion. The victories of Eusebius' athlete fell in A.D. 49, 53, and 61. Dio's Melancomas, who is said to have been a childhood friend of Athenodorus, died while still young (Or. 28.13; Or. 29.20), and the dramatic setting of his death has been identified as the Sebasta at Naples in A.D. 70, 74, or 78.(18)

There is no need to assume that Themistius' statement that Melancomas was a lover of Titus -- which Themistius distanced himself from by [unknown character] -- derived from a lost work of Dio.(19) Themistius was working from Dio, but, with the exception of the homosexual affair, all the details which he gives about Melancomas are found in Dio's Melancomas Orations. Rumours about Titus' love life were numerous,(20) and Themistius, as we shall see, was not adverse to giving emperors friends they did not have.

Even if Melancomas was an historical figure, and was the lover of Titus, Dio writing consolations for his death does not prove that Dio was an amicus of Titus. These orations can be interpreted as attempts to curry favour with the bereaved by someone who had no previous close connection with him, rather than as proof of a pre-existing friendship.

The unknown recipient of Dio, Oration 18, a handbook giving a short reading list for someone wishing to improve his public speaking, is unlikely to have been Titus.(21) Dio seems to represent himself as considerably younger than his addressee.(22) Titus was born in A.D. 41,(23) Dio probably at much the same time.(24) While Dio may have implied that his addressee was older than himself as a mark of respect, to give Titus advice after A.D. 69 on how not to trust too readily those in authority over him would have been both ludicrous and offensive.(25) The recipient of Dio's advice has been more plausibly seen as an important local Greek official in a large Greek city of Asia Minor.(26)

There appear to be no valid reasons to claim Dio as an amicus for either Vespasian or Titus.(27) One possible link with the Flavian dynasty remains.

Dio was sent into exile because he was friend and sumboulos to a man whose prominence caused his fall (Or. 13.1). The man is not named, but he is usually assumed to be T. Flavius Sabinus.(28) The identification is possible. Dio's friend was connected by intimacy and kinship to those who rule. Sabinus, the grandson of Vespasian's elder brother,(29) was married to Titus' daughter Julia.(30) He was appointed consul (ordinarius) in A.D. 82 by Domitian,(31) when a herald fatally hailed him emperor (Suet. Dom. 10.4), and he was killed sometime before A.D. 84.(32)

If Flavian connections are the only ones considered, Sabinus seems the certain choice.(33) Dio, however, does not explicitly say that it was kinship with the reigning imperial family that laid low his patron. The man lost his life and Dio was precipitated into exile because of links with those who were `favoured by fortune and were ruling' [unknown character] Or. 13.1). This does not have to mean the imperial family.(34) During the Second Sophistic one of the senses which archontes could bear was `leading Romans'.(35) At times it was used in this sense by Dio.(36) If taken in a general sense Or. 13.1 opens up intriguing possibilities.(37)

After the death of Domitian Dio was prevented by illness from reaching Rome during the short reign of Nerva, whom Dio described as an old friend (Or. 45.2). A strange story survives concerning Nerva under Domitian. Philostratus said (V.A. 7.8) that Nerva, together with Orfitus and Rufus, was charged with conspiracy and exiled. Apollonius of Tyana, an intimate of all three, prophesied in Smyrna that one of them (Apollonius, of course, knew which one) would accede to the throne. When this was reported to Domitian by the malevolent Euphrates, the tyrant ordered Apollonius to come to Rome and stand trial, so that his evidence would allow Domitian to allay his fears by executing all three (Phil. V.A. 7.9). In court Apollonius defended his friends (7.33) from the charges of conspiracy and himself from charges of being a wizard (7.34; 8.7). The philosopher saves his friends (8.5), but rather spoils his own case by vanishing into thin air (8.8).

The threat to Nerva's life is obvious fiction.(38) Nerva, the man of quies (Pl. Ep. 10.58.7), prospered under Domitian as he had under Nero.(39) Orfitus, presumably put in for verisimilitude, did suffer the attentions of Domitian (Suet. Dom. 10). The consular Rufus who was threatened is otherwise unknown,(40) although he may be identical with, or invented from, another Philostratean consular Rufus who judged Nicetes of Smyma.(41)

As we have already seen, Philostratus to some extent based the hero of his novel on Dio. Dio did suffer exile at the hands of Domitian because of his friendship with a powerful man. Thus Apollonius also runs the gauntlet, although he and his confidant secure a better result. The question arises why did Philostratus choose Nerva as the most important of Apollonius' Roman friends? Dio had been a friend of Nerva, but Nerva did not fall. One of his relatives, however, did. The significantly named L. Salvius Otho Cocceianus fell for the same reasons as Dio's patron.(42)

Salvius was almost certainly Nerva's nephew.(43) From this connection he inherited a tenuous link with the Julio-Claudian dynasty. His grandmother Plautilla's brother Octavius Laenas had married one Rubellia Bassa, great grand-daughter of Tiberius.(44) More important, Salvius was the nephew of the emperor Otho. On Otho's suicide Tacitus (Hist. 2.48) makes the emperor give his nephew shrewd advice: he must not forget he is the nephew of an emperor, nor remember it too well. Salvius is duly executed by Domitian for celebrating his uncle's birthday (Suet. Dom. 10.3).

Salvius was elected to a priesthood in A.D. 63.(45) He was still young in A.D. 69.(46) His age and connection with Nerva should make him suffect consul around A.D. 80.(47) His execution could have been early enough in Domitian's reign for him to have been the man to whom Dio was sumboulos.(48)

Dio says (Or. 41.6) that his grandfather won Roman citizenship for himself and Dio's mother from the emperor of the time.(49) Dio's father(50) was probably not a Roman citizen, as Dio when keen to boast of his illustrious was.(51) Pliny's attestation that Dio carried the name Cocceianus has led to the theory that Dio won citizenship in the reign of Cocceius Nerva.(52) A more appealing theory sees Dio winning citizenship in A.D. 71 as a reward for his vociferous support for imperial policies.(53) The Cocceii were riding high in A.D. 71, with Dio's friend, the future emperor, consul. A plausible reconstruction is that Dio won citizenship in A.D. 71 (both for himself and his father) as a reward for his [Greek Words Omitted] at the instigation of his partly homonymous patron L. Salvius Otho Cocceianus and with the support of Salvius' uncle and Dio's friend Nerva.(54)

Dio's links with the Flavians are therefore far from incontrovertible.(55) There is no good evidence to support the theory that Dio was amicus to either Vespasian or Titus,(56) and the patron whose fall caused Dio's exile may not have been a minor member of that dynasty but Nerva's nephew L. Salvius Otho Cocceianus. We have already seen that Philostratus had specific reasons in the Life of Apollonius for making Dio an adviser to Vespasian. More general cultural reasons can be found for the elevation of Dio by both Philostratus and modern scholars.

In reality neither Vespasian nor Titus appears to have enjoyed a close relationship with philosophers during their reigns. Under Nero Vespasian may have been a friend of the Stoic aristocrats Thrasea and Barea Soranus (see above n. 27), but in his principate he famously executed Helvidius Priscus, exiled Musonius and revoked the freedom of Greece. No philosopher can be found securely attested as an historical adviser to either emperor.(57)

Yet both Vespasian and Titus were usually regarded as `good' emperors. As was demonstrated by Elizabeth Rawson, the Greeks had long had a tradition that philosophers should advise rulers and that rulers should heed philosophers.(58) As a result of this ideology numerous Greek philosophers put themselves forward for the position of imperial adviser, and later Greek writers allocated Roman emperors philosophic advisers they in reality had not possessed.(59) The elevation of a supreme example of Greek culture elevated Greek culture in general and in some senses defined for the Greeks their relationship with the non-Greek political power which ruled them. The Greeks could see themselves as ruled by educated men who heeded their cultural values, and thus they could feel better about their place in the world: above all about their lack of political autonomy. At a pinch the Italian could be revealed as merely an executive power in the hands of policy-making Greeks.(60)

It is possible that the effects of this ideology are not confined to the ancient sources. Philostratus made Dio an amicus of Vespasian. Modern commentators go further and make him an envoy of Vespasian and an amicus of Titus as well. It is worth asking why modern scholars are so ready to elevate Dio to the position of amicus of the Flavians. Four factors may be relevant. First, it is commonly held that in his later years Dio was an amicus of both Nerva(61) and Trajan.(62) There may be a temptation to retroject such a position to Dio's earlier life. Such a retrojection, of course, has no validity. Second, Dio tells that his grandfather was amicus to an emperor."(63) A family tradition of friendship with emperors might be assumed. It should not be, for it is far from certain that such links continued over generations, let alone across changes of dynasty. Third, as a member of the Greek elite Dio is thought to be from one of the right sorts of social groups to be a friend of emperors. Undoubtedly this is true. Yet the lengthy lists of prosopography should not blind us to the extreme rarity of the members of the Greek elite who managed to become amici of emperors.(64) Finally, the ancient Greek ideology that a good Greek philosophers should have been honoured by the Roman emperor might still affect modern scholars. In a Thucydidean or senatorial(65) view real history is politico-military history. Scholars validating links between the cultural figures they are studying and those who wielded political power (and thus allowing the implication that those who wielded power were directly influenced by the cultural figures) may be thought to be attempting (albeit unconsciously) to make the ancient cultural figures more important for history.(66)

To return to the text first cited. If read in context (and without an adopted cultural bias) not too much stress should be placed on Dio's statement that he had known the homes and tables of satraps and kings (Or. 7.66). This rhetorical flourish was a part of Dio's intention to create a rustic utopia in the first section of the Euboean Oration.(67) It is uncertain that in reality Dio was shipwrecked on Euboea, or that he met two families of isolated hunters.(68) His narrative has many parallels with the Greek novels.(69) To further his moral message of the virtue available to the poor, Dio wanted to make a contrast between the homes and tables of the worldly great and the happiness of the poor yet free rustics with whom he claimed to have feasted.(70) The dramatic date of the feast at which this realization most forcibly struck Dio was during his exile. In dramatic context for the contrast to strike Dio at all it was necessary that he should claim to have already known the highest of the worldly great before his exile.

To sum up. Dio does not appear to have been a confidant of the Flavian dynasty. No evidence can be adduced which supports the modern orthodoxies that Dio was amicus to Vespasian, let alone Vespasian's `special envoy to the east', or to Titus, or that the patron whose fall caused his exile was a minor member of the dynasty T. Flavius Sabinus. Instead it has been argued that Dio's patrons before his exile were the consul Of A.D. 71 Nerva and his nephew L. Salvius Otho Cocceianus. By their intercession Dio may have won the citizenship for himself and his father in A.D. 71, and Cocceianus' fall sometime after A.D. 80 probably precipitated Dio's exile.

The readiness of ancient Greek writers to elevate Greek philosophers like Dio to the role of imperial adviser has been argued to stem from a desire to inflate the political importance of Greek cultural figures, and thus to some extent to redefine the place of the Greeks in the Roman empire (ameliorating the lack of political autonomy which divorced Greeks from making traditional Thucydidean history). This ideology still has some influence in modern
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Author:Sidebottom, Harry
Publication:The Classical Quarterly
Article Type:Biography
Date:Jul 1, 1996
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