Prevailing opinion holds that wisdom expressions (gnomai) in Dio Cassius are stylistic derivatives from Thucydides (Lintott 1997). This paper will argue that gnomai in Dio’s Roman History had an explanatory function and that understanding their role illuminates his conception of historical causation.
Gnomai are one of the particularly salient features of the composition of Dio’s work. A typical example is the following: “So, no doubt, it is ordered by Nature that whatever is human shall not submit to be ruled by that which is like it and familiar to it, partly through jealousy, partly through contempt of it” (DC Fr. 5.12).
I start with observations derived from the comparative analysis of Dio and of some of his possible sources (Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus), and also by juxtaposing evidence from material of the Second Sophistic: (1) Gnomai in Dio appear to be a part of his own input. They are not present in the parallel passages in Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, unlike, for example, popular etymologies, which Dio includes only when his sources etymologize. (2) The overwhelming majority of Thucydidean gnomai are used within speeches, while most maxims in Dio are employed in the narrative; thus they represent a part of Dio’s explanatory system. (3) Gnomai are widely used for the purpose of strengthening the argument in Second Sophistic literature, a phenomenon apparent in Philostratus. Dio may have adopted such diction in his history through his immersion in rhetorical devices of the Second Sophistic. (4) Gnomai in Dio become less frequent in the narrative of the imperial period and virtually disappear starting with the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Markov (2009, cf. Hose 2007) suggested that this evolution revealed the progression of explanatory paradigm in Dio: the Thucydidean model used by Dio for regal and republican periods was not fitting for his exposition of imperial Roman history. However, Dio favored personal observation and interrogation of witnesses as the most trustworthy approach and thereby underscored the continuity between his own and Thucydidean methodology (Simons 2009). Therefore, Markov’s explanation becomes problematic once one poses a critical question: why would Dio use the Thucydidean model, which was devised by the Athenian historian for processing current events, in order to narrate regal and republican periods, while subsequently abandoning this model for the very period during which eye-witness accounts might be already available to him?
In counter-distinction, I shall provide a new definition of gnomai and explain why previous classifications have been too broad (Hidber 2004, together with all gar-clauses) or too narrow (Markov 2009 and Reinhold 2002, only maxims containing the word anthropeion vel sim.).
In order to show that gnomai in Dio are not simply the stylistic borrowings from Thucydides, I shall analyze a number of parallel examples and define their functionality in both narratives. It will become clear that gnomai in Dio serve different purposes in comparable contexts. Next, I shall give a short overview how gnomai are used in Philostratus and Ps.-Longinus and also how Second Sophistic rhetorical treatises identify their function (Apsines, Hermogenes, Ps.-Aristides, Anon. Seguerianus, and Ps.-Demetrius).
Finally, I will demonstrate that gnomai were employed by Dio in the process of integrating source material within the narrative, in an attempt to rationalize the less reliable or less coherent (from Dio’s perspective) information. It would be improbable to believe that gnomai (especially the anthropeion-maxims) form any consistent conception of human nature shown to be capable of driving historical events. The use of maxims diminishes with Dio’s turn to the sources he deems more trustworthy. Therefore, maxims in Dio are a popular in contemporary discourse tool that was adapted by him from the store of rhetorical devices suitable for the “artistic” proof, in an enthymeme. They were employed especially when the nature of Dio’s sources rendered other explanatory strategies inapplicable, while adding the illusion of authority to Dio’s authorial comments (as suggested by the rhetorical treatises analyzed here).