An Ancient Speech about Honor and Shame
To learn about honor and shame in the New Testament world, it can be helpful to read ancient authors on the topic. What were people saying about honor and shame in the first century? How were they appealing to honor-shame values to shape morality and culture? This post introduces an excellent ancient source on honor and shame—Dio Chrysostom’s Oration 31. For good reason, NT authors like David deSilva and Te-Li Lau make use of this text to understand the social world of the New Testament.
Dio Chrysostom (c. 40-112 CE) was a politician and orator who lived in Asia during the NT period. Fortunately, many of his speeches and treatises have been preserved. In Oration 31: To the People of Rhodes, he blatantly appeals to honor and shame to influence his audience. The community of Rhodes had long honored benefactors by erecting public statues with inscriptions, as per Greek civic traditions. However, the city officials wanted to save money. So, they began to erase the old name on a statue and etch in the new honoree’s name. Dio’s speech rebukes this shameless practice. He discusses how such actions tarnished the Rhodians’ reputation, as though public derision would motivate them to confer proper honors. The Rhodians must extend honor to those to whom honor is due, Dio argues, as honor was the motive driving ancient people to do things.
The full speech is revealing and entertaining—well worth the read. An English translation with an introduction and notes can be read here: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Dio_Chrysostom/Discourses/31*.html