Dio Chrysostom

Oration, XXXVI, 39-60:

In the secret mysteries the Magi relate a further marvelous tradition concerning this god (Zeus) that he was the first and faultless charioteer of the unrivalled car. For they declare that the car of the Sun is more recent, but on account of its prominent course in the sky is familiar to all. Whence is derived, it would seem, the common legend adopted by almost all the leading poets who have told of the risings and settlings of the Sun, the yoking of steeds, and his ascent into the car of Zeus none of our writes hitherto has worthily sung, not even Homer and Hesiod, but the story is told by Zoroaster and the descendants of the Magi who have learnt from him. Of him the Persians relate that moved by love of wisdom and righteousness he separated himself from men and lived apart on a certain mountain, that fire subsequently fell form heaven and the whole mountain was kindled into flame. The king then with the most illustrious of the Persians approached wishing to offer prayer to the god. And Zoroaster came forth from the fire unharmed, and gently bade them be of good courage and offer certain sacrifices, since it was the divine sanctuary to which the king had come. Afterwards only those distinguished for love of the truth and who were worthy to approach the god were permitted to have access, and to these the Persians gave the name of Magi, as being adepts in the divine service; differing therein from the Greeks who through ignorance of the name call such men wizards. And among other sacred rites they maintain for Zeus a pair of Nisaean steeds, these being the noblest and strongest that Asia yields, but one steed only for the Sun. Moreover, they recount their legend not like our poets of the Muses who with all the arts of persuasion endeavor to carry conviction, but quite simply. For without doubt the control and government of the Supreme are unique, actuated always by the highest skill and strength, and that without cessation through endless ages. The circuits then of the Sun and Moon are, as I said, movements of parts, and therefore readily discernible; most men however do not understand the movement and course of the whole, but the majestic order of its succession removes it above their comprehension. The further stories which they tell concerning the steeds and their management I hesitate to relate; and indeed they fail to take into account that the nature of the symbolism they employ betrays their own character. For it may be that it would be regarded as an act of folly for me to set forth a barbarian tale by the side of the fair Greek lays. I must however make the venture. The first of the steeds is said to surpass infinitely in beauty and size and swiftness, running as it does on the outside round of the course, sacred to Zeus himself; and it is winged. The colour also of its skin is bright, of the purest sheen. And on it the sun and the moon are emblematically represented; I understand the meaning to be that these steeds have emblems moon-shaped or other; and they are seen by us indistinctly like sparks dancing in the bright blaze of a fire, each with its own proper motion. And the other stars receive their light trough it and are all under its influence; and some have the same motion and are carried round with it, and others follow different courses. And the later have each their own name among men, but the others are grouped together, assigned to certain forms and shapes. The most handsome and variegated steed then is the favorite of Zeus himself, and on this account is lauded by them, receiving as is right the chief sacrifices and honours. The next to it in rank bears the name of Hera, being tractable and gentle, greatly inferior however in strength and swiftness. Its colour is natural black, but that which is illuminated by the sun is always resplendent, while that which is in shadow during its circuit reveals the true character of the skin. The third is sacred to Poseidon, and is slower in movement than the second. His counterpart the poets say is found among men, meaning I supposed that which bears the name Pegasus; a spring, according to the story, breaking forth in Corinth when the ground was opened. The fourth is the strangest figure of all, fixed and motionless, not furnished with wings, named Hestia; but they do not hesitate to declare that this also is yoked to the car, remaining however in its place champing a bit of steel. And the others are on each side closely attached to it, the two nearest turning equally towards it, as though assailing it and resenting its control; but the leader on the outside circles constantly around it as though around a fixed center post. For the most part therefore they live in peace and amity unhurt by one another, but eventually after a long time and many circuits the powerful breath of the leader descends from above and kindles into flame the proud spirit of the others, and most of all of the last. His flaming mane then is set on fire, in which he took especial pride, and the whole universe. This calamity which they record they say that the Greeks attribute to Phaethon, for they refuse to blame Zeus' driving of the car, and are unwilling to attach fault to the circuits of the sun... and again when in the course of further years the sacred colt of the Nymphs and Poseidon rouses itself to unaccustomed exertion, and incommoded with the sweat that pours from it drenches its own yokefellow, it gives rise to a destruction the contrary of the preceding, a flood of water. This then is the one catastrophe of which the Greeks have record owing to their recent origin and the shortness of their memory, and they relate that Deucalion reigned over them at that time before the universal destruction. And in consequence of the ruin brought upon themselves men regard these rare occurrences as taking place neither in harmony with reason nor as a part of the general order, overlooking the fact that they occur in due course and in accordance with the will of the preserver and ruler of all. For it is just as when a charioteer chastises one of his steeds by checking it with the rein or touching it with the whip; the horse gives a start and is restless before settling down into its accustomed order. This earlier control then of the team they say is firm and the universe suffers no harm; but later a change takes place in the movement of the four, and their natures are mutually altered and interchanged, until they are all subdued by the higher power and a uniform character is imposed on all. Nevertheless they do not hesitate to compare this movement to the conduct and driving of a car, for lack of a more impressive simile. As though a clever artificer should fashion horses out of wax, and should then smooth off the roughnesses of each, adding now to one and now to another, finally reducing all to one shape. This however is not the case of a Creator fashioning and transforming from the outside the material substance of things without life, but the experience is that of the very substances themselves, as though they were contending for victory in a real and well-contested strife; and the crown of victory is awarded of right to the first and foremost in swiftness of right to the first and foremost in swiftness and strength and in every kind of virtue, to whom at the beginning of our discourse we gave the name of chosen of Zeus. For this one being the strongest and naturally fiery quickly consumed the others as though they had been really wax in a period not actually long, though to our limited reasoning it appears infinite; and absorbing into himself the entire substance of all is seen to be far greater and more glorious than before, having won the victory in the most formidable contest by no mortal or immortal aid, but by his own valor. Raised then proudly aloft and exulting in his victory, he take possession of the widest possible domain, and yet such is his might and power that he craves further room for expansion. Having reached this conclusion they shrink from describing the nature of the living creature as the same; for that it is now no other than the soul of the charioteer and lord, or rather it has the same purpose and mind.