• antiquitatem en Español

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

Dio Chrysostom recreates the meeting between Diogenes and Alexander and sets out his ideas about the divine origin of power.

Published | 0 Comments

The most famous story of the first meeting of Diogenes with Alexander served later Dio Chrysostom to recreate the meeting, to satirize the power and the powerful and to present his ideas about the divine origin of power and legitimacy of its exercise.

The young Alexander died at thirty-three, he became a demigod in life and then a myth, whose echoes reach the world today. His life, full of wonderful facts and also of other less glorious, is adorned with all kinds of references and used for all kinds of educational, moral or simple dilettantism purposes.

Diogenes Chrysostom is one of the authors who uses the echo of Alexander and the echo of the cynic philosopher Diogenes too to present his theories on power, whose best representative person may be Alexander.

I have already devoted an article to the meetings of Alexander with the cynic philosopher. See: http://en.antiquitatem.com/diogenes-alexander-intellectual-power

The text of Dio can be a bit long but it is worth reading it with a bit of calm and meditation: it is a more intriguing to see how the ideas, once and again instilled in our cultural unconscious, are many hundreds, several millennia old.

Dio Chrysostom (Δίων Χρυσόστομος)  is a Greek author of Roman imperial era, mixture of rhetoric and philosopher. If the name Dio is a hypocoristic, family, affectionate way of "Dios", Δίωs, genitive of Zeus; the nickname "Chrysostom", Χρυσόστομος, from Χρυσόσ, krisosgold, and στόμα, stoma, mouth, refers to his "ability to speak”.

He was born around the year 40 and consequently he lived in the second half of the first century and the first decades of the second century; he was born in Pursa, today Bursa, small town of modern Turkey. He had remarkable success during his lifetime  and later because, although many works of him are lost, also over eighty discourses  are preserved. He toured many places delighting the audience with his "speeches" or "lecturing" as we would say today. Pursued by the Emperor Domitian, who punished all those who opposed him in some way, then he was a friend and protected by Nerva and Trajan.

As philosopher, Dio kept turn an intermediate position or moralizing mixture of cynicism and stoicism. His position about the power was quite different from the cynical, which is very critical, if not outright opposed, to all authority. As Homer, whom he remembers, he thinks that the king or emperor is elected  by the divinity and he rules the world in his name. He is like a shepherd who cares for his sheep. Power is not a personal privilege but a burden and obligation that the ruler must to exercise in favor of the governed. The ruler is like a father benefactor of free subjects who must love and obey him. Naturally the king, elected by divinity must to be good, just and wise to perform his function.

It is quite clear how successfully these Stoic ideas bore fruit in ancient Antiquity of Roman emperors.  The Christian thought, that two centuries later was imposed politically throughout the Roman Empire, coincides exactly with them. This is the idea that catches force  in the Middle Ages and in some cases is come down to us: we can remember the legend that not so long ago illustrated the Spanish coins with the effigy of the chief dictator Francisco Franco "leader of Spain by the grace of God. " (Caudillo de España por la Gracia de Dios). The study of the influence of the writings and thought of  Dion in posterity is a subject of great interest.

I will make a comprehensive summary  of his Discourse IV about royalty, on which he reproduces the encounter between Diogenes and Alexander, writen about the year 100 and perhaps read at  Trajan himself. It is interesting to read completely this speech  and several other of the larger work of Dion.

Dion seems in this speech to demonstrate the superiority of the philosopher, or of the intellectual, against the king, but he  admitted  the existence of the monarchy or power as a political institution, in flagrant contradiction with the position of the Cynics like Diogenes. Indeed, the true king is the son of Zeus, as Homer said, but then the condition of the true king must to be ratified by the spiritual and moral qualities and not by force of military power of the arms and wide dominion. The ruler must reject the spirit of avarice, the spirit of the love of pleasure, and the spirit of ambition,

Perhaps the Discourse was delivered in front of Trajan in celebration of his birthday, September 18th  in the A.D. 103. Trajan according to Dio was graced with a good "daemon" or genius or good spirit which led her performance effectively.

Moreover, the reader will see in these fragments the condition of rhetoric and philosopher of the successful Dio.

Note: the following English texts are taken from the translation by J.W.Cohoon (Loeb Classical Library. Harvard University Press, 1932)

Dio Chrysostom begins his speech "about royalty IV " narrating the meeting of Alexander and Diogenes that we already know with less detail and rhetoric in the article cited above:

The Fourth Discourse on Kingship:

paragraphs 1-15:

They tell us that once upon a time Alexander when not over busy met Diogenes, who had an abundance of time on his hands. For the one was king of Macedonia and many other countries beside, while there was an exile from Sinope; and there are many who in speaking and writing of this encounter give no less admiration and credit to Alexander than to Diogenes because, although he was ruler over so many people and had greater power than any other man of his day, he did not disdain to converse with a poor man who had intelligence and the power of endurance. For all men without exception are naturally delighted when they see wisdom honoured by the greatest power and might; hence they not only relate the facts in such cases but add extravagant embellishments of their own; nay more, they strip their wise men of all else, such as wealth, honours, and physical strength, so that the high regard in which they are held may appear to be due to their intelligence alone. And so I should like on this occasion to tell what in all likelihood was the nature of their conversation, since it happens too that I have nothing else that demands my attention.
Now it should be explained that Alexander was by common report the most ambitious of men and the greatest lover of glory. He was anxious to leave his name the greatest among the Greeks and barbarians and longed to be honoured, not only — as one might put it — by mankind the world over, but, if it were at all possible, by the birds of the air and the beasts of the mountains. Moreover, he looked down upon all other men and thought that no one was a dangerous rival in this matter — neither the Persian king nor the Scythian nor the Indian nor any man or city among the Greeks.  For he perceived that they had all been well-nigh ruined in soul by luxury and idleness and were the slaves of money and pleasure. But as to Diogenes, when Alexander heard of the words which this man spoke and of the deeds which he did and how he bore his exile, though at times he despised the man for his poverty and shabbiness, quite naturally, as he himself was young and had been reared in royal luxury,  yet often he would admire and envy the man for his courage and endurance, and especially for his great reputation, because all the Greeks knew and admired him for what he was, and no one else could match him in point of distinction.  He himself needed his Macedonian phalanx, his Thessalian cavalry, Thracians, Paeonians, and many others if he was to go where he wished and get what he desired; but Diogenes went forth unattended in perfect safety by night as well as by day whithersoever he cared to go.  Again, he himself required huge sums of gold and silver to carry out any of his projects; and what is more, if he expected to keep the Macedonians and the other Greeks submissive, must time and again curry the favour of their rulers and the general populace by words gifts;  whereas Diogenes cajoled no men by flattery, but told everybody the truth and, even though he possessed not a single drachma, succeeded in doing as he pleased, failed in nothing he set before himself, was the only man who lived the life he considered the best and happiest, and would not have accepted Alexander's throne or the wealth of the Medes and Persians in exchange for his own poverty.

Therefore Alexander, being nettled to think that anyone living so easy and care-free a life was going to surpass himself and in addition should be no less famous, and thinking perhaps too that he would receive some benefit from an interview with the man, had long desired to behold him and converse with him;  and when he had come to Corinth and had received the Greek embassies and regulated the affairs of the allies as well, he told his attendants that he wished to have a little leisure and went off — I will not say to the court of Diogenes, for he had no court either great or small, nor house nor hearth of his own as the well-to-do have, but he made the cities his home and used to live there in the public buildings and in the shrines, which are dedicated to the gods, and took for his hearth-stone the wide world, which after all is man's common hearth and nourisher. On that day it happened that Diogenes was all alone in the Craneion, for he had no pupils at all nor any such crowd about him as the sophists and flue-players and choral masters have. So the king came up to him as he sat there and greeted him, whereat the other looked up at him with terrible glare like that of a lion and ordered him to step aside a little, for Diogenes happened to be warming himself in the sun. Now Alexander was at once delighted with the man's boldness and composure in not being awestruck in his presence. For it is somehow natural for the courageous to love the courageous, while cowards eye them with misgiving and hate them as enemies, but welcome the base and like them. And so to the one class truth and frankness are the most agreeable things in the world, to the other, flattery and deceit. The latter lend a willing ear to those who in their intercourse seek to please, the former, to those who have regard for the truth.

Then Diogenes is particularly insolent to the powerful, even calling him  with all irony "bastard"

Paragraphs 16 et seq.

Then after a brief pause Diogenes asked the king who he was and what object he had in coming to him. "Was it," he said, "to take some of my property?" "Why, have you any property?" replied the other; "do you own anything that you might share with one?" "Much indeed," he replied, "and very valuable, in which I do not at all feel sure that you will ever be able to have a share. Yet it is not glaives or cauldrons or mixing-bowls or couches and tables such as Darius is reported by some writers to possess in Persia that I happen to own."  "What," retorted the other, "do you not know Alexander the king?" "I hear many speak his name, to be sure," said he, "like so many jackdaws flitting about, but the man I know not, for I am not acquainted with his mind." "But now," came the answer, "you shall know his mind also, since I have come for the very purpose of letting you know me thoroughly and of seeing you."  "Well, it would be hard for you to see me," rejoined the other, "just as it is for men with weak eyes to see the light. But tell me this: are you the Alexander whom they call a bastard?" At this the king flushed and showed anger, but he controlled himself and regretted that he had deigned to enter into conversation with a man who was both rude and an impostor, as he thought.

Diogenes showed him that if he was the son of a god, as he appeared, he turns out to be
a "bastard", but divine bastard. Alexander was flattered.

Then follows a dialogue and considerations on good governance and the proper exercise of royalty:

Paragraphs 24  et seq.

Hereupon he put the following question to Diogenes. "How," said he, "could one be the best king?" At this the other, eyeing him sternly, answered, "But no one can be a bad king any more than he can be a bad good man; for the king is the best one among men, since he is most brave and righteous and humane, and cannot be overcome by any toil or by any appetite.  Or do you think a man is a charioteer if he cannot drive, or that one is a pilot if he is ignorant of steering, or is a physician if he knows not how to cure? It is impossible, nay, though all the Greeks and barbarians acclaim him as such and load him with many diadems and sceptres and tiaras like so many necklaces that are put on castaway children lest they fail of recognition. Therefore, just as one cannot pilot except after the manner of pilots, so no one can be a king except in a kingly way."

Then Alexander in alarm, lest after all he might be found ignorant of the science of kingship, said, ..

Diogenes then explains how there are two types of education, the divine and the human; not by to read  and to know too many stories, the man is wiser and more learned; the educated are truly "noble soul" educated by the gods. They  are not true educators the ignorant and charlatans sophists, who are as poorly trained dogs or as libidinous eunuchs.

Paragraphs 36  et seq.

On hearing this, Alexander wondered what his reason was for likening the sophist to a eunuch and asked him. "Because," came the reply, "the most wanton eunuchs, protesting their virility and their passion for women, lie with them and annoy them, and yet nothing comes of it, not even if they stay with them night and day.  So too in the schools the sophists you will find many growing old in their ignorance, wandering about in their discussions far more helplessly than Homer says Odysseus ever did upon the deep, and any one of them might sooner find his way to Hades as that hero did than become a good man by talking and listening.

Diogenes criticizes him whom  as Xerxes and Darius are not true shepherds of their people, but butchers who lead them to the slaughter; he warns Alexander not to play at being king like Darius.
Alexander in his ambition to dominate the Persian and the world, asks Diogenes about who is his  enemy and Diogenes replied in a very eloquent way:

Paragraphs 55  et seq.

"And what enemy have I still left," said he, "if I capture those peoples I have mentioned?" "The most difficult of all to conquer," he answered, "one who does not speak Persian or Median as Darius does, I presume, but Macedonian and Greek." At this Alexander was troubled and sore distressed for fear the other knew of someone in Macedonia or Greece who was preparing to make war on him,  and asked, "Who is this enemy of mine in Greece or Macedonia?" "Why, do you not know," said he, "you who think that you know more than anyone else?" "In that case will you please tell me?" he asked; "do not conceal it." "I have been trying to tell you for a long time, but you do not hear that you are yourself your own bitterest foe and adversary as long as you are bad and foolish. And this is the man of whom you are more ignorant than of any other person.  For no foolish and evil man knows himself; else Apollo would not have given as the first commandment, 'Know thyself!' regarding it as the most difficult thing for every man. Or do you not think that folly is the greatest and most serious of all ailments and a blight to those that have it, and that a foolish man is his own greatest bane? Or do you not admit that he who is most harmful to a man and causes him the most ills is that man's greatest foe and adversary? In view of what I say rage and prance about," said he,  "and think me the greatest blackguard and slander me to the world and, if it be your pleasure, run me through with your spear; for I am the only man from whom you will get the truth, and you will learn it from no one else. For all are less honest than I and more servile."

Diogenes follows urging Alexander to be right and to trust  on good deeds and not on weapons. He asked to prepare his spirit, his demon, his daimon, his genius, to be free and fair and with feelings worthy of a king and not a slave and evil demon. He asks  in short to learn to think for himself.
He shows him  then, approaching the end of the speech, that they are  many vices and miseries of mortals and three dominant genres of life, (Cynics constantly whip them),  which ruin  the man and all governments must overcome them: the desire for wealth, the voluptuousness, and the lust for power.

Paragraphs 83 et seq.

"Now as there are, roughly speaking, three prevailing types of lives which the majority usually adopt, not after thoughtful consideration and testing, I assure you, but because they are carried away by chance and thoughtless impulse, we must affirm that there is just the same number of spirits whom the great mass of foolish humanity follows and serves — some men one spirit and some another — just as a wicked and wanton troop follows a wicked and frenzied leader. Of these types of lives which I have mentioned, the first is luxurious and self-indulgent as regards bodily pleasures, the second, in its turn, is acquisitive and avaricious, while the third is more conspicuous and more disordered than the other two — I mean the one that loves honour and glory — and it manifests a more evident and violent disorder or frenzy, deluding itself into believing that it is enamoured of some noble ideal.

The pretension to of Diogenes denouncing  these life forms is to change, if possible, human vice, lies, the evil desires, to lead them to be friends of virtue and lovers of a better life. So he describes starkly and in detail  these three types of vicious men. Often even they coincide in the same person two or three ways of being. He concludes:

Paragraphs 138 et seq.

and his soul, thus torn and distracted and ever in battle and ceaseless strife with itself, cannot but end its course in utter misery.

The reader will judge whether Alexander followed the teachings of the philosopher or he was uncontrolled victim of his own ambition and lust for power, because the truth is that along with the heroic, civilizing, conquering version, which  historical chronicles usually transmitted, there was another reality of death and destruction less glorious.


    No comment published yet.

You must be registered to write a comment.

Esta web utiliza cookies, puedes ver la política de cookies, aquí Si continuas navegando estás aceptándola
Política de cookies +