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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

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

Intellectuals against the power (II)

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The powerful possessors of force and violence, have generally distrusted of thinkers, but they are forced to live with them. The issue of conflicting meet of the king and the sage is a worldwide topic.http://en.antiquitatem.com/diogenes-alexander-intellectual-power Plato envisioned a republic in which the rulers were philosophers, scholars, intellectuals, constituted in a caste with special education. Plato's attempt to make reality his theory in Sicily with Dionysus the Elder and then with his son was a complete failure. Probably the king can not become a philosopher, because he would ask for his own condition, his own status as king, or the philosopher cannot to be king, because in the exercise of power he would cease to be a philosopher. Consequently it seems they are condemned to coexist.

The History teaches us how in this encounter between strength and intelligence, on intellectual debate morally always the intelligence overcomes, but in practice the force is always imposed. To the sage, the intellectual, there are  three options: to bend slavishly to power (it is done by  the most),  to critic openly  the power (it is done by a few) and to go away prudently frompower (I do not dare to venture a proportion, but they are not few).

A quote from Stobaeus referring an anecdote of Antisthenes perfectly describes this cynical attitude. Stobaeus  tells us that when Antisthenes was asked how it is necessary to be involved in public affairs and in the affairs of the city, he responded:

Antisthenes, asked how one should approximate to the political affairs, he said as  to the fire, nor to close for  not to burn nor too far away for not to freeze. (Stobaeus, Florilegium, XLV, 28).

Stobaeus is a Greek author who writes in Greek, but his work was translated into Latin in Humanism. Thus in the Latin version by Conrad  Gessner  (1516-1565), edited by Christoph Froschoverus, 1544, in Switzerland, it is said in chapter XLIII, page 313 (in the edition of Thomas Gaisford it corresponds to Title XLV):

Antisthenes interrogatus quomodo ad rempublicam accedendum sit, respondit: ut ad ignem, neque nimis prope ne uraris, neque longius ne frigeas.

It seems, then, that the attitude against the  power belongs to the philosopher, because if they decide to live in the shadow of power, soon they will abandon their critical and free spirit. This is certainly the attitude of the "cynic philosopher".

Antisthenes, the founder of the school and teacher of Diogenes, according to Diogenes Laertius, wrote a book about Aspasia, the wife of Pericles and another one on Alcibiades, in which certainly he criticizes them their shortcomings.

It is confirmed by Athenaeus, in his "Deipnosophistae". Speaking about slanderous character of philosophers, Antisthenes says, criticizing the immoral life of Alcibiades, in V, 220 CDE:

Antisthenes, V, 63:

But Antisthnes, in the second of his treatises called Cyrus, abusing Alcibiades, says that he is a breaker of the laws, both with respect to women and with respect to every other part of his conduct in life; for he says that he had intrigued* with a mother, and daughter, and sister, after the fashion of the Persians.

*Note: This is a translation of the time itself that prevents sexual connotation of the original Greek; it actually says "lie down" "go to bed with"

And later, in the same appointment, referring to Pericles

… and his Aspasia attacks Xantthippus and Paralus, the sons of Pericles. For, as for one of them,he says that he is a companion of Archestratus, who is no better than a frequenter of houses of the worst possible fame; and the other he calls an acquaintance and intimate friend of Euphemus, who abuse every one he met with vulgar and ill-mannered abuse.

And to confirm this slanderer character of the philosophers, Athenaeus continues in the same text saying about Antisthenes:

And nicknaming Plato Satho, in a witless and vulgar manner, he published a dialogue against him, to which he gave the same name as its title. For these men believe that there is no such thing as an honest counsellor, or a conscientious general, or a respectable sophist, or a poet worth listening to, or a reasonable people: but Socrates…(Translated by C.C. Yonge, B.A. London: Henry G.Bohn. MDCCCLIV)

Note: To understand the vileness in the change of the name Plato it is necessary to know that the Greek name Sathon, with that  the nurse used to call to children,  derives from Sathe, one of the terms for the penis.

So now the first of the cynics was critical of the powerful of his time, and marked the way forward for the rest of the cynics. Diogenes far surpassed the teacher in acrimony with the contempt to powerful.

Antístenes preferred the executioner who kills the criminal than tyrant  who kills innocent, according to Stobaeus, who says in Florilegium, M.49.47 on Gaisfer edition, pag. 359:

Antisthenes, the philosopher, preferred in mercy the executioners than tyrants; to a person who asked him why he said that, he replied: because the executioner kills unrighteous men, but the tyrant also kills innocent.

In  Latin version, it corresponds to Title XLVII, entitled De tyrannidis uituperio, and it says on page  343 of this translation:

Antithenes philosophus carnifices tyrannis in pietate praeferebat, cuius causam interroganti cuidam respondit: a carnifice quidem homines iniusti interimuntur; a tyranno autem etiam insontes.

Antisthenes, harshly criticizing the insatiable craving for riches, said as it  was quoted by Stobaeus,  t. X, 12, (Edit. Thomas Gaisford., P. 294;quoted in turn by Chappuis, Antisthenes, page, 98.)

Whoever loves money can not be a good person, not as king or in private life.

In the cited Latin translation it is on Tit. VIII, and it says:

Avarus nemo bonus, neque rex, neque liber esse potest

It is the same attitude that Diogenes keeps, as Diogenes Laertius says in VI, 43

Dyonysius the Stoic says that after Chaeronea he was seized and dragged off to Philip, and being asked who he was, replied,”A spy upon your insatiable greed”. For this he was admired and set free. (Translation by R.D. Hicks, M.A. London: William Heinemann.MCMXXV. The Loeb Classical Library)

Antístenes despises those who impose their delirium to others and limit the freedom of individuals.

This rebellious attitude is revealed in the story cited of the meetings between Diogenes and Alexander already mentioned.

Incidentally, Alexander had Aristotle as master and teacher; he carried a copy of Homer's Iliad and he respected and not destroyed in Thebas the Pindar's house in recognition of his literary values;  but that did not stop him to act with great cruelty often .

The different attitude of Diogenes and Plato to the powerful is perfectly drawn in this story that has Diogenes Laertius in VI, 58:

Some authors affirm that the following also belongs to him: that Plato saw him washing lettuces, came up to him and quietly said to him,”Had you paid court to Dionysius, you wouldn’t  now be washing lettuces,” and that he with euqal calmness made answer, “if you had washed lettuces, you wouldn’t have paid court to Dionysius”. Translation by R.D. Hicks, M.A.)

Another anecdote shows how unimpressed Diogenes was by Alexander and his actions, works at last, of  a "miserable" and graceless human; Laertius tells us in VI, 44:

Alexander having on one occasion sent a letter to Antipater at Athens by a certain Athlios, Diogenes, who was present, said: “Graceless on of graceless sire to graceless wight by graceless squire.

Note: the Greek word Athlios means “graceless”.

Similarly Diogenes rejected the request to visit him that Craterus, general of Alexander the Great and one of his heirs at his death, did to him. Laertius tells us in VI, 57:

When Craterus wanted him to come and visit him, “No”, he replied, “I would rather live on a few grains of salt at Athens than enjoy sumptuous fare at Craterus’s table.”

This same Diogenes, as Laertius account  in VI, 50, when a tyrant asked him what bronze was best for a statue, replied:

On being asked by a tyrant what bronze is best for a statue, he replied, “That of which Harmodius and Aristogiton were moulded.”

Note: Harmodius and Aristogeiton, dead in 514 BC, were the ones who ended the tyrant Hipparchus of Athens and so they are known as the Tyrannicides. They were regarded as heroes and restorers of liberty. Therefore  a statue, built by Antenor, was erected  to them.

Note: tyrannicide, from the Greek τύραννος / tyrannos, "tyrant" and -cido form Latin caedere,  "kill"

Diogenes also loudly told  the tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse, dismissed and reduced to the status of ordinary citizen:

Plutarch, Moralia,783D

And at a later time, at Corinth, when Diogenes saw the son of Dionysius no longer a tyrant but a private citizen, he very aptly said, "How little you deserve your present fate, Dionysius! For you ought not to be living here with us in freedom and without fear, but you should pass your life to old age over yonder walled up in the royal palace, as your father did."  (Translated by Harold North Fowler. Loeb Classical Library 321. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1936.

There is another  anecdote of Diogenes that seems to anticipate one of our current ills. The story tells that one day he saw on the streets of Athens  a thief who had stolen a vase property of treasure and was arrested by two guards. Diogenes said, according to Diogenes Laertius, Life of Diogenes, VI, 45

Once he saw the officials of a templeleading away someone one who had stolen a bowl belonging to the treasurers, and said, “The great thieves are leading away the little thief.”

The two guards are naturally representatives of institutionalized power. The Justice not only was not and is not the same for everyone, but the pursuit of petty criminal  seems to cover the permissiveness of major economic crimes. We are very frequently seeing  the impunity of those who sink large banking firms to be rescued or squander the public money.

When on another occasion, Diogenes, asked what are the most ferocious animals, said, (according to Antonius and Maximus, in De  lucri cupiditate, 226.:

"In the mountains bears and lions; officials in cities and sycophants. "

Diogenes interrogatus, quaenam essent ferae pessimae, dixit: In montibus ursi et leones,in civitatibus vero publicani et sycophantae

Note: the sycophants are the whistleblowers.

Laertius  accounts it incomprehensibly because incomplete, in VI, 51. It should be know to understand some of the difficulties that the transmission of ancient texts has:
….
Being asked what creature’s bite is the worst, he said,”Of those that are wild a sycophant’s; ot those that are tame a flatterer’s.”

Also other cynics, as Crates, one of the most famous disciples of the "Dog", as Laertius  says (VI, 85), who  was  a couple with one of the few Greek women of whom we  know her name and deeds, Hipparchia, cynic philosopher also madly in love with him, also he despises the enormous power of Alexander who destroyed and built so many cities. Diogenes Laertius tells us in VI, 93:

When Alexander inquired whether he would like his native city to be rebuilt, his answer was, Whay should it be? Perhaps another Alexander will destroy it again.”

The task of the philosopher is the resistance, insurrection, rebellion, insubordination.

In the previous article he commented, as I said, the disrespectful attitude and answer of the cynic philosopher Diogenes of Sinope. The philosophers "dogs", the Cynics, are in Antiquity  the prototype of thinker antisystem, anarchic and libertarian and therefore very critical to  the government.

Diogenes is the most famous representative of this line of thought or school that fails to translate their ideas into works of systematic thought, but it is true that there are very few traces that remain of what they wrote.

Well, in addition to Diogenes, there are many other examples of intellectuals who criticize the powerful and thus power, suffering the harsh consequences of the  punishment. Most of them were cynical but also there were stoic philosopher.

The  attitude of cynic philosophers is direct confrontation "with loud voices" to  the powerful and citizens.

The Stoics are more cautious. It may reflect this attitude a fragment of the Letter 103 of Seneca to Lucilius in that he are advises  to be wary of men, because they can do much harm to other men, and to take refuge in philosophy; but he does not hold  the office of philosophy arrogantly.

Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, 103, 4:

Make your retreat however as soon as possible into the courts of Philosophy. She will protect you in her bosom. In her sanctuary you will be safe at least much safer than at present. Men jostle one another, only when walking together and as to philosophy, pride not yourself thereon : many have suffered from their insolent and disdainful behaviour in this respect. Let it expel your own vices, and not upbraid those of other men. Nor be singularly averse to the manners and fashions of the public (d) ; nor so act as to seem to condemn every thing but what comes from yourself. A man may be wife without such pomp and shew as to raise jealousy and envy in others. (Published 1786)

Quantum potes autem, in philosophiam recede: illa te sinu 1 suo proteget, in huius sacrario eris aut tutus aut tutior. Non arietant inter se nisi in eadem ambulantes via. 2 Ipsam autem philosophiam non debebis iactare; multis fuit periculi causa insolenter tractata et contumaciter.
[5] Tibi vitia detrahat, non aliis exprobret. Non abhorreat a publicis moribus nec hoc agat, ut quicquid non facit, damnare videatur. Licet sapere sine pompa, sine invidia. Vale.

Yet one of the social functions of philosophy is to be critical of the power and the powerful. Perhaps it maybe not with the passion with which Crates expressed, but not with passivity that makes philosophy today not only not a norm of life and behavior, but it  is down to pure theory and bookish study.

Crates said in Diogenes Laertius, VI, 92:

He used to say that we should study philosophy to the point of seeing in generals nothing but donkey-drivers. (Translated by Robert Drew Hicks)

This suggests that we must consider the role of philosophy today ...

But, today philosophy plays a role in society? Not too long ago it was confined in school, reduced to the study of philosophy books unrelated to the life of the street? As Nietzsche said in Untimely Meditations, 3rd, 2, (Schopenhauer as Educator):

The only method of criticising a philosophy that is possible and proves anything at all—namely to see whether one can live by it—has never been taught at the universities; only the criticism of words, and again words, is taught there. (translated by Adrian Collins)

Nietzsche,Unzeitgemäße Betrachtungen (Schopenhauer als Erzieher)

Die einzige Kritik einer Philosophie, die möglich ist und die auch etwas beweist, nämlich zu versuchen, ob man nach ihr leben könne, ist nie auf Universitäten gelehrt worden: sondern immer die Kritik der Worte über Worte.

Moreover, we can even ask ourselves: Do they have a role in our society today "Cynic philosophers"? Are they not as necessary now as 2000 years ago?

   
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