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

Intellectuals and power (I): Diogenes the Cynic (versus) against Alexander the Great

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When the Greeks, applying reason, they began to wonder what is there ?, why they are?, to what do serve the real things, they gave beginning to Philosophy.

They came then all sorts of ideas and theories about the nature and the man himself and various schools, which are often identified by the place where they met and  their teachers taught their doctrines : Academics because Plato taught in the land that was property of certain  Academos (see  http://en.antiquitatem.com/platonic-academy-lyceum-tusculanea ), Peripatetics (περιπατητικοί) from περι, peri, around, and πατειν, patein, to walk, because Aristotle taught walking in a garden near the temple of ,Apollo Licius, ie the Lyceum; Stoics from Στωϊκός, Stoikos because Zeno preached his own disciples in the "Poikile stoa" Ποικίλη Στοά, or Painted Porch.

There are some philosophers, the Cynics, the dogs, from κύων kyon 'dog', who may also receive the name from the place where he taught the first founder, Antisthenes, in the gym called Cinosargos, Kyon-Argos, agile dog, although certainly the name also came given by the peculiarities of their  anti ideas, which  failed to be translated into an elaborate theory, but consisted  of simple maxims that define life in society freely and without prejudice. Like dogs, the cynics live in society, but on their own, without participating in social conventions, with their life according to the animal nature, reluctant to join the group, etc.  resenting  barking, grateful to whom gives anything, etc.

When Alexander asked Diogenes of Sinope, the most famous of the cynics, whom I dedicate this article, why he was called "dog" "cynic",  another Diognes, now Laertius tells us  in his "Lives and opinions of the philosophers, VI, 60:

Alexander once came and stood opposite him and said, " I am Alexander the great king." " And I," said he, " am Diogenes the Cynic." Being asked what he had done to be called a hound, he said, " I fawn on those who give me anything, I yelp at those who refuse, and I set my teeth in rascals." (Translation by R.D. Hicks, M.A.  London: William Heinemann, New York:Putnam’s son)

Then the king sent a bowl full of bones, and as it is told in the Gnomologium Vaticanum (E Codice Vatican Graeco 743), n.96 (it also is told in the Florilegium  Monacense, 155 and in Eustathius to Homer, Odyssey VI 148)

King Alexander at once fill a tray of bones and sent to Diogenes the Cynic. And this, receiving it,  said: "The food is cynic, but the gift is not royal."

The Cynics have been mistreated by history, since ancient times, no doubt because they are anti-system and represent the anarchist thinking, the libertarian thought of antiquity: no gods, no rulers, no laws, no society, no conventions. The study about them in some detail deserves to be dealt further.

Now at this time I want to comment on the special relationship that  Diogenes had with  the most powerful person in the moment, Alexander, called the Great, Μέγας Αλέξανδρος on Greek. That long and strange relationship produced some of the most famous anecdotes in antiquity and since then repeated infinitely.

Diogenes was a kind of anarchist, because he does not admit another power than his own on himself and was also a libertarian because the freedom was for him the greatest value. According to Diogenes Laertius in his "Life and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers" in Book VI, 69:

Being asked what was the most beautiful thing in the world, he replied: “Freedom of speech• (Translation by R.D. Hicks, M.A)

He stress  his yearning for freedom in VI,71;

and asserting that the manner of life he lived was the same as that of Heracles when he preferred liberty to everything. (Translation by R.D. Hicks, M.A.) 

Diogenes,  like jesters who have often accompanied and served as a counterpoint to absolutist and tyrannical character, is allowed to tell the great Alexander what no mortal would dare say; and Alexander permits him all that he  would not allow anyone  who should contradict him, (Callisthenes,nephew of Aristotle,  Macedonian expedition partner, had worse treatment).

And he let him so much  that according with that  Diogenes Laertius recounts in Book VI, 32

Alexander is reported to have said, “Had I not been Alexander, I should have liked to be Diogenes” (Translation by R.D. Hicks, M.A)

Diogenes represents irreverence, rebelliousness, impertinence, insolence to power. Alexander  is the power that comes from the gods, according to many theorists (actually all power is or claims to be divine); further, Alexander himself is a god or at least a demigod before whom his subjects have to kneel waiting for his kiss of recognition. See  http://en.antiquitatem.com/proskynesis-bow-monarchy-persians

I will relate some anecdotes that marked his free spirit and self-possessed.

Diogene Laertius, book VI, 45

When  some one was extolling the good fortune of Callisthenes san saying what splendour he shared in the suite of Alexander, “Not so,” said Diogenes, “but rather ill fortune; for he breakfasts and dines when Alexander think fit.”  (Translation by R.D. Hicks, M.A)

Interestingly this intimate of Alexander, Callisthenes, nephew of his teacher Aristotle, was then caged to death accused of attempted of one of the several sedition  that the powerful Alexander  suffered.

Epictetus tells us in his Discourses III, 22,92 how Alexander, taking advantage Diogenes was half asleep, cited the verse 24 of song II of the Iliad, and Diogenes, really half asleep, he dared to complete it to Alexander.

Epictetus, Discourses, III, 22,92:

On another occasion in reply to Alexander, who stood by him when he was sleeping, and quoted Homer's line (Iliad, II. 24)
A man a councillor should not sleep all night,
he answered, when he was half asleep,
The people's guardian and so full of cares
.
(Translated by George Long. 1877)

And another quote full of irony of the same Diogenes Laertius, Book VI, 68:

When Alexander stood opposite him and asked.”Are you not afraid of me?” “Whay, what are you?” said he, “a good thing or a bad?” Upon Alexander replying “A good thing”. “Who the”, said Diogenes, “is afraid of the good?”  (Translation by R.D. Hicks, M.A)

The most famous anecdote, that also served to underline the importance of Diogenes, is the encounter between Diogenes and Alexander, who is once again the topic of the meeting between the king and the wise, between the intellectual and the ruler.

Diogenes Laertius tells us it and Cicero and Plutarch too, whose texts I will reproduce; and Arrianus in his Anabasis of Alexander VII, 2,1-2 and Valerius Maximus in Memorabile Deeds and Sayings, IV.3. ext.4 and St. John Chrysostom in Babilas against Julian and Gentiles, 8 and Pseudo-Eudocia (wife of Emperor Theodosius II in the V century), Violarium,332.24 to 241.3). The story was actually commonplace in antiquity.

Diogenes Laertius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers: VI, 38:

When he was sunning himself in the Craneum, Alexander came and stood over him and said, Ask of me any boon you like.” To which he replied, “Stand out of my light.”. (Translation by R.D. Hicks, M.A)

Note : The “Craneum” l was a gym in Corinth,where Diogenes taught their teachings.

Cicero, Tusculans Disputations, V,32 (92):

But Diogenes took a greater liberty, like a Cynic, when Alexander asked him if he wanted anything: “Jus at present.” Said he, “I wish that you would stand a Little aout of the line between me and the sun,” for Alexander was hindering him from sunning himself. And indeed this very man used to maintain how much he surpassed the Persian king,in his manner of life and fortune; for that he himself  was in want of nothing, while the other never had enough; aqnd that he had no inclination for those pleasures of which the other could never get enough to satisfy himself: and that the other could never obtain his. (Translations by C.D. Yonge, B.A. London 1872)

At vero Diogenes liberius, ut Cynicus, Alexandro roganti ut diceret, si quid opus esset: ‘Nunc quidem paullulum, inquit, a sole. Officerat videlicet apricanti. Et hic quidem disputare solebat quanto regem Persarum vita fortunaque superaret: sibi nihil deesse, illi nihil satis umquam fore: se eius voluptates non desiderare, quibus numquam stiari ille posset, suas eum conseui nullo modo posse.

Plutarch, in an interesting text in which he highlights the servile attitude of many philosophers, that is, the intellectuals of the time, compared to that of Diogenes, the insolent, the libertarian, the master of his own life, tells us in Life of Alexander , XIV:

And now a general assembly of the Greeks was held at the Isthmus,  where a vote was passed to make an expedition against Persia with Alexander, and he was proclaimed their leader. Thereupon many statesmen and philosophers came to him with their congratulations, and he expected that Diogenes of Sinope also, who was tarrying in Corinth, would do likewise.

But since that philosopher took not the slightest notice of Alexander, and continued to enjoy his leisure in the suburb Craneion, Alexander went in person to see him; and he found him lying in the sun. Diogenes raised himself up a little when he saw so many persons coming towards him, and fixed his eyes upon Alexander. And when that monarch addressed him with greetings, and asked if he wanted anything, ‘Yes,’ said Diogenes, ‘stand a little out of my sun.’ It is said that Alexander was so struck by this, and admired so much the haughtiness and grandeur of the man who had nothing but scorn for him, that he said to his followers, who were laughing and jesting about the philosopher as they went away, ‘But verily, if I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes.’ (Translation by Bernadotte Perrin. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. London. William Heinemann Ltd. 1919)

We may ask  if the story was real. Probably, like many others that have been told from  Diogenes, they are not real but invented. It is rather unlikely that the meeting, if there was, there is no historical basis for affirming, it occurs according these terms, but it does not diminish its ability to settle fame and define proposals for social life that  the philosopher made.

This story became a topos, a commonplace in ancient literature, often cited. As I said above, it is an example of the classic theme of the meeting of the king and the wise, the intellectual and the powerful. In fact in the life of Alexander,  a similar meeting with the gymnosophists of Hindus (the word means “naked sophists”) occurs;  such as Plutarch says in Alexander LXIV they are asked about a number of issues because they  are reputed to be very sharp in their responses. Certainly they respond with wit and skill and we can  say in current slang that they don’t want to know anything from the mighty Alexander because they need nothing from him.

Alexander became a myth in antiquity and he continued well into the Middle Ages and even today his name and his deeds have great success.

We have the proof of how some anecdotes were awarded to him in his relationship with Diogenes analyzing another example that many books and hundreds of articles now repeated in the network (www). They say that also the told  meeting, there was another little later:

On another occasion, Alexander surprised Diogenes seeing a lot of stacked bones. Alexander asked: What are you looking for?  Diogenes replied: "I seek the bones of your father, but I can not find them because I do not see the difference between the bones of your father and they of my slave."

In most cases the appointment appears without any source, even the most daring ascribe it to Plutarch, but this story does not appear, as far as I can ascertain, in the ancient world; it is a much more recently invented quote and awarded to the famous Diogenes  because this appointment does not detract from others that are  counted about him.

Only it appears something similar in Lucian of Samosata, in his Menippus dialogue, although the action  is situated in the underworld.

Although it may make a long digression, I offer the text of Lucian, always interesting and current,  as all works of satirical Lucian of Samosata; in this case he uses the analogy of  the “the Great Theater of the World”; ; we can remember the end of August, when he asked if he has played well the farce of life ? See http://en.antiquitatem.com/death-of-augustus-the-stage-of-the-life.

Lucian, Menippus or the descent into Hade, 15 et ff.

After making our way past these people also, we entered the Acherusian Plain, where we found the demigods and the fair women and the whole crowd of the dead, living by nations and by clans, some of them ancient and mouldy, and, as Homer says, "impalpable," while others were still well preserved and substantial, particularly the Egyptians, thanks to the durability of their embalming process. It was not at all easy, though, to tell them apart, for all, without exception, become precisely alike when their bones are bare. However, with some difficulty and by dint of long study we made them out. But they were lying one atop of another, ill-defined, unidentified, retaining no longer any trace of earthly beauty. So, with many skeletons lying together, all alike staring horridly and vacuously and baring
their teeth, I questioned myself how I could distinguish Thersites from handsome Nireus, or the mendicant Irus from the King of the Phaeacians, or the cook Pyrrhias from Agamemnon ; for none of their former means of identification abode with them, but their bones were all alike, undefined, unlabelled, and unable ever again to be distinguished by anyone.

So as I looked at them it seemed to me that human life is like a long pageant, and that all its trappings are supplied and distributed by Fortune, who arrays the participants in various costumes of many colours. Taking one person, it may be, she attires him royally, placing a tiara upon his head, giving him body-guards, and encircling his brow with the diadem ; but upon another she puts the costume of a slave. Again, she makes up one person so that he is handsome, but causes another to be ugly and ridiculous. I suppose that the show must
needs be diversified. And often, in the very middle of the pageant, she exchanges the costumes of several players ; instead of allowing them to finish the pageant in the parts that had been assigned to them, she re-apparels them, forcing Croesus to assume the dress of a slave and a captive, and shifting Maeandrius, who formerly paraded among the servants, into the imperial habit of Polycrates. For a brief space she lets them use their costumes, but when the time of the pageant is over, each gives back the properties and lays off the costume along with his body, becoming what he was before his birth, no different from his neighbour. Some, however, are so ungrateful that when Fortune appears to them and asks her trappings back, they are vexed and indignant, as if they were being robbed of their own property, instead of giving back what they had borrowed for a little time.

I suppose you have often seen these stage-folk who act in tragedies, and according to the demands of the plays become at one moment Creons, and again Priams or Agamemnons ; the very one, it may be, who a short time ago assumed with great dignity the part of Cecrops or of Erectheus soon appears as a servant at the bidding of the poet. And when at length the play comes to an end, each of them strips off his gold-bespangled robe, lays aside his mask, steps out of his buskins, and goes about in poverty and humility, no longer styled Agamemnon, son of Atreus, or Creon, son of Menoeceus, but Polus, son of Charicles, of Sunium, or Satyrus, son of Theogiton, of Marathon.  That is what human affairs are like, it seemed to me as I looked. (Translation by A. M. Harmon) 

Well, the story served later Dio Chrysostom to recreate the meeting, satirize the power and the powerful and present their ideas about the divine origin of power and legitimacy of its exercise. In a future article I will offer this interesting text.

Well, tradition, now supported by Diogenes Laertius also wanted to note another meeting, the final encounter between Alexander and Diogenes: both died on the same day of the year 323 BC, Alexander at age 33 in Babylon, result of the excesses, living on the edge of ambitious military and probably of malaria in those lands; Diogenes died at Corinth at 86 years of life more in keeping with the animal nature of man. But that is impossible.

Diogenes Laertius,  VI, 76-79

Diogenes is said to have been nearly ninety years old when he died. Regarding his death there are several different accounts. One is that he was seized with colic after eating an octopus raw and so met his end. Another is that he died voluntarily by holding his breath. This account was followed by Cercidas of Megalopolis (or of Crete), who in his meliambics writes thus :

Not so he who aforetime was a citizen of Sinope,

That famous one who carried a staff, doubled his cloak,

     and lived in the open air.

But he soared aloft with his lip tightly pressed against

     his teeth

And holding his breath withal. For in truth he was rightly
     named

Diogenes, a true-born son of Zeus, a hound of heaven.


Another version is that, while trying to divide an octopus amongst the dogs, he was so severely bitten on the sinew of the foot that it caused his death.His friends, however, according to Antisthenes in his Successions of Philosophers, conjectured that it was due to the retention of his breath. For he happened to be living in the Craneum, the gymnasium in front of Corinth. When his friends came according to custom and found him wrapped up in his cloak, they thought that he must be asleep, although he was by no means of a drowsy or somnolent habit.
They therefore drew aside his cloak and found that he was dead. This they supposed to have been his deliberate act in order to escape thenceforward from life.

Hence, it is said, arose a quarrel among his disciples as to who should bury him : nay, they even came to blows ; but, when their fathers and men of influence arrived, under their direction he was buried beside the gate leading to the Isthmus. Over his grave they set up a pillar and a dog in Parian marble upon it. Subsequently his fellow-citizens honoured him with bronze statues, on which these verses were inscribed :

   Time makes even bronze grow old : but thy glory,
   Diogenes, all eternity will never destroy. Since thou alone
   didst point out to mortals the lesson of self-sufficingness       
   and the easiest path of life.

We too have written on him in the proceleusmatic metre :

    A.Diogenes, come tell me what fate took you to the world
below ?

    D. A dog's savage tooth.

But some say that when dying he left instructions that they should throw him out unburied, that every wild beast might feed on him, or thrust him into a ditch and sprinkle a little dust over him. But according to others his instructions were that they should throw him into the Ilissus, in order that he might be useful to his brethren.

Demetrius in his work “On Men of the Same Name” asserts that on the same day on which Alexander died in Babylon Diogenes died in Corinth. He was an old man in the 113th Olympiad.

If as Laertius tells us, he died because he ate  a raw octopus that his stomach could not digest, he died of his rejection until the end of civilized life and their desire to live  naturally and animalistically as possible: what greater rejection of civilization may be than to renounce to the civilizing fire, stole by Prometheus  from the gods to men, so that they, among other things, could cook food and not must  to eat only raw as other animals?

   
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