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Crates of Thebes | Julian, Orations 6.197-202

[197] Do you not know how people lure away the young from philosophy by continually uttering now one slander and then another against all the philosophers in turn? The genuine disciples of Pythagoras and Plato and Aristotle are called sorcerers and sophists and conceited and quacks. [198] If here and there among the Cynics one is really virtuous he is regarded with pity. For instance I remember that once my tutor said to me when he saw my fellow-pupil Iphicles with his hair unkempt and his clothes in tatters on his chest and wearing a wretched cloak in severe winter weather: “What evil genius can have plunged him into this sad state which makes not only him pitiable but even more so his parents who reared him with care and gave him the best education they could! And now he goes about in this condition, neglecting everything and no better than a beggar!” At the time I answered him with some pleasantry or other. But I assure you that the multitude hold these views about genuine Cynics also. And that is not so dreadful, but do you see that they persuade them to love wealth, to hate poverty, to minister to the belly, to endure any toil for the body's sake, to fatten that prison of the soul, to keep up an expensive table, never to sleep alone at night, provided only that they do all this in the dark and are not found out? Is not this worse than Tartarus? Is it not better to sink beneath Charybdis and Cocytus or ten thousand fathoms deep in the earth than to fall into a life like this, enslaved to lust and appetite, and not even to these simply and openly, like the beasts, but to take pains so that when we act thus we may be hidden under cover of darkness? And yet how much better is it to refrain altogether from all this! And if that be difficult the rules of Diogenes and Crates on these matters are not to be despised: “Fasting quenches desire, and if you cannot fast, hang yourself.” Do you not know that those great men lived as they did in order to introduce among men the way of plain living? “For” says Diogenes, [199] “it is not among men who live on bread that you will find tyrants, but among those who eat costly dinners.” Moreover Crates wrote a hymn to Plain Living: “Hail, goddess and Queen, darling of wise men, Plain Living, child of glorious Temperance.” Then let not the Cynic be like Oenomaus shameless or impudent, or a scorner of everything human and divine, but reverent towards sacred things, like Diogenes. For he obeyed the Pythian oracle nor did he repent of his obedience. But if anyone supposes that because he did not visit the temples or worship statues or altars this is a sign of impiety, he does not think rightly. For Diogenes possessed nothing that is usually offered, incense or libations or money to buy them with. But if he held right opinions about the gods, that in itself was enough. For he worshipped them with his whole soul, thus offering them as I think the most precious of his possessions, the dedication of his soul through his thoughts. Let not the Cynic be shameless, but led by reason let him first make subservient to himself the emotional part of his soul so that he may entirely do away with it and not even be aware that he is superior to pleasures. For it is nobler to attain to this, I mean to complete ignorance whether one has any such emotions. And this comes to us only through training. And that none may think I say this at random I will add for your benefit a few lines from the lighter verse of Crates: “Glorious children of Memory and Olympian Zeus, ye Muses of Pieria, hearken to my prayer! Give me without ceasing victuals for my belly which has always made my life frugal and free from slavery. . . . To my friends make me useful rather than agreeable. As for money I desire not to amass conspicuous wealth, [200] seeking after the wealth of the beetle or the substance of the ant; nay, I desire to possess justice and to collect riches that are easily carried, easily acquired, of great avail for virtue. If I may but win these I will propitiate Hermes and the holy Muses not with costly dainties but with pious virtues.” If it be of any use to write for you about such things I could recite still more maxims by this same Crates. But if you will read Plutarch of Chaeronea, who wrote his Life, there will be no need for you to learn his character superficially from me.

But let me go back to what I said before, that he who is entering on the career of a Cynic ought first to censure severely and cross-examine himself, and without any self-flattery ask himself the following questions in precise terms: whether he enjoys expensive food; whether he cannot do without a soft bed; whether he is the slave of rewards and the opinion of men; whether it is his ambition to attract public notice and even though that be an empty honour he still thinks it worth while. Nevertheless he must not let himself drift with the current of the mob or touch vulgar pleasure even with the tip of his finger, as the saying is, until he has succeeded in trampling on it; then and not before he may permit himself to dip into that sort of thing if it come his way. For instance I am told that bulls which are weaker than the rest separate themselves from the herd and pasture alone while they store up their strength in every part of their bodies by degrees, until they rejoin the herd in good condition, and then they challenge its leaders to contend with them, in confidence that they are more fit to take the lead. Therefore let him who wishes to be a Cynic philosopher not adopt merely their long cloak [201] or wallet or staff or their way of wearing the hair, as though he were like a man walking unshaved and illiterate in a village that lacked barbers' shops and schools, but let him consider that reason rather than a staff and a certain plan of life rather than a wallet are the mintmarks of the Cynic philosophy. And freedom of speech he must not employ until he have first proved how much he is worth, as I believe was the case with Crates and Diogenes. For they were so far from bearing with a bad grace any threat of fortune, whether one call such threats caprice or wanton insult, that once when he had been captured by pirates Diogenes joked with them; as for Crates he gave his property to the state, and being physically deformed he made fun of his own lame leg and hunched shoulders. But when his friends gave an entertainment he used to go, whether invited or not, and would reconcile his nearest friends if he learned that they had quarrelled. He used to reprove them not harshly but with a charming manner and not so as to seem to persecute those whom he wished to reform, but as though he wished to be of use both to them and to the bystanders.

Yet this was not the chief end and aim of those Cynics, but as I said their main concern was how they might themselves attain to happiness and, as I think, they occupied themselves with other men only in so far as they comprehended that man is by nature a social and political animal; and so they aided their fellow-citizens, not only by practising but by preaching as well. Then let him who wishes to be a Cynic, earnest and sincere, first take himself in hand like Diogenes and Crates, and expel from his own soul and from every part of it all passions and desires, and entrust all his affairs to reason and intelligence and steer his course by them. For this in my opinion was the sum and substance of the philosophy of Diogenes.

And if Diogenes did sometimes visit a courtesan - though even this happened only once perhaps or not even once - let him who would be a Cynic first satisfy us that he is, like Diogenes, [202] a man of solid worth, and then if he see fit to do that sort of thing openly and in the sight of all men, we shall not reproach him with it or accuse him. First however we must see him display the ability to learn and the quick wit of Diogenes, and in all other relations he must show the same independence, self-sufficiency, justice, moderation, piety, gratitude, and the same extreme carefulness not to act at random or without a purpose or irrationally. For these too are characteristic of the philosophy of Diogenes. Then let him trample on vaingloriousness, let him ridicule those who though they conceal in darkness the necessary functions of our nature - for instance the secretion of what is superfluous - yet in the centre of the market-place and of our cities carry on practices that are most brutal and by no means akin to our nature, for instance robbery of money, false accusations, unjust indictments, and the pursuit of other rascally business of the same sort. On the other hand when Diogenes made unseemly noises or obeyed the call of nature or did anything else of that sort in the market-place, as they say he did, he did so because he was trying to trample on the conceit of the men I have just mentioned, and to teach them that their practices were far more sordid and insupportable than his own. For what he did was in accordance with the nature of all of us, but theirs accorded with no man's real nature, one may say, but were all due to moral depravity.

To the uneducated Cynics (362) by Julian, translated by Emily Wilmer Cave Wright

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