Demonax | Hellenic Library
Buy me a cup of coffee
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 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 Darius5 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 p177answer, “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, however, marking his embarrassment, would fain change his throw just like men playing at dice. So when the king said, “What gave you the idea of calling me a bastard?” he replied, “What gave it? Why, I hear that your own mother says this of you. Or is it not Olympias who said that Philip is not your father, as it happens, but a dragon or Ammon or some god or other or demigod or wild animal? And yet in that case you would certainly be a bastard.”
Thereupon Alexander smiled and was pleased as never before, thinking that Diogenes, so far from being rude, was the most tactful of men and the only one who really knew how to pay a compliment. “Well then,” said he, “do you think the story is true or false?” “It is uncertain,” was the reply; “for if you are self-controlled and know the royal art of Zeus, nothing prevents your being a son of Zeus; for this is what they claim Homer says: that Zeus is the father, not only of gods but of men as well, though not of slaves nor of any mean and ignoble man. If, however, you are cowardly and love luxury and have a servile nature, then you are in no way related to the gods or to good men. Why, methinks of old the 'Sown men,' as they were called, of Thebes had what seemed a spear mark on their bodies as a sign of their origin, and he who did not have this mark was not regarded as one of the 'Sown men.' And do you not think that in the souls of the offspring of Zeus also a sign is to be found by which those who have the power to judge will know whether they are of his seed or not?” Of course Alexander was greatly delighted with this thought.
24 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, “And who, think you, imparts this art, or where must one go to learn it?” To which Diogenes replied, “Well, you know it if the words of Olympias are true and you are a son of Zeus, for it is he who first and chiefly possesses this knowledge and imparts it to whom he will; and all they to whom he imparts it are sons of Zeus and are so called. Or do you think that it is the sophists who teach kingship? Nay, the most of them do not even know how to live, to say nothing of how to be king. Do you not know,” he continued, “that education is of two kinds, the one from heaven, as it were, the other human? Now the divine is great and strong and easy, while the human is small and weak and full of pitfalls and no little deception; and yet it must be added to the other if everything is to be right. This human sort, however, is what most people call 'education' — meaning thereby something for children, I suppose — and they have the notion that he who knows the most literature, Persian or Greek or Syrian or Phoenician, and has read the most books is the wisest and best educated person; but again, when people find any knaves or cowards or avaricious men among these, then they say the fact is as insignificant as the individual. The other kind men sometimes call simply education, at other times, 'true manhood' and 'high-mindedness.' And it was for that reason that men of old called those persons 'sons of Zeus' who received the good education and were manly of soul, having been educated after the pattern of the great Heracles. Whoever, then, being noble by nature, possesses that higher education, readily acquires this other also, having only to learn a few things in a few lessons, merely the greatest and most important things, and is already initiated and treasures them in his soul. And thenceforth nothing can rob him of any of these things, neither time nor any tricky sophist, nay, not even one who would fain burn them out by fire. But if the man were burned, as Heracles is said to have burned himself, yet his principles would abide in his soul just as, I believe, the teeth of bodies that have been cremated are said to remain undestroyed though the rest of the body has been consumed by the fire. For he does not have to learn but merely to recall; after that he at once knows and recognizes, as having had these principles in his mind at the beginning. And furthermore, if he comes upon a man who knows the road, so to speak, this man easily directs him, and on getting the information he at once goes his way. If, however, he falls in with some ignorant and charlatan sophist, the fellow will wear him out by leading him hither and thither, dragging him now to the east and now to the west and now to the south, not knowing anything himself but merely guessing, after having been led far afield himself long before by impostors like himself. It is just the same as in hunting. When dogs that are untrained and unruly catch no scent and do not pick up the trail, they mislead others by barking and behaving as if they knew and saw, and many, chiefly the most foolish, follow those dogs that bark at random, 35 and of this pack those which make no outcry and keep silent are merely deceived themselves, but the most impetuous and foolish dogs, imitating the first ones, raise a din and strive to deceive others. Around the so-called sophists, likewise, you will sometimes find such a great accompanying throng of simpletons, and you will discover that your sophist does not differ one whit from a lecherous eunuch.”
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. And you, since you have been born with the right nature, if you come upon a man of understanding, will find a single day sufficient to get a grasp of his subject and art, and you will no longer have any need of subtle claptrap and discussions. But if you are not so fortunate as to have a disciple of Zeus or one like Zeus for your teacher to tell you forthwith and clearly what your duty is, then nothing comes of it for you, even if you waste your whole life in sleepless study and fasting in the schools of the miserable sophists. I am not the first man to say this, but Homer said it before me. Or are you not acquainted with the Homeric poems?”
Now Alexander prided himself very greatly on knowing by right the whole of the one poem, the Iliad, and much of the Odyssey likewise. And so he said in surprise, “Pray, where has Homer discoursed about these things?” “In the passage,” came the reply, “where he calls Minos13 the consort of Zeus. Or does not 'to consort' mean 'to associate'? Well then, he says that he was an associate of Zeus, which would virtually be calling him his disciple. Now do you imagine that he associated with Zeus as a pupil with any other object than to learn justice and the duties of a king? For mark you, Minos is said to have been the most righteous man in the world. Once more, when he says that kings are 'nurtured of Zeus' and 'dear unto Zeus,' do you think that he means any other nurture than the teaching and instruction which I called divine? Or do you believe that he means that kings are nourished by Zeus as by a nurse, on milk and wine and various foods, and not on knowledge and truth? And in the same way he means15 that friendship also is nothing else than identity of wish and of purpose, that is, a kind of likemindedness. For this, I presume, is the view of the world too: that friends are most truly likeminded and are at variance in nothing. Can anyone, therefore, who is a friend of Zeus and is p189likeminded with him by any possibility conceive any unrighteous desire or design what is wicked and disgraceful? Homer seems to answer this very question clearly also when in commending some king he calls him a 'shepherd of peoples.' For the shepherd's business is simply to oversee, guard, and protect flocks, not, by heavens, to slaughter, butcher, and skin them. It is true that at times a shepherd, like a butcher, buys and drives off many sheep; but there is a world of difference between the functions of butcher and shepherd, practically the same as between monarchy and tyranny. 45 For instance, when Xerxes and Darius marched down from Susa driving a mighty host of Persians, Medes, Sacae, Arabs, and Egyptians into our land of Greece to their destruction, were they functioning as kings or as butchers in driving this booty for future slaughter?”
And Alexander said: “Apparently you do not hold even the Great King to be a king, do you?” And Diogenes with a smile replied, “No more, Alexander, than I do my little finger.” “But shall I not be a great king,” Alexander asked, “when once I have overthrown him?” “Yes, but not for that reason,” replied Diogenes; “for not even when boys play the game to which the boys themselves give the name 'kings' is the winner really a king. The boys, anyhow, know that the winner who has the p191title of 'king' is only the son of a shoemaker or a carpenter — and he ought to be learning his father's trade, but he has played truant and is now playing with the other boys, and he fancies that now of all times he is engaged in a serious business — and sometimes the 'king' is even a slave who has deserted his master. Now perhaps you kings are also doing something like that: each of you has playmates — the eager followers on his side — he his Persians and the other peoples of Asia, and you your Macedonians and the other Greeks. And just as those boys try to hit one another with the ball, and the one who is hit loses, so you now are aiming at Darius and he at you, and perhaps you may hit him and put him out; for I think you are the better shot. Then, those who were on his side at first will be on yours and will do you obeisance, and you will be styled king over all.”
Now Alexander was again hurt and vexed, for he did not care to live at all unless he might be king of Europe, Asia, Libya, and of any islands which might lie in the ocean. 50 His state of mind, you see, was the opposite of what Homer says was that of Achilles' ghost. For that hero said that he preferred to live in bondage to
Some man of mean estate, who makes scant cheer, Rather than reign o'er all who have gone down To death.“
But Alexander, I doubt not, would have chosen to die and govern even a third part of the dead rather than become merely a god and live for ever — unless, of course, he became king over the other gods. Perhaps, too, Zeus is the only one for whom he would have shown no contempt, and that because men call him king. This is the reason why Diogenes was bent on reproving him thoroughly.
The king replied, “Diogenes, you seem to be joking. If I capture Darius and the hand of the Indians to boot, there will be nothing to prevent my being the greatest king that ever lived. For what is left for me when I have once become master of Babylon, Susa, Ecbatana, and the Empire of the Indies?” And the other, observing that he was aflame with ambition and that with all his heart he was being borne at full stretch in that direction, just as the cranes when flying stretch themselves out in whatever direction they are speeding, exclaimed, “Nay, in the state of mind in which you are, you will have not one whit more than anyone else, nor will you really be a king, no, not even if you leap over the walls of Babylon and capture the city in that way, instead of breaking through the walls from without or sapping them from beneath, nor even if you imitate Cyrus and glide in like a water-snake by the river-route, and in the same way get inside the walls of Susa and Bactra, no, not even though you swim across the ocean and annex another continent greater than Asia.”
“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.”
Thus spoke Diogenes, counting it as nothing that he might be chastised, yet quite convinced that nothing would happen. For he knew that Alexander was a slave of glory and would never make a bad move where it was at stake. So he went on to tell the king that he did not even possess the badge of royalty. And Alexander said in amazement, “Did you not just declare that the king needs no badges?” “No indeed,” he replied; “I grant that he has no need of outward badges such as tiaras and purple raiment — such things are of no use — but the badge which nature gives is absolutely indispensable.” “And what badge is that?” said Alexander. “It is the badge of the bees,” he replied, “that the king wears. Have you not heard that there is a king among the bees, made so by nature, who does not hold office by virtue of what you people who trace your descent from Heracles call inheritance?” “What is this badge?” inquired Alexander. “Have you not heard farmers say,” asked the other, “that this is the only bee that has no sting, since he requires no weapon against anyone? For no other bee will challenge his right to be king or fight him when he has this badge. I have an idea, however, that you not only go about fully armed but even sleep that way. Do you not know,” he continued, “that it is a sign of fear in a man for him to carry arms? And no man who is afraid would ever have a chance to become king any more than a slave would.” At these words Alexander came near hurling his spear.
With these words Diogenes strove to encourage him to put his trust in well-doing and devotion to righteousness and not in arms.
“But you,” he continued, “also carry in your soul a keen-whetted temper, a goad difficult to restrain, as we see, and compelling. Will you not throw off this armour which you now wear, don a worker's tunic, and serve your betters, instead of going about wearing a ridiculous diadem? And perhaps before long you will grow a comb or tiara as cocks do? Have you never heard about the Sacian feast held by the Persians, against whom you are now preparing to take the field?” And Alexander at once asked him what it was like, he wished to know all about the Persians. “Well, they take one of their prisoners,” he explained, “who has been condemned to death, set him upon the king's throne, give him the royal apparel, and permit him to give orders, to drink and carouse, and to dally with the royal concubines during those days, and no one prevents his doing anything he pleases. But after that they strip and scourge him and then hang him. Now what do you suppose this is meant to signify and what is the purpose of this Persian custom? Is it not intended to show that foolish and wicked men frequently acquire this royal power and title and then after a season of wanton insolence come to a most shameful and wretched end? And so, when the fellow is freed from his chains, the chances are, if he is a fool and ignorant of the significance of the procedure, that he feels glad and congratulates himself on what is taking place; but if he understands, he probably breaks out into wailing and refuses to go along without protesting, but would rather remain in fetters just as he was. Therefore, O perverse man, do not attempt to be king before you have attained to wisdom. And in the meantime,” he added, “it is better not to give orders to others but to live in solitude, clothed in a sheepskin.”
“You,” he objected, “do you bid me, Alexander, of the stock of Heracles, to don a sheepskin — me, the leader of the Greeks and king of the Macedonians?” “Surely,” he replied, “just as your ancestor did.” “What ancestor?” he asked. “Archelaus. Was not Archelaus a goatherd and did he not come into Macedonia driving goats? Now do you think he did this clad in purple rather than in a sheepskin?” And Alexander calmed down, laughed, and said, “Do you refer to the story about the oracle, Diogenes?” The other puckered his face and said, “Oracle indeed! All I know is that Archelaus was a goatherd. But if you will drop your conceit and your present occupations, you will be a king, not in word maybe, but in reality; and you will prevail over all women as well as all men, as did Heracles, whom you claim as an ancestor of yours.” Alexander said, “Women indeed! Or am I to understand that you refer to the Amazons?” “Nay, it was no hard matter to overcome them,” he replied. “I refer to women of another kind, who are extremely dangerous and savage. Have you not heard the Libyan myth?” And the king replied that he had not. Then Diogenes told it to him with zest and charm, because he wanted to put him in a good humour, just as nurses, after giving the children a whipping, tell them a story to comfort and please them.
“Be assured,” he continued, “that you will never be king until you have propitiated your attendant spirit and, by treating it as you should, have made it commanding, free-spirited and kingly, instead of, as in your present state, slavish, illiberal, and vicious.” Then was Alexander amazed at the courage and fearlessness of the man; yet deeming him to have greater knowledge than other men, he urgently besought him not to say him nay but to explain what his attendant spirit was and how he must propitiate it. For he assumed that he would hear some deity's name and of certain sacrifices or purifications that he would have to perform. So when Diogenes perceived that he was greatly excited and quite keyed up in mind with expectancy, he toyed with him and pulled him about in the hope that somehow he might be moved from his pride and thirst for glory and be able to sober up a little. For he noticed that at one moment he was delighted, and at another grieved, at the same thing, and that his soul was as unsettled as the weather at the solstices when both rain and sunshine come from the very same cloud. He realized, too, that Alexander despised the way in which he argued with him, due to the fact that the prince had never heard a real master of discourse but admired the style of the sophists, as being lofty and distinguished. So wishing to win his favour and at the same time to show that he was quite able, whenever he chose, to make his discourse step out like a well-trained and tractable horse, he spoke to him as follows about attendant spirits, showing that the good and the bad spirits that bring happiness and misery are not outside the man, and that each one's intelligence — this and nothing more — is the guiding spirit of its owner, that the wise and good man's spirit is good, the evil man's evil, and likewise the free man's is free, the slave's slavish, the kingly and high-minded man's kingly, the abject and base man's abject. “However, not to provoke a tedious discussion,” he continued, “by taking up each separate point, I shall mention the commonest and most noticeable spirits by which everybody, generally speaking, is actuated — tyrants and private citizens, rich and poor, whole nations and cities.” Thereupon he let out all his sails and delivered the following discourse with great loftiness and courage.
“Many, thou son of Philip, are the vices and corrupting influences that in all circumstances beget wretched man, and they are well-nigh more numerous than tongue can tell. For in truth, as the poet says,
“No word is there so fraught with fear to speak, Nor sorrow, nor calamity god-sent, But mortal man might bear the weight thereof.”
“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.
“Therefore, come, let us imitate clever artists. They put the impress of their thought and art upon practically everything, representing not only the various gods in human forms but everything else as well. Sometimes they paint rivers in the likeness of men and springs in certain feminine shapes, yes, and islands and cities and well-nigh everything else, like Homer, who boldly represented the Scamander as speaking beneath his flood, and though they cannot give speech to their figures, nevertheless do give them forms and symbols appropriate to their nature, as, for example, their river gods recline, usually naked, and wear long flowing beards and on their heads crowns of tamarisk or rushes. Let us then show ourselves to be no whit worse or less competent in the field of discourse than they in their several arts as we mould and depict the characters of the three spirits of the three lives, therein displaying an accomplishment the reverse of and complementary to the skill and prophetic power of the physiognomists, as they call them. These men can determine and announce a man's character from his shape and appearance; while we propose to draw from a man's habits and acts, a type and shape that will match the physiognomist's work — that is, if we shall succeed in getting hold rather of the average and lower types. Since our purpose is to show the absurdity existing in human lives, there is no impropriety or objection to our being seen imitating poets or artists or, if need be, priests of purification and to our striving to furnish illustrations and examples from every source, in the hope of being able to win souls from evil, delusion, and wicked desires and to lead them to love virtue and to long for a better life; or else we might follow the practice of some of those who deal with initiations and rites of purification, who appease the wrath of Hecate and undertake to make a person sound, and then before the cleansing process, as I understand, set forth and point to the many and various visions that, as they claim, the goddess sends when angry.
“Well, then, the avaricious spirit craves gold, silver, lands, cattle, blocks of houses, and every kind of possession. Would it not be represented by a good artist as downcast and gloomy of appearance, humble and mean of dress — aye, as squalid and ragged, loving neither children nor parents nor native land, and recognizing no kinship but that of money, and considering the gods as nothing more than that which reveals to him many vast treasures or the deaths of certain kinsfolk and connections from whom he might inherit, regarding our holy festivals as sheer loss and useless expense, never laughing or smiling, eyeing all with suspicion and thinking them dangerous, distrusting everybody, having a rapacious look, ever twitching his fingers as he computes his own property, I take it, or that of someone else — a spirit not only without appreciation or capacity for any other thing, but scoffing at education and literature except when they have to do with estimates and contracts, the still blinder lover of wealth, which is rightly described and portrayed as blind; mad about every kind of possession and thinking that nothing should be thrown away; unlike the magnetic stone, which they say attracts iron to itself, but amassing copper and lead as well, yes, even sand and rock if anyone gives them, and everywhere and in almost every case regarding possession as more profitable and better than non-possession. He is most frantic and eager, however, to get money, simply because success here is quickest and cheapest, since money goes on piling up day and night and outstrips, I ween, the circuits of the moon. He recks naught of dislike, hate, and curses and, besides, holds that while other kinds of possessions may be pretty baubles wherewith to amuse oneself, money, to put it succinctly, is the very essence of wealth. This, therefore, is what he seeks and pursues from any and every source, never concerning himself at all to ask whether it is acquired by shameful or by unjust means, except insofar as, observing the punishments meted out to footpads, he lets cowardice get the better of him and becomes cautious. For he has the soul of a worthless cur, that snatches up things when it expects not to be noticed, and looks on other morsels with longing eyes but keeps away from them, though reluctantly, because the guards are by. So let him be a man insignificant in appearance, servile, unsleeping, never smiling, ever quarrelling and fighting with someone, very much like a pander, who in garb as well as in character is shameless and niggardly, dressed in a coloured mantle, the finery of one of his harlots. A foul and loathsome spirit is this, for he brings every possible insult and shame upon his own friends and comrades, or, rather, his slaves and underlings, whether he find them in the garb of private citizens or in that of royalty. Or is it not plain to see that many who are called kings are only traders, tax-gatherers, and keepers of brothels? Shall we assert that Dromon and Sarambus, because they keep shops in Athens and are called shopkeepers by the Athenians, come fairly by the name, but that the elder Darius, who kept a shop in Babylon and in Susa, and whom the Persians still to this day call a shopkeeper, has not deserved this name? Moreover, there is one peculiarity about this spirit, not shared by the others: although he sometimes rules and masters the soul, yet sometimes he seems to be compliant, the reason being that wealth is the handmaid and the willing ministrant to every appetite and interest. I, however, am now speaking of the spirit that takes the lead himself and dominates the faculties of his unhappy possessor; he has neither pleasure nor glory as the motive for the acquisition of wealth, and does not intend to spend or to use what he has gotten together, but keeps his wealth out of circulation and useless, actually locked up in secret and sunless vaults.
“So far so good. The second man and the attendant spirit of that man is the one which proclaims the orgies of Pleasure and admires and honours this goddess, a truly feminine being. He is of many hues and shapes, insatiable as to things that tickle nostril and palate, and further, methinks, as to all that pleases the eye, and all that affords any pleasure to the ear, as to all things that are soothing and agreeable to the touch, such as warm baths taken daily, or rather, twice a day, anointings that are not for the relief of weariness and, besides, the wearing of soft sweeping robes, bolstered repose, and attentive service for every appetite and desire. He is passionately devoted to all these things, but especially and most unrestrainedly to the poignant and burning madness of sexual indulgence, through intercourse both with females and with males, and through still other unspeakable and nameless obscenities; after all such indiscriminately he rushes and also leads others, abjuring no form of lust and leaving none untried.
“At present, it should be explained, we are treating as one this spirit which is afflicted with all these maladies and excesses of the soul; for we do not want to assemble a huge gallery of lecherous, gluttonous, and bibulous spirits and others unnumbered, but to treat as simply one that spirit which is incontinent and enslaved to pleasure, which — if only there is from some source an inflow of inexhaustible means, whether from royal coffers or from great private estate — wallows in a deep and boundless slough of debauchery until old age comes; failing such resources, the man speedily squanders the fortune he began with, or is reduced to impotent and licentious penury, and in deprivation combined with craving falls terribly short of his desires. And, further, this spirit has sometimes changed those possessed by it to the life and the garb of women, just as the myths relate of those who transformed human beings into birds or beasts, if they were unfortunate enough to have become enslaved to an appetite of such a nature.
“But here again we find a contrast in our examples. There is, first in this class, the weak and unventuresome spirit, which easily leads men into effeminate vices and other kinds of misconduct which involve loss and disgrace, but, where certain indulgences are followed by punishments that inflict upon the culprit death or imprisonment or heavy fines, altogether avoids inciting the victim to those extremes. There is, however, the more aggressive and audacious spirit, which compels its victim to overleap absolutely all bounds, both human and divine. Now while the weak and unventuresome spirit no sooner gets involved than he acknowledges his shameful weakness by taking up no manly occupation, but leaving social and civic activities to those who have lived a better life, the bold and impetuous spirit, after enduring many a rebuff and humiliation, by a sudden turn of fortune's wheel, as they say, emerged as a general or as a popular leader with shrill and piercing voice, and, like actors on the stage, discards his feminine attire for the time being and then, having seized that of a general or an orator, stalks about as a blackmailer and an object of terror, looking all the world in the eye.
“Now does a manly and grave appearance befit such a spirit, or rather a weak and effeminate one? Therefore we shall dress him up in his proper attire, not in the brave and awe-inspiring clothes which he often assumes when playing a part. So, by heavens, p221let him step forth luxurious, breathing of myrrh and wine, in a saffron robe, with much inordinate laughter, resembling a drunken reveller in a wanton midday riot and wearing faded garlands on his head and about his neck, reeling in his gait, dancing and singing an effeminate and tuneless song. Let him be led by brazen, dissolute women, known as certain of the sensual lusts, each pulling him her own way, and he rebuffs none of them nor says her nay, but follows readily and eagerly enough. And let them, with a great din of cymbals and flutes, come eagerly forth, escorting the frenzied fellow. And from the midst of the women let him utter shriller and more passionate cries than they; he is pale and effeminate in appearance, unacquainted with heaven's air or honest toil, lets his head droop, and leers lasciviously, with his watery eyes ever studying his fleshy self, but heedless of the soul and her mandates. Whether a statuary or a painter compelled to represent this man, he could create no better likeness of him than that of the Syrian king, who spent his life in his harem with eunuchs and concubines without ever a sight of army or war or assembly at all. Let his steps also be guided by Delusion, a very beautiful and enticing maid, decked out in harlot's finery, smiling and promising a wealth of good things and making him believe that she is leading him to the very embrace of happiness, till unexpectedly she drops him into the pit, into a morass of foul mud, and then leaves him to flounder about in his garlands and saffron robe. In servitude to such a tyrant and suffering such tribulation those souls wander through life which, craven and impotent in the face of hardships, enslaved to pleasure, pleasure-loving, and carnally-minded, go on living a disgraceful and reprehensible life, not from choice, the because they have drifted into it.
“And now, leaving this spirit, my discourse is eager, as in a contest, to bring in the third spirit, as the herald to bring in a chorus — I mean the ambitious one. He is not so very eager at present to contest, although he is naturally emulous about everything and demands to be first. However, the present trial is not concerned with the question of any fame or honour that may come to him, but with his abundant and merited dishonour. So come, what garb and appearance shall we give to the ambitious spirit? Or is it manifest that he shall be winged and buoyant in keeping with his character and ambition, floating along with the breezes like those sons of Boreas whom artists have conceived and painted, lightly poised on high and running in company with their father's breezes? But while they used to display a power of their own whenever they pleased, yet for a time they went voyaging with the other heroes on the Argo, serving as their shipmates and performing the regular tasks as much as anyone. But the spirit who presides over men who love glory is always aspiring and never touches the earth or anything lowly; no, he is high and lifted up as long as he enjoys a calm and clear sky or a gently blowing zephyr, feeling ever happier and happier and mounting to the very heavens, but often he is enwrapped in a dark cloud when accompanied by some unpopularity or censure from the many people whom he courts and honours and has appointed to the mastery over his own happiness.
“As to his safety, this spirit is not at all to be classed with either eagles or cranes or any other feathered species; nay, one might rather liken his flight to the violent and unnatural soaring of Icarus, whose father undertook to contrive a device that proved disastrous. So then the lad, moved by the conceit of youth and desiring to soar above the stars, was safe enough for a short time, but when the fastenings became loose and the wax ran, he gave his name from this circumstance to the sea where he fell to be seen no more. Just so with this spirit of ambition: When he also puts his faith in weak and truly airy wings — I mean at honours and plaudits bestowed at haphazard by the general crowd — he floats away on his perilous and unsteady voyage, taking with him the man, his admirer and henchman, who now appears to many to be high and blessed, but now again seems low and wretched, not only to others, but first and foremost to himself. But if there be anyone who does not care to conceive of and portray him as winged, let him liken him to Ixion, constrained to cruel and violent gyrations as he is rapidly whirled round and round on a wheel. Indeed, the comparison of the wheel with reputation would not be unfitting nor far inferior in truth to the clever and brilliant metaphors of the rhetoricians: by its shifting movement it very readily turns round, and in its revolutions forces the soul to assume all kinds of shapes, more truly than the potter's wheel affects the things that are being shaped upon it. Such a man, ever turning and revolving, a flatterer of peoples and crowds, whether in public assemblies or lecture halls, or in his so-called friendship with tyrants or kings and his courting of them — who would not feel pity for his character and manner of living? I am not speaking of the man, however, who, having managed his own life admirably, endeavours by the persuasion of speech combined with goodwill and a sense of justice to train and direct a great multitude of men and to lead them to better things.
“Let us, then, come to an end with this spirit, too, for I should prefer at the present time not to provide him with clothing and shape, and his other appurtenances, and thus add a great and endless throng of words. Put briefly, then, he could be characterized as contentious, foolish, and conceited, and a prey to vainglory, jealousy, and all such difficult and savage emotions. For it is quite inevitable that all these unsociable and savage and difficult feelings should accompany the honour-seeking type of soul, and it is natural that he should change his mind often and be inconsistent — inasmuch as he serves and courts so fickle a thing — alternating between joy and sorrow more often and continuously than hunters are said to do. For they say this is their especial and most continuous experience, when they sight the game and then lose it again. So it is with the ambitious: When good repute and praise come their way, their souls are magnified and swell and show a wondrous burgeoning, just like the shoot of the sacred olive that they tell of at Athens, which swelled and grew to full size in a single day. But, alas! they soon wither again and droop and die when censure and obloquy overtake them. And Delusion, the most convincing thing imaginable, besets this spirit also. For while the miser's delusion and the hedonist's were not able to promise them definitely a brilliant fruition, and did not open the door for their dupes to exalted and splendid destinies, but merely whispered and suggested to them the names of the blessings in prospect, it is otherwise with the Delusion of ambition. Fascinating her victim with her charms and spells, she tells him he is a lover of all that is good and leads him towards notoriety as to some virtue or fair renown. So I shall be tempted here again to make a second allusion to the same story of Ixion. 'Tis said that in his eagerness for the blissful union with Hera he embraced a dark and dismal cloud and became the parent of a useless and monstrous brood, the curious hybrid race of the centaurs. And in the same way he who has been disappointed in his love for true fame and has then dallied with a lust for notoriety has in reality been consorting with a cloud without knowing it instead of enjoying intercourse with the divine and august. And from such associations and unions nothing useful or serviceable can come, but only strange irrational creations that resemble the centaurs — I mean the political acts of certain demagogues and the treatises of the sophists; for both sophists and demagogues are purely mercenary leaders. But in saying this I distinguish the generals and educators and statesmen from those whom I have just mentioned, all of whom may well be assigned to that spirit of ambition and be counted in its faction and following.
“And now I have described those who are under the sway of each of the spirits named; but very often two or all of them get hold of the same individual, make conflicting demands upon him, and threaten that, if he does not obey, they will inflict severe penalties upon him. The pleasure-loving spirit bids him to spend money on pleasures and to spare neither gold nor silver nor anything else he has, while the avaricious and parsimonious spirit objects, and checks him and threatens that it will destroy him with hunger, thirst, and utter beggary and want, so surely as he heeds the other. Again, the spirit that loves distinction counsels and encourages him to sacrifice all that he has for the sake of honour, but the other spirit opposes and blocks this one. And indeed, the lover of pleasure and the lover of fame can never be in accord or say the same thing; for the one despises fame, thinks it nonsense, and often cites the lines of Sardanapallus:
'What I have eaten and wantoned, the joys I have had of my amours, These alone have I now. The rest of my blessings have vanished.'
And especially does this spirit ever keep death before his eyes, warning him that when dead he will be able to enjoy no pleasures any longer. But the spirit that courts fame leads, yea, drags him away from pleasure by keeping him in mind of the censure and reproach that will be his. Not knowing, therefore, what to do or whither to turn and hide himself, he often runs away into the darkness and under its cover tries to please and serve the second spirit, but the other finds him out and drags him into the open, and his soul, thus torn and distracted and ever in battle and ceaseless strife with itself, cannot but end its course in utter misery. For just as a complication of maladies, that often seem to conflict with one another, make the cure difficult and well-nigh hopeless, so, in my opinion, must the situation be when different affections of the soul are mingled and entwined into one.
“But come, let us attain a pure harmony, better than that which we enjoyed before, and extol the good and wise guardian spirit or god — us who the kindly Fates decreed should receive Him when we should have gained a sound education and reason.”
Source: Discourses by Dio Chrysostom published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1932. The text is in the public domain.