When Diogenes of Sinope was exiled from that place, he came to Greece and used to divide his time between Corinth and Athens. And he said he was following the practice of the Persian king. For that monarch spent the winters in Babylon and Susa, or occasionally in Bactra, which are the warmest parts of Asia, and the summers in Median Ecbatana, where the air is always very cool and the summer is like the winter in the region of Babylon. So he too, he said, changed his residence according to the seasons of year. For Attica had no high mountains, nor rivers running through it as had the Peloponnese and Thessaly; its soil was thin and the air so dry that rain rarely fell, and what did fall was not retained. Besides, it was almost entirely surrounded by the sea; from which fact indeed it got its name, since Attica is a sort of beach-land. The city, moreover, was low-lying and faced to the south, as shown by the fact that those sailing from Sunium could not enter the Peiraeus except with a south wind. Naturally, therefore, the winters were mild. In Corinth, on the other hand, the summer was breezy, since currents of air always met there on account of the bays that dented the shore. The Acrocorinthus, too, overshadows it, and the city itself rather inclines toward the Lechaeum and the north. Diogenes thought that these cities were far more beautiful than Ecbatana and Babylon, and that the Craneion, and the Athenian acropolis with the Propylaea were far more beautiful structures than those abodes of royalty, yielding to them only in size. And yet the circumference of Athens was two hundred stades, now that the Peiraeus and the connecting walls had been added to the compass of the city — for this whole area was not inhabited in ancient times — so that Athens was one-half as large as Babylon, if we could take as true what was said of things there. Moreover, in respect to the beauty of the harbours, and, further, to the statues, paintings, the works in gold, silver, and bronze, in respect to the coinage, the furnishings, the splendour of the houses, he thought that Athens was far superior; only he, for his part, did not care much about such things.
Besides, the king had a very long distance to travel in changing residences; he had to spend pretty much the larger part of the winter and summer on the road. He himself, on the other hand, by spending the night near Megara, could very easily be in Athens on the following day — or else, if he preferred, at Eleusis; otherwise, he could take a shorter way through Salamis, without passing through any deserts. So he had an advantage over the king and enjoyed greater luxury, since his housing arrangements were better. This is what he was wont to say jestingly, and yet he meant to bring to the attention of those who admired the wealth of the Persian and his reputed happiness that there was nothing in his actual life such as they imagined. For some things were of no use at all and other things were within the reach of even the very poor.
In fact, Diogenes was not neglectful of his body as certain foolish people thought; but when they saw him often shivering and living in the open and going thirsty, they imagined that he was careless of his health and life, whereas this rigorous regime gave him better health than fell to the lot of those who were ever gorging themselves, better than fell to the lot of those who stayed indoors and never experienced either cold or heat. And he got more pleasure, too, out of sunning himself and more pleasure in eating his food than they did. But the seasons were by far his greatest delight. On the one hand, he rejoiced as the summer approached and was already dissolving the cold air; and on the other, he felt no regret as it drew to its close, since this brought him relief from its excessive heat; and by keeping pace with the seasons and growing accustomed to them gradually, he met either extreme without discomfort. He rarely made use of heat, shade, or shelter in anticipation of the proper seasons for them, nor did he do as others do, who, because they may light a fire any time and are well supplied with clothes and own houses, run away at once from the open air at the least sensation of cold, thus enfeebling their bodies and making them incapable of enduring the winter's cold, or, on the other hand, because it is possible for them to enjoy abundant shade in the summer-time and drink all the wine they wish, on that account never expose themselves to the sun, never experience a natural thirst, keep to the house just as much as women do, are inactive and sluggish of body, and have their souls steeped in a drunken stupor. This is why they devise for themselves both unwholesome menus and baths to counteract the bad effects of these, and within the same twenty-four hours they often want both a breeze and heavy clothing; they want ice and fire at one and the same time, and — what is most absurd of all — they long for both hunger and thirst. And though they are incontinent, they find no delight in love because they do not wait till they desire it naturally; consequently the pleasures they seek are devoid of satisfaction and are joyless.
Diogenes, however, always waited until he was hungry or thirsty before he partook of nourishment, and he thought that hunger was the most satisfactory and pungent of appetizers. And so he used to partake of a barley cake with greater pleasure than others did of the costliest of foods, and enjoyed a drink from a stream of running water more than others did their Thasian wine. He scorned those who would pass by a spring when thirsty and move heaven and earth to find where they could buy Chian or Lesbian wine; and he used to say that such persons were far sillier than cattle, since these creatures never pass by a spring or a clear brook when thirsty or, when hungry, disdain the tenderest leaves or grass enough to nourish them. He also said that the most beautiful and healthful houses were open to him in every city: to wit, the temples and the gymnasia. And one garment was all he needed for both summer and winter, for he endured the cold weather easily because he had become used to it. He never protected his feet, either, because they were no more sensitive, he claimed, than his eyes and face. For these parts, though by nature most delicate, endured the cold very well on account of their constant exposure; for men could not possibly walk after binding their eyes as they did their feet. He used to say, too, that rich men were like new-born babes; both were in constant need of swaddling-clothes. That for which men gave themselves the most trouble and spent the most money, which caused the razing of many cities and the pitiful destruction of many nations — this he found the least laborious and most inexpensive of all things to procure. For he did not have to go anywhere for his sexual gratification but, as he humorously put it, he found Aphrodite everywhere, without expense; land the poets libelled the goddess, he maintained, on account of their own want of self-control, when they called her “the all-golden.” And since many doubted this boast, he gave a public demonstration before the eyes of all, saying that if men were like himself, Troy would never have been taken, nor Priam, king of the Phrygians and a descendant of Zeus, been slain at the altar of Zeus. But the Achaeans had been such fools as to believe that even dead men found women indispensable and so slew Polyxena at the tomb of Achilles. Fish showed themselves more sensible than men almost; for whenever they needed to eject their sperm, they went out of doors and rubbed themselves against something rough. He marvelled that while men were unwilling to pay out money to have a leg or arm or any other part of their body rubbed, that while not even the very rich would spend a single drachma for this purpose, yet on that one member they spent many talents time and again and some had even risked their lives in the bargain. In a joking way he would say that this sort of intercourse was a discovery made by Pan when he was in love with Echo and could not get hold of her, but roamed over the mountains night and day till Hermes in pity at his distress, since he was his son, taught him the trick. So Pan, when he had learned his lesson, was relieved of his great misery; and the shepherds learned the habit from him.
In such language he at times used to ridicule the victims of conceit and folly, though it was against the sophists, who wanted to be looked up to and thought they knew more than other men, that he railed in particular. He used to say that men, owing to their softness, lived more wretched lives than the beasts. For these took water for their drink and grass for their food, were most of them naked from one end of the year to the other, never entered a house nor made any use of fire, and yet they lived as long as nature had ordained for each, if no one destroyed them, and all alike remained strong and healthy, and had no need of doctors or of drugs. Men, however, who are so very fond of life and devise so many ways to postpone death, generally did not even reach old age, but lived infested by a host of maladies which it were no easy task even to name, and the earth did not supply them with drugs enough, but they required the knife and cautery as well. Nor were Cheiron and Asclepius' sons, with all their healing power, nor prophetic seers nor priestly exorcists of any use to them at all because of their excesses and wickedness. Men crowded into the cities to escape wrong from those outside, only to wrong one another and commit all sorts of the most dreadful misdeeds as though that had been the object of their coming together. And the reason, in his opinion, why the myth says that Zeus punished Prometheus for his discovery and bestowal of fire was that therein lay the origin and beginning of man's softness and love of luxury; for Zeus surely did not hate men or grudge them any good thing.
When some people urged that it is impossible for man to live like the animals owing to the tenderness of his flesh and because he is naked and unprotected either by hair, as the majority of beasts are, or by feathers and has no covering of tough skin, he would say in reply that men are so very tender because of their mode of life, since, as a rule, they avoid the sun and also avoid the cold. It is not the nakedness of the body that causes the trouble. He would then call attention to the frogs and numerous other animals much more delicate than man and much less protected, and yet some of them not only withstand the cold air but are even able to live in the coldest water during the winter. He also pointed out that the eyes and the face of man himself have no need of protection. And, in general, no creature is born in any region that cannot live in it. Else how could the first human beings to be born have survived, there being no fire, or houses, or clothing, or any other food than that which grew wild? Nay, man's ingenuity and his discovering and contriving so many helps to life had not been altogether advantageous to later generations, since men do not employ their cleverness to promote courage or justice, but to procure pleasure. And so, as they pursue the agreeable at any cost, their life becomes constantly less agreeable and more burdensome; and while they appear to be attending to their own needs, they perish most miserably, just because of excessive care and attention. And for these reasons Prometheus was justly said to have been bound to the rock and to have had his liver plucked by the eagle.
Things, therefore, that were costly or demanded constant attention and worry he rejected and showed to be injurious to those who used them; but whatever could readily and without effort help the body to withstand the winter's cold or hunger or to satisfy some other appetite of the body, he would never forgo; nay, he would choose localities that were healthful in preference to the unhealthy, and those that were adapted to the different seasons, and he took care to have a sufficient supply of food and moderate clothing, but from public affairs, lawsuits, rivalries, wars, and factions he kept himself clear. He tried especially to imitate the life of the gods, for they alone, as Homer asserts, live at ease, implying that the life of man is full of labour and hardship. Even the lower animals, he claimed, understand this sort of thing clearly. The storks, for example, leave the heat of the summer and migrate to a temperate climate, and after spending as long a time there as is most congenial to them, depart in flocks, retreating before the winter; while cranes, which stand the winter fairly well, come at seeding time and for the food they pick up. Deer and hares come down from the mountains into the plains and valleys in the cold weather and find shelter there in comfortable nooks away from the wind, but in the hot season withdraw into the woods and the most northerly regions. When, therefore, he observed how other men were harassed throughout their whole lives, ever plotting against one another, ever encompassed by a thousand ills and never able to enjoy a moment's rest, nay, not even during the great festivals nor when they proclaimed a truce; and when he beheld that they did or suffered all this simply in order to keep themselves alive, and that their greatest fear was lest their so‑called necessities should fail them, and how, furthermore, they planned and strove to leave great riches to their children, he marvelled that he too did not do the like, but was the only independent man in the world, and that nobody else had any comprehension of his own highest happiness.
For these reasons he refused to compare himself any farther with the king of the Persians, since there was a great difference between them. In fact, the king was, he said, the most miserable man alive, fearing poverty in spite of all his gold, fearing sickness and yet unable to keep away from the things that cause it, in great dread of death and imagining that everybody was plotting against him, even his own sons and his brothers. So the despot could neither eat with pleasure, though the most tempting dishes were placed before him, nor drown his troubles in wine. Not a day did he pass “at ease” in which he looked about without suffering torments. When sober, he longed for intoxication in the belief that he would then have relief from his misfortunes, and when drunk, he imagined himself to be ruined just because he was unable to help himself. And further, when awake, he prayed for sleep that he might forget his fears, but when asleep he would immediately leap up, imagining that his very dreams were killing him; and neither the golden plane-tree, nor the mansions of Semiramis, nor the walls of Babylon were of any help to him. The most absurd thing of all, however, was that, though he feared unarmed persons, yet he entrusted himself to his armed guards, that though he searched those who approached him to see if any had a weapon, yet he lived surrounded by men who carried weapons. He was forever fleeing from the unarmed to the armed and from the armed to the unarmed; from the people he protected himself by means of his bodyguard and from his bodyguard by means of his eunuchs. He had no one that he could trust, nor refuge to which he could turn so that he might live a single day without fear. He suspected everything he ate or drank, and had men to sample things for him like so many scouts on a road beset by the enemy. Nay, he could not place confidence in his nearest and dearest, whether children or wife. Yet, difficult and grievous as the position of monarch was, he never wanted to get rid of it, nor could be.
“Still, all human ills admit of this one consolation,” continued Diogenes — “they may possibly come to an end. The prisoner in chains expects some time to be set free; it is not impossible for the exile to return to his home; and he who is sick can hope until the end comes for recovery. But the tyrant may not escape his condition; no, he cannot even so much as pray except it be for something else. Anyone who has suffered the loss of a friend by death believes in his heart that time will eventually heal his grief; but tyrants, on the contrary, find their troubles growing worse and worse; since it is not easy for a tyrant to reach old age, and a tyrant's old age is grievous, unlike that of the horse in the proverb. For his victims as well as those who despise him have multiplied, and he, owing to his own infirmities, cannot defend himself.
“Now all calamities are naturally more alarming in anticipation than they are grievous in experience, as is true of hunger, exile, imprisonment, or loss of civil rights; but if the fear of death were removed, then no further distress remains. For death in itself is so far from troubling those who have experienced it, that they have no further grief at all. Fear of it, however, is so intense that many have anticipated the event. People on a storm-tossed ship have not waited for it to go down but have taken their own lives first; others have done the same when surrounded by the enemy, although they well knew that nothing worse than death awaited them. This is the evil plight that despots are ever in, both by day and by night. For condemned criminals a stated day is set on which they must die, but tyrants are uncertain whether death will come soon or the hour has already struck. No moment, not even the most fleeting, is free from this dread, but whether eating or sacrificing to the gods the tyrant must live in this fear. And if ever it occurs to such a ruler to seek diversion, even in the enjoyments of love, no matter how intense the passion, his mind dwells on death, imagining that perhaps he will be slain by the very object of his love, and with this fear he must quaff his wine and with it must lay himself down to sleep. And so, in my opinion, the tyrant is happy only at the moment when he is struck down, since it is then that he is freed from his greatest evil.
“But the most absurd thing of all is this: Other men realize that their condition is hopeless and so do not suffer long when death is possible for them; but tyrants, though suffering from the greatest evils, imagine that they are surrounded by the greatest blessings, presumably because they are deceived by the opinions of others who have not had experience of ruling. God has inflicted tyrants with this ignorance that they may hold out under their punishment. Again, to the prosperous life seems more worth living and death correspondingly more bitter, while those in adversity seem to find life harder to endure and to welcome death more gladly. But for tyrants both are harder than for others, since in life they have far less happiness than those who eagerly long to die, and yet they fear death as if they were getting the greatest enjoyment out of life. And if things pleasurable naturally afford greater delight when they are rare but become repulsive to those who have the continuous enjoyment of them, and if evils that never cease are naturally harder to bear; then we may almost say that both these — the pleasurable and the painful — are always with the tyrant in such a way that he rarely finds relief from pain and is never conscious of pleasure. Besides, he continually dreads the power of the rich and the craving of the poor for riches. Again, despots are the only persons who receive no thanks for the favours they bestow; since people never think they get enough, while those who fail to get what they want hate them above all others.
“The most disliked man, too, is he who has acquired great wealth unjustly; hence no man is more disliked than a tyrant. And furthermore, he is obliged to show favours to those about him, otherwise he will perish most speedily. But it is not easy to give to many repeatedly without taking from others. Accordingly, the men whom he despoils are his enemies, while his beneficiaries eye him with suspicion and seek to be rid of him as soon as possible. What is far removed from him he fears because of its remoteness; what is near, because it is close to him; from those at a distance he looks for war, from those near at hand, treachery. Peace he considers undesirable because it leaves men idle, and war, because he is obliged to disturb his subjects by raising money and compelling them to take the field as well. So when there is a war, tyrants want peace; and when peace has been made, they at once scheme for war. When the people have all the comforts of life, they fear their insolence; when hard times come, they fear their wrath. They feel that it is safe neither to leave the country nor to stay the home, neither to appear in public nor to live in seclusion, nay, not even to set foot where they may do so in safety, and that plotting and treachery menace them on every side. Every one of them calls to mind the deaths of tyrants and all the conspiracies that have ever been formed against them; he imagines that they are all coming his way, and is terror-stricken as if he were doomed to all those deaths; and he is always wanting to look on every side and to turn around, as though he might be struck from any quarter; but this is the very thing he may not do from shame and fear at once. For the more apparent the tyrant's fear, the more do men conspire against him through scorn of his cowardice. He lives, therefore, like one shut up in a narrow cell with swords hanging over his head and others, just touching the skin, fixed all about him. So closely indeed about the tyrant's soul as well as his body are the swords set that Tantalus in Hades has a far easier time of it, Tantalus, who is said 'to dread the rock that sways above his head.'
Tantalus at least has no further dread of death, while the tyrant suffers in life that fate which men ascribe to Tantalus in the other world.
“Now for those who have made themselves tyrants of but a single city or a small country it is not impossible to flee from their realm and live in seclusion elsewhere — yet no one has any fondness for a tyrant, but only hatred and suspicion, and everyone is ready to surrender him to his victims — those, however, who rule over many cities and peoples and over a boundless territory, as the Persian king does, cannot escape, even though they come to comprehend their evil plight and some god remove their ignorance from them. It seems, then, that the tyrant's life would never be safe, not even if he were to become bronze or iron, but that even then he would be destroyed by being broken to pieces or melted down.
“If you talk with him boldly, he is angered and fears your frankness; if you converse with him meekly and deferentially, he suspects your meekness. He feels that he is being insulted by those who treat him as an equal and deceived by those who are more obsequious. Censure, too, stings him far more than it does others because he, a sovereign, is spoken ill of; nor is he pleased with praise either, for he does not think that the speaker is sincere in his praise. Then, of the fairest and most useful of all treasures he has the greatest lack; for friendship and good-will he can expect from no one; nay, keepers of savage lions will love these brutes sooner than they who court and approach tyrants will love them.
“I, however,” says Diogenes, “go by night whithersoever I will and travel by day unattended, and I am not afraid to go even through an army if need be, without the herald's staff, yea, and amid brigands; for I have no enemy, public or private, to block my way. If all the gold, all the silver, and all the copper should give out, that would not injure me in the least. And if an earthquake lays all the houses low as happened once in Sparta, and all the sheep are killed so that not a single man has wherewithal to clothe himself, and want overwhelms not only Attica but Boeotia as well and the Peloponnesus and Thessaly, as it is said to have done aforetime, I shall fare none the worse nor be the more destitute. For how much more naked shall I be than I am now, how much more homeless? I shall find all the food I need in apples, millet, barley, vetches, the cheapest of lentils, acorns roasted in the ashes, and cornel-berries, on which Homer says Circe feasted Odysseus' comrades and on which even the largest animals can subsist.”
Source: Discourses by Dio Chrysostom published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1932. The text is in the public domain.