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Diogenes of Sinope | Dio Chrysostom, Oration 8

When Diogenes was exiled from his native Sinope, he came to Athens, looking like the veriest beggar; and there he found a goodly number still of Socrates' companions: to wit, Plato, Aristippus, Aeschylus, Antisthenes, and Eucleides of Megara; but Xenophon was in exile on account of his campaign with Cyrus. Now it was not long before he despised them all save Antisthenes, whom he cultivated, not so much from approval of the man himself as of the words he spoke, which he felt to be alone true and best adapted to whether mankind. For when he contrasted the man Antisthenes with his words, he sometimes made this criticism, that the man himself was much weaker; and so in reproach he would call him a trumpet because he could not hear his own self, no matter how much noise he made. Antisthenes tolerated this banter of his since he greatly admired the man's character; and so, in requital for being called a trumpet, he used to say that Diogenes was like the wasps, the buzz of whose wings is slight but the sting very sharp. Therefore he took delight in the outspokenness of Diogenes, just as horsemen, when they get a horse that is high-strung and yet courageous and willing to work, do not object to the difficult temper of the animal, but dislike and have no use for the lazy and slow. Sometimes, therefore, he used to key Diogenes up, while at other times he tried to relax his tension, just as those who twist strings for musical instruments stretch the strings, taking care, however, not to break them.

After Antisthenes' death he moved to Corinth, since he considered none of the others worth associating with, and there he lived without renting a house or staying with a friend, but camping out in the Craneion. For he observed that large numbers gathered at Corinth on account of the harbours and the hetaerae, and because the city was situated as it were at the cross-roads of Greece. Accordingly, just as the good physician should go and offer his services where the sick are most numerous, so, said he, the man of wisdom should take up his abode where fools are thickest in order to convict them of their folly and reprove them.

6 So, when the time for the Isthmian games arrived, and everybody was at Isthmus, he went down also. For it was his custom at the great assemblies to make a study of the pursuits and ambitions of men, of their reasons for being abroad, and of the things on which they prided themselves. He gave his time also to any who wished to interview him, remarking that he was surprised by the fact that had he claimed to be a physician for the teeth, everybody would flock to him who needed to have a tooth pulled; yes, and by heavens, had he professed to treat the eyes, all who were suffering from sore eyes would present themselves, and similarly, if he had claimed to know of a medicine for diseases of the spleen or for gout or for running of the nose; but when he declared that all who should follow his treatment would be relieved of folly, wickedness, and intemperance, not a man would listen to him or seek to be cured by him, no matter how much richer he might become thereby, as though he were less inconvenienced by these spiritual complaints than by the other kind, or as though it were worse for a man to suffer from an enlarged spleen or a decayed tooth than from a soul that is foolish, ignorant, cowardly, rash, pleasure-loving, illiberal, irascible, unkind, and wicked, in fact utterly corrupt.

That was the time, too, when one could hear crowds of wretched sophists around Poseidon's temple shouting and reviling one another, and their disciples, as they were called, fighting with one another, many writers reading aloud their stupid works, many poets reciting their poems while others applauded them, many jugglers showing their tricks, many fortune-tellers interpreting fortunes, lawyers innumerable perverting judgment, and peddlers not a few peddling whatever they happened to have. Naturally a crowd straightway gathered about him too; no Corinthians, however, for they did not think it would be at all worth their while, since they were accustomed to see him every day in Corinth. The crowd that gathered was composed of strangers, and each of these, after speaking or listening for a short time, went his way, fearing his refutation of their views. Just for that reason, said Diogenes, he was like the Laconian dogs; there were plenty of men to pat them and play with them when they were shown at the popular gatherings, but no one was willing to buy any because he did not know how to deal with them.

And when a certain man asked whether he too came to see the contest, he said, “No, but to take part.” Then when the man laughed and asked him who his competitors were, 12 he said with that customary glance of his: “The toughest there are and the hardest to beat, men whom no Greek can look straight in the eye; not competitors, however, who sprint, or wrestle or jump, not those that box, throw the spear, and hurl the discus, but those that chasten a man.” “Who are they, pray?” asked the other. “Hardships,” he replied, “very severe and insuperable for gluttonous and folly-stricken men who feast the livelong day and snore at night, but which yield to thin, spare men, whose waists are more pinched in than those of wasps. Or do you think those pot-bellies are good for anything? — creatures whom sensible people ought to lead around, subject to the ceremony of purification, and then thrust beyond the borders, or, rather, kill, quarter, and use as food just as people do with the flesh of large fish, don't you know, boiling it in brine and melting out the fat, the way our people at home in Pontus do with the lard of pigs when they want to anoint themselves. For I think these men have less soul than hogs. But the noble man holds his hardships to be his greatest antagonists, and with them he is ever wont to battle day and night, not to win a sprig of parsley as so many goats might do, nor for a bit of wild olive, or of pine, but to win happiness and virtue throughout all the days of his life, and not merely when the Eleans make proclamation, or the Corinthians, or the Thessalian assembly. He is afraid of none of those opponents nor does he pray to draw another antagonist, but challenges them one after another, grappling with hunger and cold, withstanding thirst, and disclosing no weakness even though he must endure the lash or give his body to be cut or burned. Hunting, exile, loss of reputation, and the like have no terrors for him; nay, he holds them as mere trifles, and while in their very grip the perfect man is often as sportive as boys with their dice and their coloured balls.

“Of course,” he continued, “these antagonists do seem terrible and invincible to all cravens; but if you treat them with contempt and meet them boldly, you will find them cowardly and unable to master strong men, in this greatly resembling dogs, which pursue and bite people who run away from them, while some they seize and tear to pieces, but fear and slink away from men who face them and show fight, and in the end wag their tails when they come to know them. Most people, however, are in mortal terror of these antagonists, always avoiding them by flight and never looking them in the face. And indeed, just as skilful boxers, if they anticipate their opponents, are not hit at all, but often actually end by winning the bout themselves, but if, on the contrary, they give ground through fear, they receive the heaviest blow; in the same way, if we accept our hardships in a spirit of contempt for them and approach them cheerfully, they avail very little against us; but if we hang back and give way, they appear altogether greater and more severe. You can see that the same thing applies to fire also: if you attack it most vigorously, you put it out; but if with caution and fear, you get badly burned, just as children do when in sport they sometimes try to put out a fire with their tongues. The adversaries of this class are a good deal like the pancratiasts, who strike, choke, rend, and occasionally kill.

“But there is another battle more terrible and a struggle not slight but much greater than this and fraught with greater danger, I mean the fight against pleasure. Nor is it like that battle which Homer speaks of when he says, Fiercely then around the ships “The struggle was renewed. With halberds and with trenchant battle-axe. They fought, with mighty sword and two-edged spear”.

No, it is no such battle, for pleasure uses no open force but deceives and casts a spell with baneful drugs, just as Homer says Circe drugged the comrades of Odysseus, and some forthwith became swine, some wolves, and some other kinds of beasts. Yes, such is this thing pleasure, that hatches no single plot but all kinds of plots, and aims to undo men through sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, with food too, and drink and carnal lust, tempting the waking and the sleeping alike. For it is not possible to set guards and then lie down to sleep as in ordinary warfare, since it is just then of all times that she makes her attack, at one time weakening and enslaving the soul by means of sleep itself, at another, sending mischievous and insidious dreams that suggest her.

“Now work is carried on by means of touch for the most part and proceeds in that way, but pleasure assails a man through each and every sense that he has; and while he must face and grapple with work, to pleasure he must give the widest berth possible and have none but unavoidable dealings with her. And herein the strongest man is indeed strongest, one might almost say, who can keep the farthest away from pleasures; for it is impossible to dwell with pleasure or even to dally with her for any length of time without being completely enslaved. Hence when she gets the mastery and overpowers the soul by her charms, the rest of Circe's sorcery at once follows. With a stroke of her wand pleasure coolly drives her victim into a sort of sty and pens him up, and now from that time forth the man goes on living as a pig or a wolf. Pleasure also brings divers and deadly vipers into being, and other crawling things that attend constantly upon her as they lie about her doors, and though yearning for pleasure and serving her, they yet suffer a thousand hardships all in vain. For pleasure, after overpowering and taking possession of her victims, delivers them over to hardships, the most hateful and most difficult to endure.

“This is the contest which I steadfastly maintain, and in which I risk my life against pleasure and hardship, yet not a single wretched mortal gives heed to me, but only to the jumpers and runners and dancers. Neither, indeed, did men have eyes for struggles and labours of Heracles or have any interest in them, but perhaps even then they were admiring certain athletes such as Zetes, Calaïs, Peleus, and other like runners and wrestlers; and some they would admire for their beauty and others for their wealth, as, for example, Jason and Cinyras. About Pelops, too, the story ran that he had an ivory shoulder, as if there were any use in a man having a golden or ivory hand or eyes of diamond or malachite; but the kind of soul he had men did not notice. As for Heracles, they pitied him while he toiled and struggled and called him the most 'trouble-ridden,' or wretched, of men; indeed, this is why they gave the name 'troubles,' or tasks, to his labours and works, as though a laborious life were a trouble-ridden, or wretched life; but now that he is dead they honour him beyond all others, deify him, and say he has Hebe to wife, and all pray to him that they may not themselves be wretched — to him who in his labours suffered wretchedness exceedingly great.

“They have an idea, too, that Eurystheus had him in his power and ordered him about, Eurystheus, whom they considered a worthless fellow and to whom no one ever prayed or sacrificed. Heracles, however, roved over all Europe and Asia, though he did not look at all like any of these athletes; for where could he have penetrated, had he carried so much flesh or required so much meat or drink into such depths of sleep? No, he was as alert and lean like a lion, keen of eye and ear, recking naught of cold or heat, having no use for bed, shawl, or rug, clad in a dirty skin, with an air of hunger about him, as he succoured the good and punished the bad. And because Diomede, the Thracian, wore such fine raiment and sat upon a throne drinking the livelong day in high revel, and treated strangers unrighteously as well as his own subjects, and kept a large stable, Heracles smote him with his club and smashed him as if he had been an old jar. Then Geryones, who had ever so many cattle and was the richest of all western lords and the most arrogant, he also killed along with his brothers and drove his cattle away. And when he found Busiris very diligently training, eating the whole day long, and exceeding proud of his wrestling, Heracles burst him open like an over-filled bag by dashing him to the ground. He loosed the girdle of the Amazon, who tried to coquet with him and thought to win by means of her beauty. For he both consorted with her and made her understand that he could never be overcome by beauty and would never tarry far away from his own possessions for a woman's sake. And Prometheus, whom I take to have been a sort of sophist, he found being destroyed by popular opinion; for his liver swelled and grew whenever he was praised and shrivelled again when he was censured. So he took pity on him, frightened . . , and thus relieved him of his vanity and inordinate ambition; and straightway he disappeared after making him whole.

“Now in all those exploits he was not doing a favour to Eurystheus at all. And as to the golden apples that he got and brought back — I mean those of the Hesperides — he did give them to him, since he had no use for them himself, but told him to keep them and go hang; for he explained that apples of gold are of no use to a man, nor had the Hesperides, either, found them to be. Then, finally, when he was growing ever slower and weaker, from fear that he would not be able to live as before, and besides, I suppose, because he was attacked by some disease, he made the best provision that was humanly possible for himself, for he reared a pyre of the very driest wood in the courtyard and showed that he minded the fiery heat precious little. But before that, to avoid creating the opinion that he did only impressive and mighty deeds, he went and removed and cleaned away the dung in the Augean stables, that immense accumulation of many years. For he considered that he ought to fight stubbornly and war against opinion as much as against wild beasts and wicked men.”

While Diogenes thus spoke, many stood about and listened to his words with great pleasure. Then, possibly with this thought of Heracles in his mind, he ceased speaking and, squatting on the ground, performed an indecent act, whereat the crowd straightway scorned him and called him crazy, and again the sophists raised their din, like frogs in a pond when they do not see the water-snake.

Source: Discourses by Dio Chrysostom published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1932. The text is in the public domain.

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