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Diogenes of Sinope | Epictetus, Discourses 4.1

Why, what ails you in your cage?

'What a question! I am born to fly where I will, to live in the air, to sing when I will; you take all this away, from me, and say, “What ails you?”'

Therefore we will call only those creatures free, that do not endure captivity, but escape by death as soon as they are caught. So too Diogenes says somewhere, 'A quiet death is the one sure means of freedom', and he writes to the Persian king, 'You cannot enslave the city of the Athenians any more than you can enslave fishes.'

Source: The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, [1916]

This is what you ought to practise from sunrise to sunset, beginning with the meanest things and those most subject to injury—a jug or a cup. From this go on to a tunic, a dog, a horse, a field; and from that to yourself, your body and its members, your children, your wife, your brothers. Look carefully on all sides and fling them away from you. Purify your judgements, and see that nothing that is not your own is attached to you or clings to you, that nothing shall give you pain if it is torn from you. And as you train yourself day by day, as in the lecture-room, say not that you are a philosopher (I grant you that would be arrogant)., but that you are providing for your enfranchisement; for this is freedom indeed. This was the freedom which Diogenes won from Antisthenes, and said that no one could enslave him any more. That explains his bearing as a captive, and his behaviour to the pirates: did he call any of them master? I do not mean the mere name (I have no fear of that), but the state of mind, of which it is the expression. Think how he rebukes them for feeding their prisoners badly. Think how he was sold: did he look for a master? No, for a slave. 4-4 And when he was sold, think how he bore himself towards his master: he began talking to him at once, telling him that he ought not to dress as he did, or shave as he did, and what life his sons ought to lead. What wonder in that? For if he had bought a slave skilled in gymnastic would he have used him as a servant in the palaestra or as a master? As a master; and in the same way if he had bought a man skilled in medicine or in architecture. And on this principle the man with skill is bound in every subject to be superior to the man without skill. Whoever then possesses knowledge of life in general must be master. For who is master on shipboard?

'The helmsman.'

Source: The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, [1916]

'Are you then free?' says one.

By the gods, I wish to be and pray to be, but I cannot yet look in the face of my masters, I still set store by my poor body, I count it of great moment to keep it sound, yes though I have not a sound body to begin with. But I can show you one who is free, that you may not have to look for your example. Diogenes was free. How came he by this? Not because he was of free parents (he was not), but because he was free himself, had cast away all the weakness that might give slavery a hold on him, and so no one could approach or lay hold on him to enslave him. Everything he had he was ready to let go, it was loosely attached to him. If you had laid hold on his property, he would have let it go rather than have followed you for it; if you seized his leg, he would have let that go; if his whole poor body, he would have let his whole body go; and the same with kinsfolk, friends, and country. For he knew whence he had them and from whom, and on what conditions he received them. His true ancestors, the gods, and his true Country he would never have deserted, nor have suffered another to yield them more obedience or attention, nor would another have died for his Country more cheerfully. For he never sought to get the reputation of acting for the universe, but he remembered that everything that comes to pass has its source there and is done for that true Country's sake and is entrusted to us by Him that governs it. Wherefore look what he says and writes himself: 'Therefore, Diogenes,' he says, 'you have power to converse as you will with the king of the Persians and with Archidamus, king of the Lacedaemonians.' Was it because he was the son of free parents? When all the men of Athens and Lacedaemon and Corinth were unable to converse with them as they wished, and feared and flattered them instead, was it because they were sons of slaves? 'Why have I the power to do it then?' he says. 'Because I count my poor body not my own, because I need nothing, because law and nothing else is all in all to me.' These were the things which left him free.

Source: The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, [1916]

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