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Diogenes of Sinope | Lucian, Dialogues of the Dead excerpts


Diogenes. Pollux

Diog . Pollux, I have a commission for you; next time you go up - and I think it is your turn for earth tomorrow - if you come across Menippus the Cynic - you will find him about the Craneum at Corinth, or in the Lyceum, laughing at the philosophers' disputes - well, give him this message:- Menippus, Diogenes advises you, if mortal subjects for laughter begin to pall, to come down below, and find much richer material; where you are now, there is always a dash of uncertainty in it; the question will always intrude - who can be quite sure about the hereafter? Here, you can have your laugh out in security, like me; it is the best of sport to see millionaires, governors, despots, now mean and insignificant; you can only tell them by their lamentations, and the spiritless despondency which is the legacy of better days. Tell him this, and mention that he had better stuff his wallet with plenty of lupines, and any unconsidered trifles he can snap up in the way of pauper doles [Footnote: In the Greek, 'a Hecate's repast lying at a street corner.' 'Rich men used to make offerings to Hecate on the 30th of every month as Goddess of roads at street corners; and these offerings were at once pounced upon by the poor, or, as here, the Cynics.' Jacobitz .] or lustral eggs. [Footnote: 'Eggs were often used as purificatory offerings and set out in front of the house purified.' Id .]

Pol . I will tell him, Diogenes. But give me some idea of his appearance.

Diog . Old, bald, with a cloak that allows him plenty of light and ventilation, and is patched all colours of the rainbow; always laughing, and usually gibing at pretentious philosophers.

Pol . Ah, I cannot mistake him now.

Diog . May I give you another message to those same philosophers?

Pol . Oh, I don't mind; go on.

Diog . Charge them generally to give up playing the fool, quarrelling over metaphysics, tricking each other with horn and crocodile puzzles [Footnote: See Puzzles in Notes.] and teaching people to waste wit on such absurdities.

Pol . Oh, but if I say anything against their wisdom, they will call me an ignorant blockhead.

Diog . Then tell them from me to go to the devil.

Pol . Very well; rely upon me.

Diog . And then, my most obliging of Polluxes, there is this for the rich:- O vain fools, why hoard gold? why all these pains over interest sums and the adding of hundred to hundred, when you must shortly come to us with nothing beyond the dead-penny?

Pol . They shall have their message too.

Diog . Ah, and a word to the handsome and strong; Megillus of Corinth, and Damoxenus the wrestler will do. Inform them that auburn locks, eyes bright or black, rosy cheeks, are as little in fashion here as tense muscles or mighty shoulders; man and man are as like as two peas, tell them, when it comes to bare skull and no beauty.

Pol . That is to the handsome and strong; yes, I can manage that.

Diog . Yes, my Spartan, and here is for the poor. There are a great many of them, very sorry for themselves and resentful of their helplessness. Tell them to dry their tears and cease their cries; explain to them that here one man is as good as another, and they will find those who were rich on earth no better than themselves. As for your Spartans, you will not mind scolding them, from me, upon their present degeneracy?

Pol . No, no, Diogenes; leave Sparta alone; that is going too far; your other commissions I will execute.

Diog . Oh, well, let them off, if you care about it; but tell all the others what I said.


Crates. Diogenes

Cra . Did you know Moerichus of Corinth, Diogenes? A shipowner, rolling in money, with a cousin called Aristeas, nearly as rich. He had a Homeric quotation:- Wilt thou heave me? shall I heave thee?

[Footnote: Homer, Il. xxiii. 724. When Ajax and Odysseus have wrestled for some time without either's producing any impression, and the spectators are getting tired of it, the former proposes a change in tactics. �Let us hoist - try you with me or I with you.� The idea evidently is that each in turn is to offer only a passive resistance, and let his adversary try to fling him thus.' Leaf .]

Diog . What was the point of it?

Cra . Why, the cousins were of equal age, expected to succeed to each other's wealth, and behaved accordingly. They published their wills, each naming the other sole heir in case of his own prior decease. So it stood in black and white, and they vied with each other in showing that deference which the relation demands. All the prophets, astrologers, and Chaldean dream-interpreters alike, and Apollo himself for that matter, held different views at different times about the winner; the thousands seemed to incline now to Aristeas's side, now to Moerichus's.

Diog . And how did it end? I am quite curious.

Cra . They both died on the same day, and the properties passed to Eunomius and Thrasycles, two relations who had never had a presentiment of it. They had been crossing from Sicyon to Cirrha, when they were taken aback by a squall from the north-west, and capsized in mid-channel.

Diog . Cleverly done. Now, when we were alive, we never had such designs on one another. I never prayed for Antisthenes's death, with a view to inheriting his staff - though it was an extremely serviceable one, which he had cut himself from a wild olive; and I do not credit you, Crates, with ever having had an eye to my succession; it included the tub, and a wallet with two pints of lupines in it.

Cra . Why, no; these things were superfluities to me - and to yourself, indeed. The real necessities you inherited from Antisthenes, and I from you; and in those necessities was more grandeur and majesty than in the Persian Empire.

Diog . You allude to –

Cra . Wisdom, independence, truth, frankness, freedom.

Diog . To be sure; now I think of it, I did inherit all this from Antisthenes, and left it to you with some addition.

Cra . Others, however, were not interested in such property; no one paid us the attentions of an expectant heir; they all lad their eyes on gold, instead.

Diog . Of course; they had no receptacle for such things as we could give; luxury had made them so leaky - as full of holes as a worn-out purse. Put wisdom, frankness, or truth into them, and it would have dropped out; the bottom of the bag would have let them through, like the perforated cask into which those poor Danaids are always pouring. Gold, on the other hand, they could grip with tooth or nail or somehow.

Cra . Result: our wealth will still be ours down here; while they will arrive with no more than one penny, and even that must be left with the ferryman.


Diogenes. Alexander

Diog . Dear me, Alexander, you dead like the rest of us?

Alex . As you see, sir; is there anything extraordinary in a mortal's dying?

Diog . So Ammon lied when he said you were his son; you were Philip's after all.

Alex . Apparently; if I had been Ammon's, I should not have died.

Diog . Strange! there were tales of the same order about Olympias too. A serpent visited her, and was seen in her bed; we were given to understand that that was how you came into the world, and Philip made a mistake when he took you for his.

Alex . Yes, I was told all that myself; however, I know now that my mother's and the Ammon stories were all moonshine.

Diog . Their lies were of some practical value to you, though; your divinity brought a good many people to their knees. But now, whom did you leave your great empire to?

Alex . Diogenes, I cannot tell you. I had no time to leave any directions about it, beyond just giving Perdiccas my ring as I died. Why are you laughing?

Diog . Oh, I was only thinking of the Greeks' behaviour; directly you succeeded, how they flattered you! their elected patron, generalissimo against the barbarian; one of the twelve Gods according to some; temples built and sacrifices offered to the Serpent's son! If I may ask, where did your Macedonians bury you?

Alex . I have lain in Babylon a full month today; and Ptolemy of the Guards is pledged, as soon as he can get a moment's respite from present disturbances, to take and bury me in Egypt, there to be reckoned among the Gods.

Diog . I have some reason to laugh, you see; still nursing vain hopes of developing into an Osiris or Anubis! Pray, your Godhead, put these expectations from you; none may re-ascend who has once sailed the lake and penetrated our entrance; Aeacus is watchful, and Cerberus an awkward customer. But there is one thing I wish you would tell me: how do you like thinking over all the earthly bliss you left to come here - your guards and armour-bearers and lieutenant-governors, your heaps of gold and adoring peoples, Babylon and Bactria, your huge elephants, your honour and glory, those conspicuous drives with white-cinctured locks and clasped purple cloak? does the thought of them hurt ? What, crying? silly fellow! did not your wise Aristotle include in his instructions any hint of the insecurity of fortune's favours?

Alex . Wise? call him the craftiest of all flatterers. Allow me to know a little more than other people about Aristotle; his requests and his letters came to my address; I know how he profited by my passion for culture; how he would toady and compliment me, to be sure! now it was my beauty - that too is included under The Good; now it was my deeds and my money; for money too he called a Good - he meant that he was not going to be ashamed of taking it. Ah, Diogenes, an impostor; and a past master at it too. For me, the result of his wisdom is that I am distressed for the things you catalogued just now, as if I had lost in them the chief Goods.

Diog . Wouldst know thy course? I will prescribe for your distress. Our flora, unfortunately, does not include hellebore; but you take plenty of Lethe-water - good, deep, repeated draughts; that will relieve your distress over the Aristotelian Goods. Quick; here are Clitus, Callisthenes, and a lot of others making for you; they mean to tear you in pieces and pay you out. Here, go the opposite way; and remember, repeated draughts.



Diogenes. Heracles

Diog . Surely this is Heracles I see? By his godhead, 'tis no other! The bow, the club, the lion's-skin, the giant frame; 'tis Heracles complete. Yet how should this be?- a son of Zeus, and mortal? I say, Mighty Conqueror, are you dead? I used to sacrifice to you in the other world; I understood you were a God!

Her . Thou didst well. Heracles is with the Gods in Heaven,

And hath white-ankled Hebe there to wife.

I am his phantom.

Diog . His phantom! What then, can one half of any one be a God, and the other half mortal?

Her . Even so. The God still lives. 'Tis I, his counterpart, am dead.

Diog . I see. You're a dummy; he palms you off upon Pluto, instead of coming himself. And here are you, enjoying his mortality!

Her . 'Tis somewhat as thou hast said.

Diog . Well, but where were Aeacus's keen eyes, that he let a counterfeit Heracles pass under his very nose, and never knew the difference?

Her . I was made very like to him.

Diog . I believe you! Very like indeed, no difference at all! Why, we may find it's the other way round, that you are Heracles, and the phantom is in Heaven, married to Hebe!

Her . Prating knave, no more of thy gibes; else thou shalt presently learn how great a God calls me phantom.

Diog . H'm. That bow looks as if it meant business. And yet,- what have I to fear now? A man can die but once. Tell me, phantom,- by your great Substance I adjure you - did you serve him in your present capacity in the upper world? Perhaps you were one individual during your lives, the separation taking place only at your deaths, when he, the God, soared heavenwards, and you, the phantom, very properly made your appearance here?

Her . Thy ribald questions were best unanswered. Yet thus much thou shalt know.- All that was Amphitryon in Heracles, is dead; I am that mortal part. The Zeus in him lives, and is with the Gods in Heaven.

Diog . Ah, now I see! Alcmena had twins, you mean,- Heracles the son of Zeus, and Heracles the son of Amphitryon? You were really half-bothers all the time?

Her . Fool! not so. We twain were one Heracles.

Diog . It's a little difficult to grasp, the two Heracleses packed into one. I suppose you must have been like a sort of Centaur, man and God all mixed together?

Her . And are not all thus composed of two elements,- the body and the soul? What then should hinder the soul from being in Heaven, with Zeus who gave it, and the mortal part - myself - among the dead?

Diog . Yes, yes, my esteemed son of Amphitryon,- that would be all very well if you were a body; but you see you are a phantom, you have no body. At this rate we shall get three Heracleses.

Her . Three ?

Diog . Yes; look here. One in Heaven: one in Hades, that's you, the phantom: and lastly the body, which by this time has returned to dust. That makes three. Can you think of a good father for number Three?

Her . Impudent quibbler! And who art thou ?

Diog . I am Diogenes's phantom, late of Sinope. But my original, I assure you, is not 'among th' immortal Gods,' but here among dead men; where he enjoys the best of company, and snaps my ringers at Homer and all hair-splitting.



Diogenes. Mausolus

Diog . Why so proud, Carian? How are you better than the rest of us?

Man . Sinopean, to begin with, I was a king; king of all Caria, ruler of many Lydians, subduer of islands, conqueror of well-nigh the whole of Ionia, even to the borders of Miletus. Further, I was comely, and of noble stature, and a mighty warrior. Finally, a vast tomb lies over me in Halicarnassus, of such dimensions, of such exquisite beauty as no other shade can boast. Thereon are the perfect semblances of man and horse, carved in the fairest marble; scarcely may a temple be found to match it. These are the grounds of my pride: are they inadequate?

Diog . Kingship - beauty - heavy tomb; is that it?

Mau . It is as you say.

Diog . But, my handsome Mausolus, the power and the beauty are no longer there. If we were to appoint an umpire now on the question of comeliness, I see no reason why he should prefer your skull to mine. Both are bald, and bare of flesh; our teeth are equally in evidence; each of us has lost his eyes, and each is snub-nosed. Then as to the tomb and the costly marbles, I dare say such a fine erection gives the Halicarnassians something to brag about and show off to strangers: but I don't see, friend, that you are the better for it, unless it is that you claim to carry more weight than the rest of us, with all that marble on the top of you.

Mau . Then all is to go for nothing? Mausolus and Diogenes are to rank as equals?

Diog . Equals! My dear sir, no; I don't say that. While Mausolus is groaning over the memories of earth, and the felicity which he supposed to be his, Diogenes will be chuckling. While Mausolus boasts of the tomb raised to him by Artemisia, his wife and sister, Diogenes knows not whether he has a tomb or no - the question never having occurred to him; he knows only that his name is on the tongues of the wise, as one who lived the life of a man; a higher monument than yours, vile Carian slave, and set on firmer foundations.



Diogenes. Antisthenes. Crates

Diog . Now, friends, we have plenty of time; what say you to a stroll? we might go to the entrance and have a look at the new-comers - what they are and how they behave.

Ant . The very thing. It will be an amusing sight - some weeping, some imploring to be let go, some resisting; when Hermes collars them, they will stick their heels in and throw their weight back; and all to no purpose.

Cra . Very well; and meanwhile, let me give you my experiences on the way down.

Diog . Yes, go on, Crates; I dare say you saw some entertaining sights.

Cra . We were a large party, of which the most distinguished were Ismenodorus, a rich townsman of ours, Arsaces, ruler of Media, and Oroetes the Armenian. Ismenodorus had been murdered by robbers going to Eleusis over Cithaeron, I believe. He was moaning, nursing his wound, apostrophizing the young children he had left, and cursing his foolhardiness. He knew Cithaeron and the Eleutherae district were all devastated by the wars, and yet he must take only two servants with him - with five bowls and four cups of solid gold in his baggage, too. Arsaces was an old man of rather imposing aspect; he expressed his feelings in true barbaric fashion, was exceedingly angry at being expected to walk, and kept calling for his horse. In point of fact it had died with him, it and he having been simultaneously transfixed by a Thracian pikeman in the fight with the Cappadocians on the Araxes. Arsaces described to us how he had charged far in advance of his men, and the Thracian, standing his ground and sheltering himself with his buckler, warded off the lance, and then, planting his pike, transfixed man and horse together.

Ant . How could it possibly be done simultaneously?

Cra . Oh, quite simple. The Median was charging with his thirty-foot lance in front of him; the Thracian knocked it aside with his buckler; the point glanced by; then he knelt, received the charge on his pike, pierced the horse's chest - the spirited beast impaling itself by its own impetus -, and finally ran Arsaces through groin and buttock. You see what happened; it was the horse's doing rather than the man's. However, Arsaces did not at all appreciate equality, and wanted to come down on horseback. As for Oroetes, he was so tender-footed that he could not stand, far less walk. That is the way with all the Medes - once they are off their horses, they go delicately on tiptoe as if they were treading on thorns. He threw himself down, and there he lay; nothing would induce him to get up; so the excellent Hermes had to pick him up and carry him to the ferry; how I laughed!

Ant . When I came down, I did not keep with the crowd; I left them to their blubberings, ran on to the ferry, and secured a comfortable seat for the passage. Then as we crossed, they were divided between tears and sea-sickness, and gave me a merry time of it.

Diog . You two have described your fellow passengers; now for mine. There came down with me Blepsias, the Pisatan usurer, Lampis, an Acarnanian freelance, and the Corinthian millionaire Damis. The last had been poisoned by his son, Lampis had cut his throat for love of the courtesan Myrtium, and the wretched Blepsias is supposed to have died of starvation; his awful pallor and extreme emaciation looked like it. I inquired into the manner of their deaths, though I knew very well. When Damis exclaimed upon his son, 'You only have your deserts,' I remarked,-'an old man of ninety living in luxury yourself with your million of money, and fobbing off your eighteen-year son with a few pence! As for you, sir Acarnanian'- he was groaning and cursing Myrtium -, 'why put the blame on Love? it belongs to yourself; you were never afraid of an enemy - took all sorts of risks in other people's service - and then let yourself be caught, my hero, by the artificial tears and sighs of the first wench you came across.' Blepsias uttered his own condemnation, without giving me time to do it for him: he had hoarded his money for heirs who were nothing to him, and been fool enough to reckon on immortality. I assure you it was no common satisfaction I derived from their whinings.

But here we are at the gate; we must keep our eyes open, and get the earliest view. Lord, lord, what a mixed crowd! and all in tears except these babes and sucklings. Why, the hoary seniors are all lamentation too; strange! has madam Life given them a love-potion? I must interrogate this most reverend senior of them all.- Sir, why weep, seeing that you have died full of years? has your excellency any complaint to make, after so long a term? Ah, but you were doubtless a king.

Pauper . Not so.

Diog . A provincial governor, then?

Pauper . No, nor that.

Diog . I see; you were wealthy, and do not like leaving your boundless luxury to die.

Pauper . You are quite mistaken; I was near ninety, made a miserable livelihood out of my line and rod, was excessively poor, childless, a cripple, and had nearly lost my sight.

Diog . And you still wished to live?

Pauper . Ay, sweet is the light, and dread is death; would that one might escape it!

Diog . You are beside yourself, old man; you are like a child kicking at the pricks, you contemporary of the ferryman. Well, we need wonder no more at youth, when age is still in love with life; one would have thought it should court death as the cure for its proper ills.- And now let us go our way, before our loitering here brings suspicion on us: they may think we are planning an escape.


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