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Diogenes of Sinope | Plutarch, Of the Tranquillity of the Mind

Diogenes, when he was exposed to sale in the market and was commanded to stand up, not only refused to do it, but ridiculed the auctioneer, with this piece of raillery: What! if you were selling a fish, would you bid it rise up? Socrates was a philosopher in the prison, and discoursed with his friends, though he was fettered. But Phaeton, when he climbed up into heaven, thought himself unhappy there, because nobody would give him his father’s chariot and the horses of the sun. As therefore the shoe is twisted to the shape of the foot and not in the opposite way, so do the affections of the mind render the life conformable to themselves. For it is not custom, as one observed, which makes even the best life pleasant to those who choose it, but it must be prudence in conjunction with it, which makes it not only the best for its kind, but sweetest in its enjoyment. The fountain therefore of tranquillity being in ourselves, let us cleanse it from all impurity and make its streams limpid, that all external accidents, by being made familiar, may be no longer grievous to us, since we shall know how to use them well.

  Let not these things thy least concern engage;
  For though thou fret, they will not mind thy rage.
  Him only good and happy we may call
  Who rightly useth what doth him befall.

Source: Plutarch’s Morals. Translated from the Greek by Several Hands. Corrected and Revised by William W. Goodwin, with an Introduction by Ralph Waldo Emerson. 5 Volumes. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1878).

This therefore let us learn and have inculcated upon us; like the man who threw a stone at a bitch, but hit his step-mother, on which he exclaimed, Not so bad. So we may often turn the direction of what Fortune obtrudes upon us contrary to our desires. Diogenes was driven into banishment, but it was “not so bad” for him; for of an exile he became a philosopher. Zeno of Citium, when he heard that the only ship he had left was sunk by an unmerciful tempest, with all the rich cargo that was in her, brake out into this exclamation: Fortune, I applaud thy contrivance, who by this means hast reduced me to a threadbare cloak and the piazza of the Stoics. What hinders then but that these examples should be the patterns of our imitation? Thou stoodst candidate for a place in the government, and wast baulked in thy hopes; consider that thou wilt live at ease in thy own country, following thy own affairs. Thou wast ambitious to be the confidant of some great person, and sufferedst a repulse; thou wilt gain thus much by it, that thou wilt be free from danger and disembarrassed from business. Again, hast thou managed any affairs full of intricacy and trouble? Hot water doth not so much cherish the soft members of the body, as Pindar* expresseth it, as glory and honor joined with power sweeten all our toils and make labor easy. Hast thou met with any unfortunate success? Hath calumny bit, or envy hissed at thee? There is yet a prosperous gale, which sits fair to convey thee to the port of the Muses and land thee at the Academy. This Plato did, after he made shipwreck of the friendship of Diogenes. And indeed it highly conduceth to the tran quillity of the mind, to look back upon illustrious men and see with what temper they have borne their calamities. For instance, doth it trouble thee that thou wantest children? Consider that kings of the Romans have died without them, — had kingdoms to leave, but no heirs. Doth poverty and low condition afflict thee? It is put to thy option, wouldst thou not rather of all the Boeotians be Epaminondas, and of all the Romans Fabricius? But thy bed is violated, and thy wife is an adulteress. Didst thou never read this inscription at Delphi? —

  Here am I set by Agis’ royal hand,
  Who both the earth and ocean did command.

And yet did the report never arrive thee that Alcibiades debauched this king’s wife, Timaea? — and that she herself whispered archly to her maids, that the child was not the genuine offspring of her husband, but a young Alcibiades? Yet this did not obstruct the glory of the man; for, notwithstanding his being a cuckold, he was the greatest and most famous among the Greeks. Nor did the dissolute manners of his daughter hinder Stilpo from enlivening his humor and being the jolliest philosopher of his time; for when Metrocles upbraided him with it, he asked him whether he was the offender or his mad girl. He answered, that it was her sin but his misfortune. To which Stilpo replied: But are not sins lapses? No doubt of it, saith Metrocles. And is not that properly called lapse, when we fall off from the attainment of those things we were in the pursuit of? He could not deny it. He pursued him further with this question: And are not these unlucky traverses misfortunes to them who are thus disappointed? Thus by a pleasant and philosophical reasoning he turned the discourse, and showed the Cynic that his calumny was idle and he barked in vain.

Source: Plutarch’s Morals. Translated from the Greek by Several Hands. Corrected and Revised by William W. Goodwin, with an Introduction by Ralph Waldo Emerson. 5 Volumes. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1878).

That saying of Diogenes extremely pleaseth me, who, seeing one sprucing himself up very neatly to go to a great entertainment, asked him whether every day was not a festival to a good man. And certainly, that which makes it the more splendid festival is sobriety. For the world is a spacious and beautiful temple; this a man is brought into as soon as he is born, where he is not to be a dull spectator of immovable and lifeless images made by human hands, but is to contemplate sublime things, which (as Plato tells us) the divine mind has exhibited to our senses as likenesses of things in the ideal world, having the principles of life and motion in themselves; such as are the sun, moon, and stars; rivers which are still supplied with fresh accessions of water; and the earth, which with a motherly indulgence suckles the plants and feeds her sensitive creatures. Now since life is the introduction and the most perfect initiation into these mysteries, it is but just that it should be full of cheerfulness and tranquillity. For we are not to imitate the little vulgar, who wait impatiently for the jolly days which are consecrated to Saturn, Bacchus, and Minerva, that they may be merry with hired laughter, and pay such a price to the mimic and stage-dancer for their diversions. At all these games and ceremonies we sit silent and composed; for no man laments when he is initiated in the rites, when he beholds the games of Apollo, or drinks in the Saturnalia. But when the Gods order the scenes at their own festivals, or initiate us into their own mysteries, the enjoyment becomes sordid to us; and we wear out our wretched lives in care, heaviness of spirit, and bitter complaints.

Source: Plutarch’s Morals. Translated from the Greek by Several Hands. Corrected and Revised by William W. Goodwin, with an Introduction by Ralph Waldo Emerson. 5 Volumes. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1878).

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