Then again, if any dispute arose or judgment were to be given upon any of Homer’s verses, either in the schools or at meals, this that follows he always preferred above the rest, —
Both a good king, and far renowned in war;*
believing that the praise which another by precedency of time had anticipated was to be a law also to himself, and saying that Homer in the same verse had extolled the fortitude of Agamemnon and prophesied of Alexander’s. Crossing therefore the Hellespont, he viewed the city of Troy, revolving in his mind the heroic acts of antiquity. At this time one of the chief citizens proffering to him Paris’s harp, if he pleased to accept it; I need it not, said he, for I have that with which Achilles pleased himself already,When he the mighty deeds of heroes sung, Whose fame so loudly o’er the world has rung;†
but as for Paris, his soft and effeminate harmony was devoted only to the pleasures of amorous courtship. Now it is part of a true philosopher’s soul to love wisdom and chiefly to admire wise men; and this was Alexander’s praise beyond all other princes. His high esteem for his master Aristotle we have already mentioned. No less honor did he give to Anaxarchus the musician, whom he favored as one of his choicest friends. To Pyrrhon the Elean, the first time he saw him, he gave a thousand crowns in gold. To Xenocrates, the companion of Plato, he sent an honorary present of fifty talents. Lastly, it is recorded by several that he made Onesicratus, the disciple of Diogenes the Cynic, chief of his pilots. But when he came to discourse with Diogenes himself at Corinth, he was struck in such a manner with wonder and astonishment at the course of life and sententious learning of the person, that frequently calling him to mind he was wont to say, Were I not Alexander, I would be Diogenes. That is, I would have devoted myself to the study of words, had I not been a philosopher in deeds. He did not say, Were I not a king, I would be Diogenes; nor, Were I not opulent, an Argeades. For he did not prefer fortune before wisdom, nor the purple robe or regal diadem before the beggar’s wallet and threadbare mantle; but he said, Were I not Alexander, I would be Diogenes. That is, —
“Had I not designed to intermix barbarians and Greeks and to civilize the earth as I marched forward, and had I not proposed to search the limits of sea and land, and so, extending Macedon to the land-bounding ocean, to have sown Greece in every region all along and to have diffused justice and peace over all nations, I would not have sat yawning upon the throne of slothful and voluptuous power, but would have labored to imitate the frugality of Diogenes. But now pardon us, Diogenes. We follow the example of Hercules, we emulate Perseus, and tread in the footsteps of Bacchus, our divine ancestor and founder of our race; once more we purpose to settle the victorious Greeks in India, and once more to put those savage mountaineers beyond Caucasus in mind of their ancient Bacchanalian revels. There, by report, live certain people professing a rigid and austere philosophy, and more frugal than Diogenes, as going altogether naked; pious men, governed by their own constitutions and devoted wholly to God. They have no occasion for scrip or wallet, for they never lay up provision, having always fresh and new gathered from the earth. The rivers afford them drink, and at night they rest upon the grass and the leaves that fall from the trees. By our means shall they know Diogenes, and Diogenes them. But it behooves us also, as it were, to make a new coin, and to stamp a new face of Grecian civility upon the barbarian metal.”
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).