Monday, July 21, 2008

Diogenes

One of my readers is searching for anyone searching for Diogenes. This man is trying to be a bit cute by alluding to Diogenes' famous search for an honest man and also, perhaps, to the futility of the philosophical quest itself. Diogenes once went around the market with a lit lantern. It was broad daylight. So, people asked him what the deuce he was doing with a lit lantern in broad daylight. After all, oil was expensive (mainly because Athens was talking up the price with her saber-rattling against Sparta), and Diogenes was very poor because he was an unemployed bum. Unemployed bums called themselves philosophers back then. Now they call themselves consultants.

Anyway, Diogenes' answer was, "I am looking for an honest man," the implication being that honest men don't show themselves in the marketplace; they must hide for shame in the dark.

But that is not my favorite Diogenes story. I like this one better. Diogenes once was satisfying himself in the marketplace in full monty fashion in front of everyone. When taken to task for such an outrage against public decency and middle-class respectability, he did not show any embarrassment or remorse at all. He simply replied, "Damn, I wish I could satisfy my hunger by merely rubbing my belly." Ah, the philosopher's desire for self-sufficiency!

But that's not my favorite story. My favorite story is his confrontation with Alexander the Great, the great warrior who had made all of the then known East bow to his whim. He was, of course, the most powerful man in the world and the richest. And he traveled all the way to Athens just to pay homage to the great philosopher. Alexander found Diogenes lounging about as usual in the marketplace (probably enjoying his version of an afterglow). The Great King stood over the humble philosopher and , "I am the Great Alexander, the man who has subdued the vast East with all her silk, gold, and beautiful women and made her worship him as a God. He has come to pay his respects to the Wise Diogenes. Tell me, O Wise One, what may the Great King do for him? My kingdom is at your disposal." To which Diogenes answered in a groggy daze, "Well, you can step out of my sun."

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