Ancient Wisdom: The Story Of Diogenes - The Man Who Had Everything
One of the world's most famous philosophers who left behind unforgettable patterns of thought was Diogenes of Sinope, founder of the Cynic School, whose story we will tell in the following lines.
Lost in the tumult of society, trapped by the pressing problems we have to solve, few of us manage to transcend our immediate reality and ask ourselves questions about the meaning of life, about right and wrong, about how human beings should live to deserve the title of Man.
And when we succeed, much of the credit goes to the philosophers, those who dig to the root of the human condition, leaving us with lessons that challenge us and help us elevate our thinking.
Diogenes' Childhood - The Boy Who Lost Almost Everything
In 412 BC, in the ancient Greek city of Sinope, a boy named Diogenes was born. His childhood took an entirely different turn after his family was sent into exile in Athens because his father tried to circulate counterfeit money. It wasn't easy for Diogenes to go from his home, good food, and a certain status in society to a life where he had none of these things. They were so poor they were almost starving.
In those days, Athens was a famous cultural center, and one of its most famous citizens was a philosopher named Antisthenes, who argued that a person does not possess things, but rather things come to possess the person. If one measures one's success by how many and valuable things one owns, then that person will not be able to own every possible thing he wants and will not stop wanting more and more things. In other words, such a person will not be able to reach a point where they are truly happy, so the fewer things a person wants, the more likely that person is to be happy.
Diogenes, the boy who had lost almost everything, listened to Antisthenes and thought about his own situation. Wasn't his father's greed that got him into trouble? Wasn't he himself depressed because he missed everything they had left behind? Diogenes concluded that the philosopher was right. In time, he developed his own philosophical concept and started talking about it, attracting larger and larger crowds of people.
As his reputation grew, people sought his advice on all sorts of things. Sometimes because they knew he was wise, and sometimes because his answers were quite funny.
Diogenes Became Famous
When one woman asked "What is a good time to have dinner," the philosopher replied, "If you are rich whenever you want, and if you are poor whenever you can."
To a young man who confessed that he didn't think he was fit to study philosophy, Diogenes replied, "Why live then if you don't care to live well?"
When one person complained that life was a bad thing, the philosopher corrected him, "Not life itself, but living in a sick way."
Asked where he came from, Diogenes explained that he was "a citizen of the (cosmopolitan) world", and when someone wanted to know what kind of man he was, his reply provoked amusement: "I am a Socrates gone mad".
As time went by, Diogenes became famous. He always said: "Since Antisthenes freed me, that is, freed me from wanting things I didn't really need, I stopped being a slave".
Diogenes' Home Was A Large Wine Barrel
Diogenes lived by what he professed. Sometimes he wrote plays for which he got some money, sometimes he had nothing and lived by begging. He had very few possessions and slept on the streets or in the parks, and he constantly mocked the Athenians for the way they lived. It is said that for a long time he lived in a large wine barrel.
One day a friend said to him, "I know things don't matter much to you Diogenes, but now I see you've managed to lose that cup you used to drink water from the public fountains."
"I didn't lose the cup," Diogenes corrected him, "I gave it away." "I realized it wasn't a necessary thing when I saw a child at the fountain drinking water from the palm of his hand."
The Ancient Wisdom Of Diogenes
Diogenes believed in self-control and considered it very important in life to cultivate virtues, excellence in behavior, and to reject things considered unnecessary, which can harm the soul, such as personal possessions and social status. The path to true freedom and happiness requires, in his view, a simple existence.
For the way he lived, some called him Diogenes the Dog, but the philosopher didn't seem to be offended by this. A dog, he explained, is more in touch with nature, and is therefore much closer to true happiness. The dog does not care about social status or material possessions; the dog is not a slave to the superficial desires that wither human hearts. The dog lives life in the present and is not preoccupied with abstract notions that could make his soul sick.
Although there were many who did not appreciate Diogenes and the message he conveyed, even they had to acknowledge the lightness and peace in which he lived.
"Those who are ready will understand me, those who are not ready will listen to me and not understand me. They must come when the time is right for them and it is better to really reach one person than to be misunderstood by 1,000," Diogenes said.
Once, a man asked Diogenes to lend him a book saying he simply didn't have time to sit and study with him.
Diogenes smiled at him, "If you came to me hungry and I offered you a choice between a plate of figs and a picture of figs, wouldn't you choose the real thing over the imitation? But now, when your soul is hungry for virtue and reconciliation, you are able to give up the real thing in favor of reading about it. My friend, learning how to live well is not enough, you really must do it."
Diogenes Encounter With The Pirates
Diogenes stayed in Athens for many years although he also traveled to other parts of Greece at the request of others who wanted to learn from him. At one point, when he was 70, he was on a ship that was captured by pirates.
The pirates were astonished when Diogenes spoke to them calmly and fearlessly: "Friends, you are welcome to take whatever is mine, but let me explain that I believe it will never be enough".
Afterward, the pirate chief told him, "You are either the bravest man I have ever known or the stupidest of all, but do not think you will escape your fate. We'll sell you along with all the others to the slave market."
Diogenes was taken to the public slave market on the island of Crete, and there the auctioneers asked him about his skills. Diogenes replied, "I can govern people and teach them to govern themselves, so sell me to someone who wants to learn."
Hearing this reply, a rich man in the crowd bought Diogenes and took him home to the city of Corinth. On the way, finding out whom he had bought, he released the philosopher but asked him to come to Corinth and teach him and his children. Diogenes accepted and lived in Corinth for the rest of his life becoming a part of the culture of that city.
Diogenes And Alexander The Great
It is said that at one point Alexander the Great came to visit the philosopher in Corinth. He found Diogenes resting in the sunlight, introduced himself, and asked if there was anything he could do for him.
"Yes, get out of the sunlight!" replied Diogenes.
Alexander the Great was so impressed by the philosopher's remark that he would have said "if I were not Alexander, I would like to be Diogenes", to which Diogenes replied, "if I were not Diogenes, I would still like to be Diogenes".
Interestingly, Diogenes would have died on the same day that Alexander the Great died in Babylon.
Diogenes Was Humble Before God
Another Greek philosopher, Epictetus, described Diogenes as gentle, benevolent, and good-natured in the face of what others would consider great hardship. He saw his role as caring for others while putting himself at God's disposal.
Because he wanted nothing from others he was totally at peace with everyone he met, and because he was always at peace with himself, the whole earth was his home, not just a particular place.
When he was captured by pirates he was only concerned to meet the pirates and help them change. The philosopher remained the same even when he was sold into slavery, and during his time in Corinth. Diogenes can be said to be one of those rare individuals, a truly free man.