Life

Diogenes the Cynic: A Life of Simplicity and Humility

  The famous Cynic philosopher Diogenes of ancient Greece has handed down many interesting anecdotes. One of the most well-known is probably his encounter with Alexander the Great: While Diogenes was basking in the sun, Alexander happened to visit he. Alexander asked him what he needed because he looked so shabby – dressed in rags and living in a barrel. Diogenes’ answer was unexpected: Step aside and don’t block my sunlight. No one knows Alexander’s inner reaction at that moment. But later generations passed down the story that after he left, he said that if he were not Alexander, he would rather be Diogenes. The magnanimous image of a generation of heroes emerges vividly on the page. Although there is no evidence to prove that this is false, Alexander’s words are obviously “zero-cost” public relations – knowing that he cannot be another person, he still wants to express his “willingness” to be another person; who has never been willing to live with himself? Is it another person? But why would you want to be Diogenes?
   Perhaps in the eyes of modern people, Diogenes looks like a “performance artist”. Another record I read about him recently may change everyone’s stereotype of him: When the army of King Philip of Macedonia (father of Alexander) was about to attack the city-state of Corinth, people were busy preparing weapons, strengthening the city walls, and repairing them. Crenels, etc. Diogenes saw all this, but he had nothing to do, so he put on his cloak and was very busy rolling a barrel down Cornell Hill. This bucket is the bucket he usually lives in. Others asked him, why did you do this? He answered and said, I roll this barrel, that I may not be thought an idler. (Ansgar Allen, “Cynicism”, The Commercial Press, 2023)
   At this moment, Diogenes was no longer a cynical “madman”, but a master of “stick drinks” on the street. In fact, many people’s daily busy life is just like Diogenes – because they are worried about being regarded as an idler, they become Sisyphus. The busier you are, the more emptiness you reveal. Sisyphus rolling a stone ball and Diogenes rolling a wooden barrel may have just happened in the same thought…
   If Diogenes lived in today’s era of developed e-commerce, he probably would not refuse to do live broadcasts – not to bring goods. Make money, but teach. And what he shouted was most likely a standard three-piece set: a dog-beating stick, a dirty cloak and a leather bag – an ideological “derivative” with the potential to sell well. However, he will not be proud of shipping – the original price is worthless, and the current price must be a prohibitive sky-high price. Although I can’t sell any of them, I still enjoy doing live broadcasts. If Alexander was really “willing”, he could give Diogenes a reward. I bought his barrel, but I couldn’t take it with me because it was a teaching aid.

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