CERP: Day 34 – Diogenes Ep. 39.

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XXXIX. To Monimus, do well (p. 165)
Well, this is an interesting one.  Firstly, I usually see the “practice to die” in Stoic contexts, I don’t recall ever seeing it in a Cynic one.  Secondly, since Stoicism has effectively no conception of an afterlife, this view stands out.  For Stoics, the pneuma of the sould returns to its source, and only the soul of the Sage might in some capacity live on, but still not past Ekpyrosis, beyond which only Zeus lives.

So, this conceptions of Hades as a place to which the soul travels (after what appears to be a true physical journey) where even the souls of philosophers are give a higher standing of sorts to those enslaved by their passions, by typhos.

It’s difficult for me personally to decide where in a text an author wants one to extract a metaphorical lesson on the nature of the soul and the consequences of life here on earth, and where the author is saying, “No really, this happens.  Don’t screw it up.”

Maybe it’s not important for the modern reader, but in trying to learn to think like the folks for whom these were written, I wish the distinction were clearer.


This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.

CERP: Day 33 – Diogenes Ep. 38.

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XXXVIII. untitled: “After the games…” (p. 161)
Ah ha!   Here we have (finally) a second criterion on those from whom the mendicant my accept money or items.  The Ps-Diogenes even lays out the different sorts:  money, things worth money, food, and invitations to share a meal.  Previously, we’ve heard that only can philosopher accept things from the virtuous, or the good, or other philosophers.  Let’s lump them into one category called, and for the time being call them “the good.”  But, in this epistle, we have a second criterion, the mendicant can also accept from those who are benefited.

The Ps-Diogenes even lays out a sort of economic or market qualification.  I’d call it a capitalist one, but I’m sure someone would take umbrage.  So, let’s do that: a capitalist ethic then in mendicancy.

“…[S]ince I thought it improper to take something from a person who had himself not received anything.”

This second criterion makes the mendicancy of the Cynics practical.  One can generally see when an onlooker or interlocutor has understood or received something of benefit to them.  We can expect that the publicly-teaching philosopher would have developed this skill of discernment to a high degree.

I’ll reiterate:  I’m liking these longer letters a bit more than the previous 15 or so.


This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.

CERP: Day 32 – Diogenes Ep. 37

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XXXVII. To Monimus, do well (p. 155)
Again, we have one of the more elegantly composed letters.  Here, the Ps-Diogenes in visiting a friend, he meets with apparent hardship, but when his earthly guest snubs him he takes the hospitality of the gods.  I assume this means he was sleeping in the temple (scandalous), but I’d like to also think it mean he was sleeping rough, in the home of the Gods which they themselve built:  the earth itself.

After finally meeting his friend, and chiding him mildly, he proceeds to turn every “kindness” and “hospitality” on its head.  He’s presented with the common sort, as we might expect a guest to receive.  Lavish furnishing, fine foods, attendants, etc.  Diogenes discards all of these, and prefers the simple gifts of philosophers, but there’s a crucial difference.

The “opportunistic hedonism” of Cynicism varies with the Stoic perspective here.  Instead of seeing these things as a spiritual discipline (although that’s mentioned), Diogenes has learned to enjoy these things qua these things.  He no longer forces himself to take the less pleasurable choice, he actually is more pleased with the simpler one.

I’m enjoying these longer letters, which speak to a depth to the school which is not immediately apparent upon first glance.  Those of us who are spies from the Stoic camp may take a keener interest in these.

 


This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.

CERP: Day 31 – Diogenes Ep. 36.

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XXXVI. To Timomachus, do well (p. 149)
The tenor and style of this letter are very different from the majority of the preceding ones.  Remembering that the scholars posit at least four authors, that seems very clear here.

Diogenes seems to be having a fairly unsuccessful argument with this fellow on several points.  The first, that all the things he’s concerned about are not evils.  The second, that he’s asking protection from things Heracles cannot slay.  The third, that the very act is superstitious, and a little silly.  At best, it’s a waste of energy to have an inscription on every lintel when it could be on the city gates.  That made me chuckle.

This letter encapsulates the problem both Stoicism, Cynicism, and maybe philosophy in general (other than hedonistic/Cyrenaic) has.  Convincing folks that death, poverty, exposure, illness, and loss are not evils is difficult.  It’s nearly 180 degrees off the popular conception.

Here, even, Diogenes failed.  As, I suspect, the practicing philosopher fails with him or herself over and over to learn this same lesson.  Maybe, we can append ‘justice’ or ‘virtue;’ but we seem unwilling to make the substantive changes asked by philosophy.

We have the example, here Diogenes, pointing at what does not work, what is illogical, what is based on false assumptions.  It suggests corrections, “remove this, why not that, do it this way, here’s the good!”

“Ah… I’d rather not, can I just do this little piece?”

I wonder if that’s any more functional that the inscription of Heracles?

 


This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.

CERP: Day 30 – Diogenes Ep. 35.

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XXXV. To Sopolis, do well (p. 145)
Well.  This is an interesting one.  Ps-Diogenes begins with a critique of a teacher, and then also of a coach.  That moves quite directly into one of his stories of “manual labor,” as it were.

Diogenes’ main point at the beginning is that one should be consistent, and not teach what one doesn’t know.  Then, turns around and flouts the cultural nomos, by a fairly forthright discussion of sexual mores.

 


This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.

CERP: Day 29 – Diogenes Ep. 33 and 34.

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XXXIII. To Phanomachus, do well (p. 141)
This is a longer, and somewhat different version of the chreia in which we hear “If I were not Alexander, I would want to be Diogenes,” and Diogenes replies that he too would want to be Diogenes.  This is interesting, I don’t recall ever hearing about Diogenes gluing pages of a book together before.

I suppose that this is an allegorical denial of academic, superficial, or (for lack of a better word) “uppity” knowledge.  So, Diogenes sits in his τρίβων, sitting in the sun, living his wisdom and with both his actions and his life he show the academic knowledge to be worthless.

XXXIV. To Olympias, do well (p. 143)
Diogenes here is arguing for the Cynic mode of life.  Interestingly, he does not credit Antithenes and Socrates for his practice, but to Hera, Heracles, Odysseus:  the gods and heroes of Greece.

It is very interesting to me, that the praxis of Cynicism require the most argument.  The practice is a natural extension of the doctrine.  You can’t assent to the second while denying the first.  They are one and the same.

Yet, today (apparently) as then, the arguments are need to convince folks to do the thing.  But just like the gluing of the book, the lived philosophy should be the argument, not the intellectual logic of the thing.


This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.

CERP: Day 28 – Diogenes Ep. 32

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XXXII. To Aristippus, greetings (p. 137)
So here, Ps-Diogenes is responding to several criticisms about the lifestyle of his school of philosophy.  The most striking rebuke is that the things which Greeks and Romans praise in Socrates are scorned in Diogenes.  Granted, Diogenes turned them up to eleven, but the point still stands.

I’m not sure what social role the plant chicory had in Rome or Greece at the time.  I know of it as a way to stretch coffee when you’ve run out.  I guess maybe that’s indicative of being a poor person’s food?

The word in the text is σέρεις, but the form I was able to look up is σέρις and is defined by Liddell and Scott as a kind of endive or chicory.  Endives and the chicory I know are two pretty different plans, so I’m not sure which one is referenced here.

Or, it could be a language issue.  For instance, in Serbo-Croation, garlic and onions are basically the same plant, you distinguish between the two by saying “black onion” for onion, and “white onion” for garlic.  Maybe it’s something similar?  I don’t know, it’s instances like this that made me wish I knew more about the language and the cultures.

Tangents aside, the issue here is how one can disdain the philosophers when they praise Socrates, and when they critics live such morally bankrupt lives themselves.  “Unholy men” is a pretty strong phrase, but I’m sure the Ps-Diogenes means it.


This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.