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Of the Cynic philosophy.

When one of his scholars, who seemed inclined to the Cynic philosophy, asked him what a Cynic must be, and what was the general plan of that sect, Let us examine it, he said, at our leisure. But thus much I can tell you now, that he who attempts so great an affair without divine guidance is an object of divine wrath, and would only bring public dishonor upon himself. For in a well-regulated house no one comes and says to himself, "I ought to be the manager here." If he does, and the master returns and sees him insolently giving orders, he drags him out and has him punished. Such is the case likewise in this great city. For here, too, is a master of the family who orders everything. " You are the sun; you can, by making a circuit, form the year and the seasons, and increase and nourish the fruits; you can raise and calm the winds, and give an equable warmth to the bodies of men. Go; make your circuit, and thus move everything from the greatest to the least. You are a calf; when the lion appears, act accordingly, or you will suffer for it. You are a bull; come and fight; for that is incumbent on you and becomes you, and you can do [p. 2065] it. You can lead an army to Troy; be you Agamemnon. You can engage in single combat with Hector; be you Achilles." But if Thersites had come and claimed the command, either he would not have obtained it, or, if he had, he would have disgraced himself before so many more witnesses.

Do you, too, carefully deliberate upon this undertaking; it is not what you think it. "I wear an old cloak now, and I shall have one then. I sleep upon the hard ground now, and I shall sleep so then. I will moreover take a wallet and a staff, and go about, and beg of those I meet, and begin by rebuking them; and if I see any one using effeminate practices, or arranging his curls, or walking in purple, I will rebuke him." If you imagine this to be the whole thing, avaunt; come not near it; it belongs not to you. But if you imagine it to be what it really is, and do not think yourself unworthy of it, consider how great a thing you undertake.

First, with regard to yourself; you must no longer, in any instance, appear as now. You must accuse neither God nor man. You must altogether control desire, and must transfer aversion to such things only as are controllable by Will. You must have neither anger, nor resentment, nor envy, nor pity. Neither boy, nor girl, nor fame, nor dainties must have charms for you. For you must know that other men indeed fence themselves with walls and houses and darkness, when they indulge in anything of this [p. 2066] kind, and have many concealments; a man shuts the door, places somebody before the apartment: "Say that he is out; say that he is engaged." But the Cynic, instead of all this, must fence himself with virtuous shame; otherwise he will be improperly exposed in the open air. This is his house, this his door, this his porter, this his darkness. He must not wish to conceal anything relating to himself; for if he does, he is gone; he has lost the Cynic character, the openness, the freedom; he has begun to fear something external; he has begun to need concealment, nor can he get it when he will. For where shall he conceal himself, or how? For if this tutor, this pedagogue of the public, should happen to slip, what must he suffer? Can he, then, who dreads these things, be thoroughly bold within, and prescribe to other men? Impracticable, impossible.

In the first place, then, you must purify your own ruling faculty, to match this method of life. Now, the material for me to work upon is my own mind, as wood is for a carpenter, or leather for a shoemaker; and my business is a right use of things as they appear. But body is nothing to me; its parts nothing to me. Let death come when it will, either of the whole body or of part. "Go into exile." And whither? Can any one turn me out of the universe? He cannot. But wherever I go there is the sun, the moon, the stars, dreams, auguries, communication with God. And even this preparation is by no [p. 2067] means sufficient for a true Cynic. But it must further be known that he is a messenger sent from Zeus to men, concerning good and evil; to show them that they are mistaken, and seek the essence of good and evil where it is not, but do not observe it where it is; that he is a spy, like Diogenes, when he was brought to Philip after the battle of Chaeronea. For, in effect, a Cynic is a spy to discover what things are friendly, what hostile, to man; and he must, after making an accurate observation, come and tell them the truth; not be struck with terror, so as to point out to them enemies where there are none; nor, in any other instance, be disconcerted or confounded by appearances.

He must, then, if it should so happen, be able to lift up his voice, to come upon the stage, and say, like Socrates:

O mortals, whither are you hurrying? What are you about? Why do you tumble up and down, O miserable wretches! like blind men? You are going the wrong way, and have forsaken the right. You seek prosperity and happiness in a wrong place, where they are not; nor do you give credit to another, who shows you where they are. Why do you seek this possession without? It lies not in the body; if you do not believe me, look at Myro, look at Ofellius. It is not in wealth; if you do not believe me, look upon Croesus; look upon the rich of the present age, how full of lamentation their life is. It is not in power; for otherwise, they who have been twice and [p. 2068] thrice consuls must be happy; but they are not. To whom shall we give heed in these things, - to you who look only upon the externals of their condition, and are dazzled by appearances, or to themselves? What do they say? Hear them when they groan, when they sigh, when they pronounce themselves the more wretched and in more danger from these very consulships, this glory and splendor. It is not in empire; otherwise Nero and Sardanapalus had been happy. But not even Agamemnon was happy, though a better man than Sardanapalus or Nero. But when others sleep soundly, what is he doing?

“Forth by the roots he rends his hairs.

And what does he himself say? "I wander bewildered; my heart leaps forth from my bosom."

Why, which of your affairs goes ill, poor wretch, your possessions? No. Your body? No. But you have gold and brass in abundance. What then goes ill? That part of you is neglected and corrupted, whatever it be called, by which we desire, and shrink; by which we pursue, and avoid. How neglected? It is ignorant of that for which it was naturally formed, of the essence of good, and of the essence of evil. It is ignorant what is its own, and what another's. And when anything belonging to others goes ill, it says, " I [p. 2069] am undone; the Greeks are in danger ! " (Poor ruling faculty ! which alone is neglected, and has no care taken of it.) "They will die by the sword of the Trojans ! " And if the Trojans should not kill them, will they not die? "Yes, but not all at once." Why, where is the difference? For if it be an evil to die, then whether it be all at once or singly, it is equally an evil. Will anything more happen than the separation of soul and body? " Nothing." And when the Greeks perish, is the door shut against you? Is it not in your power to die? "It is." Why then do you lament, while you are a king and hold the sceptre of Zeus? A king is no more to be made unfortunate than a god. What are you, then? You are a mere shepherd, truly so called; for you weep, just as shepherds do when the wolf seizes any of their sheep; and they who are governed by you are mere sheep. But why do you come hither? Was your desire in any danger; your aversion; your pursuits; your avoidances? "No," he says, "but my brother's wife has been stolen." Is it not great good luck, then, to be rid of an adulterous wife? " But must we be held in contempt by the Trojans? " What are they, - wise men, or fools? If wise, why do you go to war with them? If fools, why do you heed them?

Where, then, does our good lie, since it does not lie in these things? Tell us, sir, you who are our messenger and spy. Where you do not think, nor are willing to seek it. For if you were willing, you [p. 2070] would find it in yourselves; nor would you wander abroad, nor seek what belongs to others, as your own. Turn your thoughts upon yourselves. Consider the impressions which you have. What do you imagine good to be? What is prosperous, happy, unhindered. Well, and do you not naturally imagine it great? Do you not imagine it valuable? Do you not imagine it incapable of being hurt? Where, then, must you seek prosperity and exemption from hindrance, - in that which is enslaved, or free? " In the free." Is your body, then, enslaved or free? We do not know. Do you not know that it is the slave of fever, gout, defluxion, dysentery; of a tyrant; of fire, steel; of everything stronger than itself? " Yes, it is a slave." How, then, can anything belonging to the body be unhindered? And how can that be great or valuable, which is by nature lifeless, earth, clay? What, then; have you nothing free? "Possibly nothing." Why, who can compel you to assent to what appears false? No one. Or who, not to assent to what appears true? No one. Here, then, you see that there is something in you naturally free. But which of you can desire or shun, or use his active powers of pursuit or avoidance, or prepare or plan anything, unless he has been impressed by an appearance of its being for his advantage or his duty? No one. You have, then, in these too something unrestrained and free. Cultivate this, unfortunates; take care of this; seek for good here. " But how is it possible that a man destitute, naked, [p. 2071] without house or home, squalid, unattended, an outcast, can lead a prosperous life?" See; God hath sent us one, to show in practice that it is possible. "Take notice of me, that I am without a country, without a house, without an estate, without a servant; I lie on the ground; have no wife, no children, no coat; but have only earth and heaven and one poor cloak. And what need I? Am not I without sorrow, without fear? Am not I free? Did any of you ever see me disappointed of my desire, or incurring my aversion? Did I ever blame God or man? Did I ever accuse any one? Have any of you seen me look discontented? How do I treat those whom you fear and of whom you are struck with awe? Is it not like poor slaves? Who that sees me does not think that he sees his own king and master? " This is the language, this the character, this the undertaking, of a Cynic. No, [but you think only of] the wallet and the staff and a large capacity of swallowing and appropriating whatever is given you; abusing unseasonably those you meet, or showing your bare arm. Do you consider how you shall attempt so important an undertaking? First take a mirror. View your shoulders, examine your back, your loins. It is the Olympic Games, man, for which you are to be entered; not a poor slight contest. In the Olympic Games a champion is not allowed merely to be conquered and depart; but must first be disgraced in the view of the whole world, -not of the Athenians alone, or [p. 2072] Spartans, or Nicopolitans; and then he who has prematurely departed must be whipped too, and, before that, must have suffered thirst and heat, and have swallowed an abundance of dust.

Consider carefully, know yourself; consult the Divinity; attempt nothing without God; for if he counsels you, be assured that it is his will, whether that you should become eminent, or that you should suffer many a blow. For there is this fine circumstance connected with the character of a Cynic, that he must be beaten like an ass, and yet, when beaten, must love those who beat him as the father, as the brother of all.

"No, to be sure; but if anybody beats you, stand publicly and roar out, ' O Caesar ! am I to suffer such things in breach of your peace? Let us go before the Proconsul.' "

But what is Caesar to a Cynic, or what is the Proconsul, or any one else, but Zeus, who hath deputed him, and whom he serves? Does he invoke any other but him? And is he not persuaded that, whatever he suffers of this sort, it is Zeus who doth it to exercise him? Now Hercules, when he was exercised by Eurystheus, did not think himself miserable: but executed with alacrity all that was to be done. And shall he who is appointed to the combat, and exercised by Zeus, cry out and take offence at things? A worthy person, truly, to bear the sceptre of Diogenes ! Hear what he in a fever said to those who were pass- [p. 2073] ing by.1 "Foolish men, why do you not stay? Do you take such a journey to Olympia to see the destruction or combat of the champions; and have you no inclination to see the combat between a man and a fever?" Such a one, who took a pride in difficult circumstances, and thought himself worthy to be a spectacle to those who passed by, was a likely per son indeed to accuse God, who had deputed him, as treating him unworthily! For what subject of accusation shall he find, - that he preserves a decency of behavior? With what does he find fault, - that he sets his own virtue in a clearer light? Well; and what does he say of poverty; of death; of pain i How did he compare his happiness with that of the Persian king; or rather, thought it beyond comparison ! For amidst perturbations, and griefs, and fears, and disappointed desires, and incurred aversions, how can there be any entrance for happiness? And where there are corrupt principles, there must all these things necessarily be. [p. 2074]

-The same young man inquiring whether, if a friend should desire to come to him and take care of him when he was sick, he should comply? And where, says Epictetus, will you find me the friend of a Cynic? For to be worthy of being numbered among his friends, a person ought to be such another as himself; he ought to be a partner of the sceptre and the kingdom, and a worthy minister, if he would be honored with his friendship; as Diogenes was the friend of Antisthenes; as Crates, of Diogenes. Do you think that he who only comes to him and salutes him is his friend; and that he will think him worthy of being entertained as such? If such a thought comes into your head, rather look round you for some desirable dunghill to shelter you in your fever from the north wind, that you may not perish by taking cold. But you seem to me to prefer to get into somebody's house, and to be well fed there awhile. What business have you, then, even to attempt so important an undertaking as this?

" But," said the young man, " will marriage and parentage be recognized as important duties by a Cynic? "

Grant me a community of sages, and no one there, perhaps, will readily apply himself to the Cynic philosophy. For on whose account should he there embrace that method of life? However, supposing he does, there will be nothing to restrain him from marrying and having children. For his wife will be such another as himself, his father-in-law such another [p. 2075] as himself, and his children will be brought up in the same manner. But as the state of things now is, like that of an army prepared for battle, is it not necessary that a Cynic should be without distraction;2 entirely attentive to the service of God; at liberty to walk among mankind; not tied down to common duties, nor entangled in relations, which if he transgresses, he will no longer keep the character of a wise and good man; and which if he observes, there is an end of him, as the messenger and spy and herald of the gods? For consider, there are some offices due to his father-in-law, some to the other relations of his wife, some to his wife herself. Besides, after this, he is confined to the care of his family when sick, and to providing for their support. At the very least, he must have a vessel to warm water in, to bathe his child; there must be wool, oil, a bed, a cup for his wife after her delivery; and thus the furniture increases; more business, more distraction. Where, for the future, is this king whose time is devoted to the public good?-

“To whom the people is trusted, and many a care?

who ought to superintend others, married men, fathers of children, - whether one treats his wife [p. 2076] well or ill; who quarrels; which family is well regulated; which not, - like a physician who goes about and feels the pulse of his patients: "You have a fever; you the headache; you the gout. Do you abstain from food; do you eat; do you omit bathing; you must have an incision made; you be cauterized." Where shall he have leisure for this who is tied down to common duties? Must he not provide clothes for his children, and send them, with pens and ink and paper, to a schoolmaster? Must he not provide a bed for them, - for they cannot be Cynics from their very birth? Otherwise, it would have been better to expose them as soon as they were born than to kill them thus. Do you see to what we bring down our Cynic; how we deprive him of his kingdom? "Well, but Crates3 was married." The case of which you speak was a particular one, arising from love; and the woman was another Crates. But we are inquiring about ordinary and common marriages; and in this inquiry we do not find the affair much suited to the condition of a Cynic.

How then shall he keep up society?
For Heaven's sake, do they confer a greater benefit upon the world who leave two or three brats in their stead, than those who, so far as possible, oversee all [p. 2077] mankind,- what they do, how they live; what they attend to, what they neglect, in spite of their duty? Did all those who left children to the Thebans do them more good than Epaminondas, who died childless? And did Priam, who was the father of fifty profligates, or Danaus, or Aeolus, conduce more to the advantage of society than Homer? Shall a military command, or any other post, then, exempt a man from marrying and becoming a father, so that he shall be thought to have made sufficient amends for the want of children; and shall not the kingdom of a Cynic be a proper compensation for it? Perhaps we do not understand his grandeur, nor duly represent to ourselves the character of Diogenes; but we think of Cynics as they are now, who stand like dogs watching at tables, and who have only the lowest things in common with the others; else things like these would not move us, nor should we be astonished that a Cynic will not marry nor have children. Consider, sir, that he is the father of mankind; that all men are his sons, and all women his daughters. Thus he attends to all; thus takes care of all. What! do you think it is from impertinence that he rebukes those he meets? He does it as a father, as a brother, as a minister of the common parent, Zeus.

Ask me, if you please, too, whether a Cynic will engage in the administration of the commonwealth. What commonwealth do you inquire after, foolish man, greater than what he administers? Why should [p. 2078] he harangue among the Athenians about revenues and taxes, whose business it is to debate with all mankind, - with the Athenians, Corinthians, and Romans equally,- not about taxes and revenues, or peace and war, but about happiness and misery, prosperity and adversity, slavery and freedom? Do you ask me whether a man engages in the administration of the commonwealth who administers such a commonwealth as this? Ask me, too, whether he will accept any command. I will answer you again, What command, foolish one, is greater than that which he now exercises?

But he has need of a constitution duly qualified; for if he should appear consumptive, thin, and pale, his testimony has no longer the same authority. For he must not only give a proof to the vulgar, by the constancy of his mind, that it is possible to be a man of weight and merit without those things that strike them with admiration; but he must show, too, by his body, that a simple and frugal diet, under the open air, does no injury to the constitution. "See, I and my body bear witness to this." As Diogenes did; for he went about in hale condition, and gained the attention of the many by his mere physical aspect. But a Cynic in poor condition seems a mere beggar; all avoid him, all are offended at him; for he ought not to appear slovenly, so as to drive people from him; but even his indigence should be clean and attractive.

Much natural tact and acuteness are likewise neces- [p. 2079] sary in a Cynic (otherwise he is almost worthless), that he may be able to give an answer, readily and pertinently, upon every occasion. So Diogenes, to one who asked him, " Are you that Diogenes who does not believe there are any gods?" How so, replied he, when I think you odious to them? Again, when Alexander surprised him sleeping, and repeated,--

“To sleep all the night becomes not a man who gives counsel;

before he was quite awake, he responded,-

"To whom the people is trusted, and many a care."

But, above all, the reason of the man must be clearer than the sun; otherwise he must necessarily be a common cheat and a rascal if, while himself guilty of some vice, he reproves others. For consider how the case stands. Arms and guards give a power to common kings and tyrants of reproving and of punishing delinquents, though they be wicked themselves; but to a Cynic, instead of arms and guards, conscience gives this power. When he knows that he has watched and labored for mankind; that he has slept pure, and waked still purer; and that he hath regulated all his thoughts as the friend, as the minister of the gods, as a partner of the empire of Zeus; that he is ready to say, upon all occasions, -

“Conduct me, Zeus, and thou, O Destiny,

Cleanthes, in Diogenes Laertius.- H.
[p. 2080] and, " If it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be," why should he not dare to speak boldly to his own brethren, to his children; in a word, to his kindred? Hence he who is thus qualified is neither impertinent nor a busybody; for he is not busied about the affairs of others, but his own, when he oversees the transactions of men. Otherwise call a general a busybody, when he oversees, inspects, and watches his soldiers and punishes the disorderly. But if you reprove others at the very time that you have booty under your own arm, I will ask you if you had not better go into a corner, and eat up what you have stolen. But what have you to do with the concerns of others? For what are you? Are you the bull in the herd, or the queen of the bees? Show me such ensigns of empire as she has from nature. But if you are a drone, and arrogate to yourself the kingdom of the bees, do you not think that your fellow-citizens will drive you out, just as the bees do the drones?

A Cynic must, besides, have so much patience as to seem insensible and like a stone to the vulgar. No one reviles, no one beats, no one affronts him; but he has surrendered his body to be treated at pleasure by any one who will. For he remembers that the inferior, in whatever respect it is the inferior, must be conquered by the superior; and the body is inferior to the multitude, the weaker to the stronger. He never, therefore, enters into a combat where he can be conquered, but immediately gives up what belongs to others; he [p. 2081] does not claim what is slavish and dependent; but in what concerns Will and the use of things as they appear you will see that he has so many eyes, you would say Argus was blind to him. Is his assent ever precipitate; his pursuits ever rash; his desire ever disappointed; his aversion ever incurred; his aim ever fruitless? Is he ever querulous, ever dejected, ever envious? Here lies all his attention and application. With regard to other things, he enjoys profound quiet. All is peace. There is no robber, no tyrant for the Will. But there is for the body? Yes. The estate? Yes. Magistracies and honors? Yes. And what cares he for these? When any one, therefore, would frighten him with them he says: "Go look for children; masks are frightful to them; but I know they are only shells, and have nothing within."

Such is the affair about which you are deliberating; therefore, if you please, for Heaven's sake ! defer it, and first consider how you are prepared for it. Observe what Hector says to Andromache,--

“War is the sphere for all men, and for me.

Thus conscious was he of his own qualifications and of her weakness. [p. 2082]


1 St. Jerome, cited by Mr. Upton, gives the following somewhat different account of this matter. Diogenes, as he was going to the Olympic Games, was taken with a fever, and laid himself down in the road; his friends would have put him into some vehicle, but he refused it, and bid them go on to the show. " This night," said he, " I will either conquer or be conquered. If I conquer the fever, I will come to the games; if it conquers me, I will descend to Hades." - C.

Si febrim vicero, ad Agonem veniam:
Si me vicerit febris, ad inferna descendam.

Jerome adv. Jovianum, lib. ii. 34. -H.

2 It is remarkable that Epictetus here uses the same word (ἀπερισπάστως) with St. Paul, 1 Cor. vii. 35, and urges the same consideration, of applying wholly to the service of God to dissuade from marriage.--C.

3 Crates, a rich Theban, gave away a large fortune, and assumed the wallet and staff of a Cynic philosopher. Hipparchia, a Thracian lady, forsook wealth and friends to share his poverty, in spite of his advice to the contrary. Diogenes Laertius: Crates. - H.

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