******* Biting Back ********
A fantasy about the life of Diogenes the Cynic
through the eyes of various contemporaries.
© Gavin Wraith 8/8/03
******* Exile *******
Thirty years on the sea and twenty as a captain -
not much escapes me. I have seen every port east of
the Gates of Heracles and I can tell the signs of a
young man on the run in any of them. I told the waiter
to send him over.
"What do you want with me?"
"It is you, I think, who wants something from me.
My boat sails tomorrow morning, for Athens."
He joined my table, cold but polite. Well-brought up
and sharp, he struck me. When we had agreed the fare
I ventured to enquire about his circumstances and his
"My father is Hicesius the banker. He was arrested
yesterday. I would have been too, had I been
Idiot that I am! There I was touting for an extra fare
and thinking that some tawdry little affair would be
paying for it. This was a bigger matter altogether.
I was no stranger to the harbour master's office in
Sinope and I keep my ears open. I knew that Hicesius was
treasurer for the whole of Sinopis, richest
territory of all Pontus. His profligate son Diogenes had
been brought in to learn the ropes at the mint.
Now Diogenes himself sat opposite, watching me carefully.
I will come clean, and admit that, just for a moment, I
weighed up the idea of turning him in. There could be a
reward, and it would probably pay for quite a few fares
to Athens, not to speak of putting me in well with
the city fathers of Sinope. But I dismissed the idea
as shameful. One fare of metal is worth ten of air,
and were the authorities to blame me I could always
I put up my hand.
"You must tell me more - after we have set sail. My
digestion is frail, and I am a naturally cautious man.
Do you care to share this stuffed cabbage?"
He smiled, with relief. He was smart, alright, but now I
saw that he was really very young.
The news that night was that Hicesius and Diogenes had been
found guilty of debasing the coinage. Hicesius was in jail.
Diogenes was exiled from the territory of Sinopis. At least
I would not be accused of harbouring a wanted man.
We sailed early the next day. It was not until the headland
of the Halys had disappeared behind us that I had the
leisure to discover more about my unhappy passenger.
"It is my fault. My father will not last long. His health
is not good. We have lost everything. I have been a total
Slowly the details emerged. Diogenes' chief foreman had asked
permission to hold back silver for assay purposes;
then, "just for research" had produced debased samples
of coins. All the workmen in the team knew about it. Diogenes
suspected that most of the "research batch" had already
found its way into the market through their hands.
"If you do not like it", they said, "just ask Apollo".
There was an office of the Delian oracle in Sinope,
of course. So Diogenes paid his respects there and put his
question - should he do what his workmen urged?
The reply came back curiously quickly; he should change
the currency of the state. And so he did.
"When I discovered that the priestess was the foreman's aunt,
it was too late. They had it all worked out. I have as good
as killed my father."
I must confess that I found this tale hard to swallow.
Could such a bright young man really be that stupid?
There was no denying, whatever his guilt, that he carried
a heavy burden of remorse. I felt sorry for him.
"Listen carefully to me, Diogenes. Baring your breast to the
Erinyes achieves nothing. Your father would tell you the
same. Losing your wealth and the prospect of a respected
career is a trifle to a lover of wisdom. Indeed, it is a
blessing. You are young, healthy, and well-educated.
The world lies open to you. If you have made mistakes,
now you have the opportunity to learn from them,
and the wit too. When Deucalion, son of Prometheus, cast
the bones of Mother Earth over his shoulder, as holy
Themis commanded, was it a race of bankers that sprang up
from the ground behind him?'"
With these homespun words and others like them, to the
background of a gentle sea slapping the prow and a breeze
rattling the lines, we outran the claws of the Kindly Ones.
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