******* Biting Back ********
A fantasy about the life of Diogenes the Cynic
through the eyes of various contemporaries.
© Gavin Wraith 8/8/03
******* Antisthenes *******
You may ask "Why does an educated Athenian like Antisthenes
choose not to live in Athens?". Well I prefer the bustle
of the port at Peiraeus. I like living among people from
many lands. They accept me for what I am. My mother was a
Thracian slave, you see. My father saw to it that I had the
best of educations; I learned rhetoric from Gorgias himself.
But the education which I value the most I found for myself.
Every day I walk the five miles from Peiraeus to the city to
hear Socrates, and it is from him that I learned all that
I teach, and it is to him that I owe my greatest debt of
thanks and respect.
I teach at the White Hound gymnasium, outside the city, where
foreigners may come. That may be why they call me 'the hound',
but I doubt it. To tell the truth, I am not well liked
by high society. I may be fashionable, maybe, especially among
the young, but not exactly popular. But you would be amazed at
the number of young people, sent to get an education at Athens
by wealthy parents in Pontus, who listen with great seriousness
to my strictures about how to live an unencumbered life. When
they first arrive they ask what is required to attend my lectures.
I tell them "A new notebook, a new pen and a new tablet".
You must excuse my taste for puns.
[Untranslatable pun: 'kainou' = 'new' -> 'kai nou' => 'and wits' ]
The instant they depart the White Hound it is all forgotten. They
write on their wax but not on their minds. They all want the cachet
of being a disciple of a 'philosopher' but few are capable of
practising what they hear. That is why I carry this stick.
It is very effective for combing these rogues out of my hair.
To begin with I thought that Diogenes was one more kid wafted
here by the wealth of the Euxine Sea. I was wrong. Eventually
he offered his head, saying "Knock away, for you will find no wood
hard enough to keep me away while I still think I have something
to learn from you". Mind you, it was not just his persistence that
made me relent and take him as disciple. He was in rags from
necessity by then, begging scraps of food like a dog and sleeping
rough. With his brains and his education he could easily have
found a more lucrative way of spending his time than with me.
But not a more profitable, I dare to say. He is fiercer even than
I in his search for simplicity and self-reliance. He shares my
distaste for Athenian arrogance and meets it with his own.
That is probably why he is getting to be as fashionable as myself.
People fear his tongue. They are not as quick to see the honest side
of him that is so plain to me. He has been like a son to me. For
I have not been well lately, and it is Diogenes who comes round to
care for me. "Are you in need of a friend?" he says, shyly.
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