******* Biting Back ********
A fantasy about the life of Diogenes the Cynic
through the eyes of various contemporaries.
© Gavin Wraith 8/8/03
******* Sharrihapili *********
I had just sold my entire cargo at the Cydonian exchange
for quite a decent sum and I needed to celebrate in a
civilized manner, away from the crew. Cretan cuisine
makes Cydonia one of my favourite ports of call, and I
decided to take my noonday meal at a small place close by
The solid gentleman at the next table was evidently a rich
banker to judge by the purple border on his robe, probably
from Corinth. To my surprise he invited me to join him.
"Are you not Scirpalus the slave trader?"
"Sharrihapili is my name in my native tongue. Hellenes call me
Scirpalus usually, although some like to jest and call me
Harpalus the 'over-treasurer', which is what my name means.
I cannot say that I am flattered, if one is to believe all
the stories coming out of Macedon."
"I do not think Alexander's treasurer would be pleased with the
"Ah, you misjudge me! We in the Human Resources Supply business
perform an essential economic service. Without us, or perpetual war,
all industries would grind to a halt.
Not only do I have to raise the capital for my vessel,
and its maintenance, and its crew, and their training, but I
need to be a widely educated man. For how else can I recognize
the value of my cargoes? What I make on an educated or
well-connected item can be worth a hundred times the value of some
blundering peasant, however strong his back. They give less trouble,
too. I need to be able to recognize a bargain and know when a man is
trying to deceive me. I speak ten languages, and I can read and
write in four of them: Hellenic, Phoenician, Lycian and Tyrrhenian.
That is not the end of it. True, the threat of force is sometimes
needed, but I must supply my goods in an undamaged and presentable
state. I have to keep their spirits up. I have to keep them hopeful
"I must confess that I had never considered piracy in quite the light
in which you have presented it. No doubt I will find comfort in your
words should I fall victim to the Human Resources trade."
"I see you are a philosopher. I marvel at the power of philosophy to
bring comfort. No wonder it has become so fashionable."
"I am Xeniades of Corinth, by the way. I am pleased to make
your acquaintance. I trust that you confine your acquisitions to
the high seas, and that this charming eating-house is neutral ground?"
I reassured Xeniades that I needed him as a buyer as surely as he
needed me as a supplier. I also suggested that he could always count
on my services to remove inconvenient relatives or acquaintances in
a humane and discreet manner, and that my crew were the most
professional to be found.
"I am returning to Corinth from Egypt and I have called in at Cydonia
expressly to buy a tutor for my boys. I gather that you have just
unloaded at the slave market. Did you have anyone that I should look
"I cannot answer that without knowing more about your requirements.
But there is one item that I must tell you about, if only because
you mentioned philosophy: Diogenes the 'dog', a scruffy little chap
that we picked up from the Athens-Aegina ferry. He is as tough as
nails and very odd indeed. I had heard of him some years ago when I
was reconnoitring in Peiraeus, as a cross between a clown and a
philosopher. When we first picked him up he was such a nuisance that
I was tempted to throw him overboard on more than one occasion."
"He made a fuss?"
"No. That is the point. He treated the whole business as a pleasure
trip, and nearly persuaded the others to do the same. He even had
them laughing! When we came round to establish their saleable
qualities he asserted that his special gift was giving orders."
"An impudent captive, indeed!"
"But the strange thing is, I have come to believe him. He has a
reason for everything. I even like the man. I discovered that he
comes from a wealthy family in Sinope. His father was financial
controller of Sinopis, in fact. There was some sort of scandal,
he was exiled and ended up in Athens."
"No chance of a ransom, then?"
"Not from his family, at any rate. I gather that he has wealthy
students, but he has ridiculed any notion of a ransom from them.
His philosophy, as far as I can understand it, is that happiness
is only attainable through self-sufficiency, and that the usual
trappings and conventions of social life are distractions to
"Why does he not go and live in the wild, away from these
"I asked him that myself. He said that living in a big city was just
the same as living in the wild as far as he was concerned, but at
least in the city he could be of use to other souls."
"So he does have a use for other human beings then, even if only as
"I think there is more to it than that. His tongue and his wits
are sharp, no doubt about that, but they hide a gentler side, I
"You have aroused my curiosity. After lunch I will go and see
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