How to Associate with Men?

Diogenes, washing the dirt from his vegetables, saw Aristippus passing and jeered at him in these terms:

If you had learnt to make these your diet, you would not have paid court to kings.

To which Aristippus’s rejoinder was:

And if you knew how to associate with men, you would not be washing vegetables.


Diogenes was great at pouring scorn on his contemporaries. The school of Euclides he called bilious, and Plato’s lectures waste of time, the performances at the Dionysia great peep-shows for fools, and the demagogues the mob’s lacqueys. Some one took him into a magnificent house and warned him not to expectorate, whereupon having cleared his throat he discharged the phlegm into the man’s face, being unable, he said, to find a meaner receptacle.

Menippus tells how, when he was captured and put up for sale, he was asked what he could do. He replied, “Govern men.” And he told the crier to give notice in case anybody wanted to purchase a master for himself.

Being short of money, he told his friends that he applied to them not for alms, but for repayment of his due. When behaving indecently in the marketplace, he wished

If it were as easy to relieve hunger by rubbing an empty stomach!

Being asked why people give to beggars but not to philosophers, he said, “Because they think they may one day be lame or blind, but never expect that they will turn to philosophy.” To the man who said to him, “You don’t know anything, although you are a philosopher,” he replied:

Even if I am but a pretender to wisdom, that in itself is philosophy.

He would rebuke men in general with regard to their prayers, declaring that they asked for those things which seemed to them to be good, not for such as are truly good. He would often insist loudly that the gods had given to men the means of living easily, but this had been put out of sight, because we require honeyed cakes, unguents and the like.

Accordingly, instead of useless toils men should choose such as nature recommends, whereby they might have lived happily. Yet such is their madness that they choose to be miserable. For even the despising of pleasure is itself most pleasurable, when we are habituated to it; and just as those accustomed to a life of pleasure feel disgust when they pass over to the opposite experience, so those whose training has been of the opposite kind derive more pleasure from despising pleasure than from the pleasures themselves. This was the gist of his conversation; and it was plain that he acted accordingly, and asserting that the manner of life he lived was the same as that of Heracles when he preferred liberty to everything.

He would ridicule good birth and fame and all such distinctions, calling them showy ornaments of vice. The only true commonwealth was, he said, that which is as wide as the universe. He advocated community of wives, recognizing no other marriage than a union of the man who persuades with the woman who consents.

Still he was loved by the Athenians. At all events, when a youngster broke up his tub, they gave the boy a flogging and presented Diogenes with another. Subsequently his fellow-citizens honoured him with bronze statues, on which these verses were inscribed:

Time makes even bronze grow old:
but thy glory, Diogenes, all eternity will never destroy.
Since thou alone didst point out to mortals the lesson
of self-sufficingness and the easiest path of life.

D.Laertius — Lives of Eminent Philosophers

Published by Diogenes

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