The article ‘Diogenes andAlexander’, written by Gilbert Highet, is a concise life account of two of the most intellectual personalities of ancient times, Diogenes and Alexander. In the beginning, Highet sheds some light on Diogenes; a philosopher, founder of the Cynic philosophy. The article further describes his life in the rich city of Corinth and his interaction with its citizens. Later in the passage, the author describes Alexander, the Macedonian King, not just as a conqueror but as a thinker, as a student of another great philosopher Aristotle. The author then goes on to illustrate an interesting encounter between the two and how both treated each other. The author gives an interesting account as an admirer of the two personalities and the language used describes that feeling, however, the organization of the article is confusing and inconsistent.
The article describes Diogenes as a man indifferent to the worldly pleasures like wealth that most humans lust for. He believed humankind’s greed for an extravagant lifestyle is going to bring them no good except make them go astray from nature. He wrote essays, poems and plays to edify his philosophy that the goods bought from wealth are not going to last forever and they only threaten a man’s independence from worry and anxiety of losing them. He tried to give this message to the people by setting an example when he chose to live a life out on the streets with no possessions except a cask to sleep in and a piece of cloth to cover him. His ideology was targeted for people from all walks of life and not a chosen few. The article then focuses on Alexander, the Macedonian King, a student of Aristotle, another great Greek philosopher. The article describes Alexander as a great commander and a thinker which was mainly due to the influence of Aristotle’s teachings. As the article unfolds, Alexander was sent to Corinth as Commander-in-chief and was congratulated by everyone including the poets and philosophers of the city except Diogenes so Alexander decided to pay him a visit. When they meet, instead of greeting him, Diogenes publicly mocked Alexander. But, Alexander only walked away leaving the crowds stand in awe because he thought highly of Diogenes which and even took one of his students to India as a philosophical interpreter.
The author mainly gives a descriptive account and his tone implies admiration for both Diogenes and Alexander which is also supported in the passage. For example, he compares Diogenes to Plato and Aristotle, who were different from Diogenes in the fact that Diogenes was more public than the other philosophers. Moreover, where most people are forced to live this life, Diogenes deliberately chose to live free from the life he saw as a threat to his independence. In this, the author sees Diogenes’ greatness as a philosopher. Furthermore, he refutes the claims of the society which labeled him as a lunatic in stating that he was a missionary, who wanted not only his society but the whole humankind to come close to nature and free their minds from acquiring ‘perishable goods’. The author then turns to Alexander stating he was ‘wiser than his years’. He praises Alexander not just as a military leader but also as a thinker, influenced by Aristotle and his teachings. In stating that Alexander would ‘create a supranational empire’ implies that the author sees him as someone destined for greatness.
The author also narrates certain events to support his views in the essay. At one point, to support his claim that Alexander was a thinker, he puts in picture what Alexander did while invading Asia. He took some scientists with him to Asia and collected some research material to study the new region and then in India Alexander he tried to gain some knowledge from some Hindu mystics. These events clearly suggest that Alexander was thinking far ahead of his time. Later in the passage when Alexander takes Diogenes’ pupil to India as a philosophical interpreter, clearly supports the fact that Alexander had a high regard Diogenes and his Cynic philosophy. Again, he commends Alexander as an intellectual when he decides to meet Diogenes in the market place emphasizing his generosity and student of philosophy.
The language used by the author is easily comprehendible and simple but he has used some metaphors and personifications. For example, Diogenes is compared to a ‘dog’ because of his lifestyle. He lived in the market, had no concern for privacy, taught those who wanted to listen to him and ‘barked’ at others who he disliked. Moreover, he uses the term ‘doggishness’ to make the readers understand Cynicism. Further, the author states Diogenes’ aim was to ‘re-stamp the currency’ to emphasize on the fact that Diogenes had no desire for money and wanted to rid the humankind of its greed. At another point, the author claims Aristotle taught to ‘those within the walls’ highlighting that his teachings were for a chosen few whereas Diogenes targeted the general public.
Despite the easy language and admirable tone the passage can be a bit puzzling due to lack of unity. For instance, the author gives a background on Diogenes, his life in Athens and Corinth, his place in the society and his ideologies regarding humankind. Then, as he goes on to come down to the meeting between Diogenes and Alexander, he breaks off and starts discussing Alexander, how he was brought up and how he came to Corinth. Then jumps back to the day when the meeting took place. So, this type of ill organization may cause a reader to lose track of what the author is trying to say.
Nonetheless, what the author is trying to say is pretty easy to understand. He compares Diogenes and Alexander and tries to form a common ground between them which is their belief in Cynic philosophy and quotes Alexander saying that he would have been Diogenes, which shows he held Diogenes as a great philosopher. Moreover, a reader might notice how two extremes came together. Alexander was a King while on the contrary Diogenes was a ‘dog’ living in the streets of a city placed under the leadership of Alexander and yet somehow they met in an encounter which is still remembered by historians. The style of writing gives the impression that the author had utmost respect for the philosophers which can be drawn out of the fact that he also credits Aristotle for his contribution to what Alexander became, a commander and a thinker, something which was rare at that time of ‘military automatons’.
Overall, despite the ill-organization and abrupt changes in the article, the author is successful in getting his aim across to the readers, describing the famous meeting between two of the greatest minds in Greece and the interesting conversation to which many conclusions can be drawn out. The author has shown his admiration and respect for both men in his tone of writing and also supported his own opinions with several events and life. The essay has made it clear to the readers the background on Cynicism; how it came about and how the characters of Diogenes and Alexander were related to this philosophy, providing apposite events and evidences to support his claims.
Written By: Nabeel Munir