The Legend of Diogenes the Cynic

Remember to Stop and Smell the Roses

Many times, it feels as though the harder we try, the less we succeed. If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that forcing things is never a great idea. We’re often so obsessed with the end goal, the ultimate dream, we tend to forget to enjoy the journey and smell the flowers as we meander down the toilsome road.

Our teeth are oftentimes clenched and head down, looking at the ground as we rigidly trod down the long path. Yet all the while, the way is engulfed in beautiful mountain ranges, songbirds, and forests of enchantment. One must merely look to appreciate all the beauty.

Recently I listened to an Angus Stone interview, and he talked about not focusing too much on getting your name out there. Instead, just do what you do and be real to it, because you love it. And if you truly love it, people will begin to take notice.

However long this takes, well what does it really matter? When we reach the end, what then? Will we simply roll over and die? Will we just turn back around and return from where we came? Or will we simply start over again?

In short, be true to yourself. Don’t try to be something you’re not. And just know that there’s no need to be in such a hurry. Just do you and try not to overthink things. I know this all sounds so horribly cliche, but I’m afraid it’s true.

There are enough parrots out there, mimicking what they think will sell, and making awful noises on social media. Instead, try to refine your craft and solely focus on the love of creation. The rest will fall into place in due time. One must simply trust the process and try to let go.

The Legend of Diogenes The Cynic

Diogenes the Cynic was a Greek philosopher and one of the founders of Cynicism. He lived in a barrel among the dogs. His only possession was a small wooden bowl. But one day, Diogenes tossed aside the single bowl he possessed upon witnessing a young peasant boy drinking water from his cupped hands.

Diogenes exclaimed: “Fool that I am, to have been carrying superfluous baggage all this time!”

According to another legend, Alexander the Great came to visit Diogenes. Alexander wanted to fulfill a wish for Diogenes and proceeded to ask him what he desired. To which Diogenes replied: “Now move at least a little out of the sun”. 

Plutarch provides a longer account of the story: Thereupon many statesmen and philosophers came to Alexander with their congratulations, and he expected that Diogenes of Sinope also, who was tarrying in Corinth, would do likewise. But since that philosopher took not the slightest notice of Alexander, and continued to enjoy his leisure in the suburb Craneion, Alexander went in person to see him; and he found him lying in the sun. Diogenes raised himself up a little when he saw so many people coming towards him, and fixed his eyes upon Alexander. And when that monarch addressed him with greetings, and asked if he wanted anything, “Yes,” said Diogenes, “stand a little out of my sun.” It is said that Alexander was so struck by this, and admired so much the haughtiness and grandeur of the man who had nothing but scorn for him, that he said to his followers, who were laughing and jesting about the philosopher as they went away, “But truly, if I were not Alexander, I wish I were Diogenes.” and Diogenes replied “If I wasn’t Diogenes, I would be wishing to be Diogenes too.”

Closing Thoughts

Diogenes the Cynic and Alexander the Great, two polarizing individuals on either end of the spectrum of the hierarchy, should provide a sense of relief for those of us upon the path. For it seems that even Alexander, a man who conquered the world, an individual who had everything at his disposal, perceived that one is not able to realize true freedom until he himself has freed himself from all earthly desires.

In the lyrical words of southern California’s prophetic dukes of dub, Slightly Stoopid: “The harder you try, the less you succeed, don’t try at all and get everything you need, because the harder you fall, the more it’s going to bleed.”

“It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.” ― Chuck Palahniuk

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Ellis Walker

Poet and freelance journalist.

One thought on “The Legend of Diogenes the Cynic”

  1. This is a great piece on Diogenes. Author understands the figure well. Diogenes is arguably the father of modern cynicism as we know it. One particular favorite depiction of Diogenes is often with his lamp, where it was said he would often carry it around lit in the middle of the day stating he was “looking for an honest man”. His irreverence to modern society and his approach to the ascetic lifestyle are examined and modeled to this day. profound figure.

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