And when asked what he had learned from philosophy, Diogenes replied, “To be prepared for every fortune.“
— William B. Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
Diogenes is the most famous of the Cynics, a branch of philosophy that served as the precursor for traditional Stoicism. Diogenes was a bizarre fellow for a number of reasons. He lived inside a barrel and shunned any form of luxurious living. Diogenes only ate when he was starving hungry and drank when he was gaspingly thirsty. This allowed him to enjoy a simple cup of water as if it was the world’s most expensive wine.
The core of Diogenes' thought was based on his observation that “bad men obey their lusts as servants obey their masters,” and because we are so bad at controlling our desires, we can never find contentment. This is why Diogenes was so intent on being the master of his own lust and attachments.
Perhaps Diogenes' greatest and most memorable display of Stoic superhero strength was in his meeting with Alexander the Great. Alexander was taught by Aristotle and had brilliant admiration for great thinkers. One day when riding through Greece Alexander encountered Diogenes, a philosopher he had heard many great things about. The legend states that upon meeting Diogenes, Alexander asked the philosopher if there was anything he could give him.
Alexander at this point in time was the most powerful man in the world, and he was extremely hot-tempered. There were stories of Alexander having his best friends executed for disrespecting him. So when he offered Diogenes a gift, nobody would have expected the words that would have come out of the strange philosopher’s mouth:
“Yes,” said Diogenes, “stand a little out of my sun.”
Diogenes was so steadfast in his Stoic way of living he even risked the wrath of Alexander the Great to demonstrate it. Diogenes was not someone who just lived his philosophy, he was continuously on the lookout for opportunities to teach it and his meeting with Alexander presented one.
It worked. So taken aback by this reply, and admired the courage and wit of Diogenes so much, he said to his followers laughing, “But truly if I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes.”
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