Diogenes Was Disturbed.


Diogenes was disturbed. It wasn’t really because he had lost his wares. It was frustrating to know that his carefully crafted ornaments were floating down the river for anyone to pick up, but that was not what disturbed him mostly now. It was not even the fact that he was wet and cold from having capsized as he crossed the river, nor even really because he had nearly drowned. No it was not the nearly drowning that disturbed him so much as the questions that nearly drowning had forced into his mind.

“If I had drowned, what difference would it have made?”

“Hello Diogenes,” a cheerful friendly voice hailed.

“Oh, it’s you Socrates.”

“Why so glum, then my friend? And why so damp? Have you been swimming in your clothes like an absent minded philosopher?”

“This is no time for jokes Socrates. I almost drowned. But that’s not the worst of it. My life has no meaning!”

“Oh, surely you are being too dramatic? Will you add the skills of the player to those of the philosopher?”

“What does my life amount to? What have I achieved? What mark shall I leave upon this world?”

“But surely, you are a master craftsman? Have you not created many a work of beauty and significance?”

“Bah, Socrates. In a few hundred years all my works will be dust or buried in the ground or forgotten in some dark corner. What difference does that make?”

“Ah, let us play this game then my friend. But surely you have made a good living from your craft, have you not? That is something to be proud of.”

“What is a good living but food for the stomach that will only be eaten by worthless worms one day?”

“Well parried. But you have enjoyed your life, have you not? You have found joy and pleasure in your craft, and in spending the money you have made through it? You have lived a pleasant life without want and with much luxury. You life has been better than that of the mean and the poor. Surely that makes for satisfaction?”

“Nay Socrates, for when we die, what shall set me apart from the mean and the poor, when we both shall turn to dust alike? There is no satisfaction there for me.”

“You drive a hard bargain, Diogenes. But I shall have the better of this argument yet. For you are no average man, my friend. Do you forget the fame that your craft has brought you? Why, your name is trumpeted from Athens to the Bosporus! In the highest halls of power they seek your skill and praise your handiwork.”

“What will fame be to me, when I am feeding the worms in the ground? How shall it help me then? And how fleeting is the fame of this life. I tell you Socrates, not a hundred years hence, the very names ‘Socrates’ and ‘Diogenes’ shall have disappeared from the earth!”

“I see that you are in a black mood indeed! Well if fame brings you no joy, then what of your family and your friends? What of the many happy days you have spent together with them? Shall these count for nothing? And what of the legacy that you leave behind you: manly Alithenus and your delightful little flower Sophia? Has not your life meant something for those who have loved you, as indeed, have I?”

“Yes, yes, yes. I have loved, and you have loved, and they have loved. And then, all is worms; worms and dust. What difference does it make to the worms if they feast upon a man who was loved or one who was alone all his life? Both taste just as sweet!”

“I see that it is the giant Chronos who lies at the heart of your disquiet, Diogenes, with his servants the worms. Why then do you not leave behind you such an edifice that Chronos himself cannot harm it? The travellers tell us stories of the far land of the Nile, where there are structures that have stood for more lives of men than any can remember; huge mountains constructed at the command of the great Pharaohs at the cost of a hundred thousand lives, built with sweat and blood, filled with unimaginable treasure, and standing against the storms of the desert. No worms here, my friend! Would that sate your lust for meaning?”

“At last you tempt me with a morsel of at least a little attraction. Yet even as I ponder it, it dissolves away into nothing. For who remembers the great Pharaoh now who caused this wonder to be erected? Who cares for him? How is the world different for all his exertions, other than to provide an oddity, a novelty that men gaze upon once with awe, then soon forget in the mean struggle of their real lives? And who is to say that even this edifice shall stand forever? The storms of the desert eat away at it little by little. Though it take a thousand years, yet sooner or later it too shall become nothing but dust once more. Nothing in this world, not the most adamant of stones, not the most beautiful of ideas, shall last.”

“I have but one last trick to play in this game of skill, but it shall be my best! Come with me, and let us sail to the far ends of the earth, where it is said there lies an island of mysteries, and there drink of the potion of life everlasting! Then we shall cheat Chronos of his prey, and we shall cheat the worms of their meat. What if you should live on forever, dear Diogenes?”

“You tempt me with a mirage, Socrates! For if these few score of years have no meaning, how shall multiplying them add meaning to them? All you have done is to extend their pitiful agony forever, and have taken away the only escape from that agony. For even if feeding the worms with my body shows that my life has no meaning, at least when I am being devoured, I shall not know it, and the agony will be done. Would you take away that relief from your dearest friend, Socrates?”

 “Then my dear Diogenes, I have sad news for you. For it seems that the meaning you seek is not to be found in this world at all! But then we must choose between two evil choices; for either the meaning of our lives exists outside this world where we cannot go, or else there is no meaning at all, and our existence is the same as our absence! Why if that be so, then why not end the agony now, instead of waiting for slow, witless nature to take its course?”

“And now you see the reason for my glum mood, friend Socrates. Let us at least soothe our pain by sharing this emptiness together for a little while. Come, I have a better idea: let us go to visit our mutual friend Plato. He is the wisest man I know. If anyone has an answer to our conundrum, surely it shall be he!”

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