A Day With Diogenes

by Terry Ballard

Announcer: In this first part of our video series of humorists in

world literature, we are going to take a look at Diogenes the

Cynic. Diogenes was a citizen of Athens during the time of Plato,

although his approach to philosophy was a world away. Even though

Diogenes left no surviving works, he was an influential figure in

literature. In this presentation, you should pay attention to the

ways in which Diogenes used humor to underscore the serious message

of his cynic philosophy. Now, thanks to the magic of television, we

will take you back 2300 years for an interview with Diogenes.

Announcer: Good afternoon, Diogenes. In keeping with your

reputation as a non-conformist, I see that you keep your bathtub

outside of your house.

Diogenes: The bathtub is my house.

Announcer: I see. Well there must be some advantage to that.

Diogenes: Certainly. No window can give a view like this, and if

the neighborhood goes bad, I can just walk off with the house.

Announcer: Have you always lived in a tub?

Diogenes: No, when I was small, I lived in a house like everybody

else. In fact, my father was a well-to-do banker...except at the


Announcer: What brought him down - bad economic conditions?

Diogenes: No, he made me his assistant. While serving in that

capacity, I deliberately debased the coinage. But it wasn't really

my fault. The gods told me to do it. I went to the oracle at Delphi

and asked.

Announcer: The oracle told you to debase the coins?

Diogenes: Not exactly. I asked if I should do that which would make

my reputation grow. Since they were gods, they must have known what

I meant. Afterwards, I left my native Sinope and visited Greece.

Announcer: What you mean is that they sentenced you to a life of


Diogenes: If you like. I prefer to think that I sentenced them to

a life of staying at home. Once I arrived in Athens, I began my

career as a philosopher.

Announcer: That job doesn't pay much. How did you eat?

Diogenes: I got a moonlighting job - begging. I went to every

statue in town and asked for money.

Announcer: Why statues?

Diogenes: It got me used to being refused. After a time, I tried my

technique on people. I told each customer that if he had given to

other beggars, then he should give to me as well. If not, he should

start with me.

Announcer: How did it go?

Diogenes: I lost 30 pounds and gained a philosophy.

Announcer: Why is it that people will give alms to the blind and

crippled, but not a philosopher?

Diogenes: People know that one day they could be blind or crippled,

but they never dream they will take up a philosophy.

Announcer: How did you avoid starvation altogether?

Diogenes: I stole food from temples.

Announcer: Isn't that strange for a philosopher who teaches ethical


Diogenes: Not at all. It is well known that the gods are friends of

the wise, and friends are a community who share their goods. Since

I am a wise man, I know that the gods want to share their goods

with me. It is just a matter of making the arrangements.

Announcer: Do you really believe in the gods?

Diogenes: How could I not? Just look at all of the god-forsaken

people around here. People go to the temples and pray for their

health. Afterwards, they go home and feast until they are sick.

This morning I saw a man being sprinkled with holy water to make

his soul pure. There is as much chance of improving his soul in

that way as improving his grammar. The gods provide every man with

the means to be happy, yet people devote their lives to making

themselves miserable.

Announcer: You don't think much of religion. How do you feel about

your fellow philosophers?

Diogenes: For once, I am at a loss for words. Let's take a walk and

I will show you where the wind goes when it retires.

Plato: What is man? I define man as a featherless biped.

Diogenes: (Throwing a plucked chicken over the wall) Here is your

man, Plato.

Plato: I define man as an animal: featherless and biped - with

broad fingernails. What is motion? Motion is an illusion. (Diogenes

skips around Plato in a circle). I see our friend Diogenes is here

to poke holes in everybody's vanity but his own. Perhaps he would

like to share his vision with us.

Student 1: Diogenes, what is a wise man?

Diogenes: There is but a finger's difference between a wise man and

a fool. If a man raises his first finger and speaks, people think

him wise. If he lifts his middle finger, they think him mad.

Student 2: You must be aware that people laugh at you.

Diogenes: But I am never laughed down. Jackasses laugh at people,

but the people do not care. If people laugh at me, I care the same.

Student 3: People criticized you for eating in the marketplace this


Diogenes: That's where I was hungry. I base my life on that of a

dog. The dog knows no law but the law of nature.

Student 3: What kind of dog are you?

Diogenes: When hungry I am a Maltese. When full I am an elkhound.

Either way, I'm the kind of dog that people admire but don't take

on hunting trips.

Plato: Diogenes, some say that gold is pale because it is perfect,

like the sun. What do you think?

Diogenes: No, gold is pale because there are so many thieves

plotting against it.

Student 1: Diogenes, do you have a book of writings, that I may

live by your rules?

Diogenes: Fool! If you were given a tray with real fruit and

artificial fruit, would you eat the painted wax? My philosophy is

how I live. See you around.

Announcer: I guess you don't think much of philosophers. What do

you think about drama?

Diogenes: Peep shows for fools.

Announcer: I'll bet you don't think much of politicians.

Diogenes: They spout off a lot about justice, but never practice


Announcer: Didn't you have a brush with royalty?

Diogenes: If you could call it that. I was sunning myself by the

side of the road when Alexander the Great walked right up to me. He

said, "I am Alexander, king of all the world." I replied, "I am

Diogenes, the Cynic." He asked if there was anything he could do

for me. I told him he could get out of my light. "Are you not

afraid of me?" he asked. I asked him if he were a good man or evil.

"Good, of course," he replied. "Then why should I be afraid of

you?" "Why indeed," he replied. As he left he remarked "If I were

not Alexander, I should like to be Diogenes."

Announcer: Do you believe in the institution of marriage?

Diogenes: I believe in no institutions. Marriage does not exist -

there are only men who persuade and women who consent.

Announcer: Is there anything you do believe in?

Diogenes: Yes. I believe in the human mind, and the capacity to

improve with hard work and determination. When I see physicians and

pilots, I think man to be the most intelligent animal there is.

When I see soothsayers, astrologers and their customers, I believe

that man is lower than the crab.

Announcer: How do you think people of the future will see you?

Diogenes: As a pioneering outdoorsman.

Announcer: What instructions will you leave for your funeral


Diogenes: I want to be buried face-down. The world will soon be

turned topsy-turvy and I don't want to present my backside to the


Announcer: Who will take care of the arrangements?

Diogenes: Whoever wants the house.

Announcer: Well I see by the old sundial that it's time to go. Any

last words of advice that you can leave us with?

Diogenes: Yes, ignore everything I say.

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You can now see the video from 1980 at: YouTube

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