Stories of the Ancient Greeks - Charles D. Shaw

The Wise Man Who Lived in a Tub

A strange character of those old days was called Diogenes. He was not born at Athens but went there a young man and spent his time and money in folly and waste. When everything was gone he looked around to know what he should do.

In the street one day he saw a crowd following a man very poorly dressed who with a stick tried to drive away his followers.

"Who is that and why do the people crowd about him?" asked Diogenes.

He was told, "That is Antisthenes. He was a friend of the great Socrates and was with him when he died. He teaches strange lessons and the crowd like to hear him but he drives them away."

"What does he teach?" Diogenes inquired.

"Oh," was the reply, "he says that pleasure is an evil and a hurt, and that men ought not to love themselves, or their families, or the state, or anything, except to do good."

Diogenes went to Antisthenes, and said, "Let me be your scholar."

"Go away," said the other. "I want no scholars. Socrates had them, and he is dead by poison."

"I want you to teach me how to live," said Diogenes. "I have spent all my money and I have no home."

"Live like a dog," was the answer. "Sleep in the streets, cat what you can pick up, do harm to none, do good wherever you can."

Antisthenes was one of the philosophers called "Cynics," which means "dog-like," because they lived as he told Diogenes to do.

"Very well," said Diogenes. "That way of living suits me. I will do as you say. You are my teacher and no stick is heavy enough to drive me away from you."

He did more than his master. To make himself uncomfortable in the summer he rolled in hot sand; in the winter he sat in heaps of snow. His clothes were very coarse and poor. His food was of the plainest and he often ate raw meat. At night he slept under the porches of houses or in the open streets. At last he found a large, empty tub belonging to a temple, and made that his home. This tub was not of wood but of earthenware, and was really a large jar laid on its side. Some boys broke it for mischief, and the city of Athens bought Diogenes a new one.

Although he seemed very cross and surly he had a kind heart. Everybody respected him highly and nobody was angry at him for his plain talk. He said, "Nothing is useful unless it does good immediately. Men read about the wrongs of Ulysses but do not try to right their own wrongs. Of what use is their reading?

"Musicians are very particular to have their lyres in tune but their minds are often harsh and jangling. Of what use is music then?

"Astronomers tell us about the moon and stars while their wives and children are ragged and hungry. Orators go about saying what is right but doing wrong. Of what use is all that?"

It is said that once he was seen in broad daylight going through the streets with a lighted lantern in his hand.

"Have you lost something, Diogenes?" he was asked.

"No," he answered, "but I am trying to find an honest man."

Alexander the Great had heard of this strange man, and went to see him. When he saw Diogenes sitting in his tub he said, "I am Alexander the Great."

"Well," said the other, "I am Diogenes the Cynic."

"I should be pleased to do anything for you. What should you like me to do?" asked the king.

"Stand out of my sunshine," was the reply.



Alexander was not angry. He said, "If I were not Alexander I should like to be Diogenes."

For some reason the philosopher went on a voyage to AEgina. The vessel was taken by pirates and he was carried to Crete and sold as a slave.

The merchant who first bought him asked him, "What can you do?"

"I can command men," he answered. "Sell me to somebody who needs a ruler."

A man from Corinth went through the market looking for a slave to buy. He was told about Diogenes. "That is the man I want," he said, and bought him.

When they arrived at Corinth the man said, "I see that you are wise and good. You are now free; but come, live in my house, teach my children, and be my friend."

All this Diogenes did, and we do not hear that he objected to sleeping in a bed or to sitting at a table.

The man with whom he lived said, "He is a good man and the good spirit of my house."

Every winter he went to Athens and spent some time there. He lived to be ninety years old and many friends mourned when he died.