Diogenes: Ultimate freedom

“For my own part, I would rather excel in knowledge of the highest secrets of philosophy than in arms.”

- Alexander the Great

After it was agreed by a Greek general assembly to begin an expedition against Persia, Alexander the Great was proclaimed as their leader. Many Greek statesmen and philosophers went to congratulate him. Alexander expected Diogenes of Sinope to be one of those offering him congratulations but the philosopher did not pay any attention to him, choosing instead to do some sunbathing in a nearby suburb.

Alexander the Great and his entourage decided to pay him a visit and found Diogenes lying in the sun. Seeing the monarch and all his followers coming towards him, Diogenes made eye contact with Alexander. After Alexander greeted him, he then asked if Diogenes wanted anything. “Yes” came the reply, “stand a little out of my sun”.

Alexander the Great was taken aback by this and his followers laughed and joked about Diogenes as they left. However, Alexander was impressed with Diogenes’ arrogance and magnificence to the point where he remarked to his followers, "if I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes."

This is another tale of power. Alexander the Great went to Diogenes in an attempt to display how powerful he was. Standing directly in front of him and offering to do anything for the philosopher were two further displays of power.

Who really had the power in this interaction? The King could not get the philosopher to take much of an interest in him. The philosopher could get the King to move where he wanted. Alexander the Great earned many riches and chased wealth. Diogenes was free. He had hardly any possessions but did what he wanted.

“Practice being in need of only a few things, for this is the closest thing to god. For the gods need nothing, but, so that you may learn more exactly what is involved in having few needs… reflect that children have more needs than adults, women than men, invalids than the healthy, and, in general, the inferior everywhere has more needs than the superior. Therefore the gods have need of nothing and those nearest to them have the fewest needs.”

- Diogenes