Greek Legend: Diogenes the Cynic Philosopher

Diogenes was a Greek philosopher who lived in the fourth century B.C.E. He is one of the most famous Cynic philosophers, so he is often called "Diogenes the Cynic." The Cynics were philosophers who rejected worldly wealth and power, preferring instead to lead a simple life without the burden of material possessions. There are many legends about how Diogenes put his philosophical theory into practice.

One story, for example, tells us that Diogenes was walking along one day, carrying all his possessions with him as usual, when he happened to see a child who was drinking from a stream of water. The child scooped up the water with his hands and drank it happily. "This child is far more wise than I am!" Diogenes exclaimed, and he then threw away the drinking cup he had been carrying with him. "Why should I burden myself with this drinking cup, when it is a simple matter to use my hands instead?"

Another story tells us about an encounter between Diogenes and Alexander the Great. Alexander had heard about Diogenes and was impressed by his wisdom. "I should like to give this man a reward," Alexander declared. "Where can I find him?" Alexander's advisers explained that Diogenes did not have a home; instead, he lived in a barrel by the side of the road.

Alexander went to the place and found Diogenes lying beside the barrel, enjoying the warmth of the sun. "Diogenes," Alexander proclaimed, "I have heard of your great wisdom and I would like to reward you. Ask of me anything that you want!"

Diogenes replied, "I want nothing except to enjoy the sunshine, so please just stand aside; you are blocking the light."

Upon hearing this reply, Alexander was even more impressed than before. "If I had not been born Alexander," he remarked, "I would gladly be Diogenes."

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