Tag Archives: letter 24

Diogenes of Sinope wrote to Alexander the Great…

Puget_-_Diogenes_Alexander_LouvrePeople can appreciate or not Oliver Stone’s movie : Alexander. But I will never thank him enough to make me discover Alexander the great’s life. The film had the merit to give me the need to know more. And since then, I continued to read and learn about this great man. I started first to write some fan fiction. But even if I write fiction and fantasy, I always use a historical base which obliges me to do a lot of research. What I like a lot.

Lately translating a note, for the last chapter of ‘Nothing is ever finished’, about Diogenes of Sinope and reading again my french notes, some questioning crossed my mind. And I decided to write a little article about it. I have no other presence than to share my reflexions in instant.

Diogenes of Sinope (philosopher, Cynic school) sent those words to Alexander the Great when this one was already a king. In the letter of which we know only some fragments, he says :

« If you wish to become beautiful and good, throw the rags on your head and come to us. However you will not be able to do it, because you are hold by Hephaistion’s thighs. »
(Sources : Letter 24)

Erudites translate the first sentence by : give up power and possession and join a life of simplicity. Simplicity that Diogenes applied to himself, living humbly.

Jean-Léon_Gérôme_-_Diogenes_-_Walters_37131

The rags being a metaphor for the crown that from now Alexander wore, symbol of his fonction and power.

Out of context, it is difficult to know if Diogenes, in the second sentence, meant that in reality it was Hephaistion who owned the reins of power as the letter seems to presuppose. But, at last this shows that the relationship between Alexander and Hephaistion was known. And that in the eyes of their contemporaries, and in regard of what Diogenes suggested, it was not platonic.

And knowing that, in his writing, Diogenes advocated all total freedom in sexuality, it is unlikely that it was a criticism about this aspect but rather the way Alexander let Hephaistion have some power upon him.

Did Diogene suggest that Hephaistion was eager for power ?

In regard of his life, it could seem that he had a lot of ambition. And it could explain the dislike that some people in Alexander’s entourage has against him. I don’t think the other was less avid of power but Hephaistion succeeded where the others failed.

But we can consider this sentence under other aspects.
Could it be that Diogenes suggest that Alexander was the slave of his desires forgetting what is essential in Diogenes’ opinion ?

Or else, could Diogenes suggest that Alexander was wrong to love Hephaistion ? The philosopher thought love as being absurd. In his opinion, people hadn’t to grow attached to someone else. This joins in a way the previous question.

In Politeia, Diogenes preached the freedom and the detachment : sexual freedom, self-sufficiency, suppression of money and weapon, the indifference to the grave, the negation of sacred but too the equality between woman and man, and more. He tried to free himself from the social conventions. And questioned the value of his world. The modernity of his thought shook up, and explain certainly that his work was forgotten. In fact, some philosophers close of cynic philosophy preferred to forget this inheritance who seemed too embarrassing.