Herakleitos and Diogenes
by Guy Davenport is a book of fragments translated into English. Here are some I found interesting, Heraclitus first:
5 Our understanding of the greatest matters will never be complete.
13 Eyes and ears are poor informers to the barbarian mind.
Possibly a statement about fallibilism of the senses. But could also be racism against non-Greeks.
55 The stupid are deaf to the truth: they hear, but think that the wisdom of a perception always applies to someone else.
I run into that frequently.
57 Many people learn nothing from what they see and experience, nor do they understand what they hear explained, but imagine they have.
One meaning of this statement is that communication is fallible even when everyone involved believes the communication has been successful.
80 All men think.
I wonder why this has been preserved. Why did anyone find it worth quoting and saving? Was it controversial statement of equality (contrary to the possible racism above)?
6 It is absurd to bring back a runaway slave. If the slave can survive without a master, is it not awful to admit that the master cannot live without the slave?
An interesting perspective.
10 Of what use is a philosopher who doesn't hurt anybody's feelings?
A nice statement in favor of criticism.
23 It is luckier to be a Megarian's ram than his son.
From other fragments, I believe he means because the ram is fed and has an easy life, while the son is made to work hard. Though he could simply mean that parents are harsh.
42 There is no stick hard enough to drive me away from a man from whom I can learn something.
A good attitude which remains rare today. (Don't assume you are an exception. See Heraclitus 55.)
43 Eukleidos' lectures limp and sprawl, Plato's are tedious, tragedies are quarrels before an audience, and politicians are magnified butlers.
Plato gives bad lectures, Diogenes tells us.
48 Beg a cup of wine from Plato and he will send you a whole jar. He does not give as he is asked, nor answer as he is questioned.
To properly engage in reasoned debate with people who disagree, one must be willing to answer their questions clearly. Diogenes says Plato wouldn't do that.
49 Share a dish of dried figs with Plato and he will take them all.
I don't know ancient Greek etiquette, but I think this is saying Plato had bad character.
59 When some strangers to Athens asked me to show them Demosthenes, I gave them the finger, so that they would know what it felt like to meet him.
I wonder why Diogenes didn't like Demosthenes. Unlike with Plato, no specific grievance is given.
92 What lovers really enjoy are their spats and the disapproval of society.
This has some truth today as well. Without fights and controversy, some couples would grow bored. And don't forget Heraclitus 55.
99 Why not whip the teacher when the pupil misbehaves?
A wise comment. Why, indeed, are students blamed rather than teachers, or the pair together? The teacher is the responsible adult, and the leader, whereas the child's ideas are suppressed, so shouldn't the teacher bear primary responsibility for the outcome of a conventional education?
107 Make passes as you, do they? Why, then, don't you wear clothes that don't so accurately outline what they're interested in?
It's interesting that the same style of dressing sexually but denying having done so existed way back then.
109 I've seen Plato's cups and table, but not his cupness and tableness.
A criticism of Plato's Forms for their abstract nature and lack of evidence.
Don't assume you are an exception either. :)
Demosthenes v. Diogenes
Demosthenes, while a top notch orator was despised by Diogenes because he was a "Scythian in his speeches and a gentleman on the battlefield". Demosthenes would rouse and rile up Athenians with his ferocious speeches and as was common with politicians of the time, he would accuse his enemies and be accused by the same of corruption. So powerful and polarizing a figure was Demosthenes that it is natural that he would be the enemy of a true cynic and nothing more than a rabblerouser in Diogenes' eyes.