Occupy Athens, circa 350 BC - Was Diogenes the First Occupier?

NPR has been doing a series called NewsPoets in which a poets comes and spends the day at NPR and then puts the days news into verse. A recent segment featured Pulitizer Prize winner Philip Schultz, who said he came to the project with an idea in mind, even though his final poem went in a different direction. In the lead up to the project he found himself thinking about the greek phillosopher Diogenes. 

"What would Diogenes be doing today his lamp in daylite looking for an honest man. […] I mean here’s a guy who, by choice, lived in a tub in the middle of Athens. He believed that poverty was nobility. And here he was the founder of the cynic philosophy, cynicism, and just lived on the outskirts of politics."

I’ve studied some greek philosophy, but I hadn’t heard of Diogenes. Based on Schultz’s description Diogenes sounded like the first Occupier. He set up camp in a public square, was skeptical of money and power, and saw himself as outside traditional politics.

The parrellels deepen once you look further into Diogenes’ bio and philosophy. Diogenes believed virtue was rooted in action not theory or reputation. He was known for public stunts designed to critique power and social conventions, including mocking Alexander the Great and defacing currency (even though his father minted coins for a living).

Finally, Diogenes would have likely felt at home in our globally connected age where resistance movements across borders and oceans find solidarity and support each other. He coined the word “cosmopolitan” and claimed to be “a citizen of the world” purposefully eschewing notions of citizenship tied to nationalism or a particular city state.

This is in no way a comprehensive overview of Diogenes, and may be a convenient curration of facts about a complex and problematic character. Nonetheless, we can see in Diogenes some important commonality with the current Occupy movement, and that in and of itself is interesting.  

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Sources

Philip Schultz Writes The Day In Verse:  http://www.npr.org/2012/09/28/161950546/newspoet-philip-schultz-writes-the-day-in-verse (NPR did not trascribe the full audio of this interview so be sure to listen to the audio for the quote I include above) 

Diogenes of Sinope on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diogenes_of_Sinope

Images:

Diogenes by John William Waterhouse

Alexander the Great visits Diogenes at Corinth by W. Matthews

Diogenes sitting in his jar. Painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme

  1. jcstearns posted this