Diogenes Knew It
Posted on September 22, 2015

In the second century of our era, a wealthy Greek named Diogenes, (no relative of the Greek philosopher of the same name), carved a message in stone on a gigantic wall in a tiny Turkish town. It must have been part of a kind of early billboard where citizens who could afford it posted their messages. His was very simple – advice for ignorance!

I found this in a recent copy of Archeology, a magazine for those of us who love antiquity for what it tells us about human nature. Diogenes was worried that people, in increasing numbers, had false ideas. This was what he concluded: “While the various segments of the earth give different people a different country, the whole compass of this world gives all people a single country, the entire Earth, and a single home, the world.”

His message is still being deciphered from the places where the original stone was reused in building projects, but I could not help being struck by the timeliness of his universal call. Two current events offer a startling contrast to Diogenes’ hopes. We cannot ignore the refugee crisis which is calling forth the resources of every northern and western country. We daily see both the welcome and the barbed wire fences that greet those desperate people. And we have people in our country cheering the prospect of our walling off the United States from new arrivals.

Whatever happened to “Give me your tired, your poor…” ? With the exception of Native Americans where did the rest of us come from? I know my own ancestors arrived in New York from steerage on ships, not from first class cabins.

Diogenes was a pagan philosopher who thought Epicureanism could cure mankind’s ignorance. He was wrong in that, but right in challenging his neighbors to try to understand their place on this earth and their responsibility for those who walk beside them.

Would that we, 19 centuries later, were as wise.

(cf. ARCHEOLOGY, July/August 2015)


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