Monday, September 2, 2013

Barrel Life


Historical Fiction

“I’m going to die,” declared Diogenes.  He was 96. 

By the time you reach the age of 96 you will have acquired the wisdom to know when to die.  You can have such wisdom even earlier.  Depends on what life taught you.  Rather what you cared to learn from life.

Diogenes was on a street in Corinth.  Dying.  The street was his home.  When the weather was too good outside he chose to get into a barrel.  Somebody had gifted him that barrel. 

Why somebody?  Greece was mad enough to understand the madness of Diogenes and appreciate it.  But Greece was not so mad that Diogenes was prompted to declare with the certainty that comes only to godmen that “Most men are within a finger’s breadth of being mad.”

“It takes a wise man to discover a wise man,” declared Diogenes with the same godman-certainty when Xeniades of Corinth bought him from the slave dump.  He had been sold as a slave by one of the administrators of Greece who wished to get rid of his ravings from the country.   

“What slave work do you want me to do for you?” asked Diogenes when he had been bought.

“Be a teacher to my children,” answered Xeniades with the insanity that only the Greeks possessed in those days. 

It was 4th century BCE.  Madness was not too common except in the Greek Civilisation.

“I can’t live in such luxury,” declared Diogenes when Xeniades offered him a comfortable room with a comfortable bed.

The streets were where Diogenes belonged.  He was mad, you see.  But how can an aristocrat like Xeniades have the teacher of his children sleep in the street?  So Xeniades presented him a barrel on Teacher’s Day.  A big clay jar.  “Shall I fill it with wine?”  Xeniades asked while presenting the gift?  “No, let it be my home,” answered Diogenes.   

When he found pushing the clay barrel around a boring job, Diogenes lit a candle and walked around in the broad daylight.  Madman, you see.  Yet one sane Greek fellow dared ask him, “What are you searching for?”

“Human beings,” answered Diogenes.

When human beings failed to condescend with their apparitions in the great Greek Civilisation, Diogenes withdrew to his barrel and lay down as comfortably as he could.

It was then Alexander the Conqueror came along to visit him. 

“Why do you go around conquering so much?” asked Diogenes.  “If you want to see what costs money and what does not cost anything go there.”  He pointed towards the building nearby.  It was a brothel, Alexander the Great realised with a smirk.  

“What can I do for you?” asked Alexander.

“Just move away.  You’re blocking my sunlight.”

“The sun too penetrates into secrets, but it is not polluted by them,” said Diogenes to the children of Xeniades, his students.

Diogenes died.  The mad Greeks said that Alexander the Great too died on the same day.  And Alexander was only 33.


Postscript: This is only partly fiction


PPSHappy Teacher’s Day to all those in that profession.  I’m a bit too early to wish.  The early bird catches the worm, you see.  [And Denis the Menace, student, replied, “I don’t want to be an early worm.”] J

13 comments:

  1. Perhaps Alexander lacked that 'wisdom'...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Precisely. Had he lived longer would he have acquired the wisdom?

      Delete
  2. Wonderful sir.. good to read about Diogenes.. and I believe the "you are blocking my sunlight" is a very famous line..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it's quite a famous episode from the life of the philosopher. Most of the words I have put into the mouth of the philosopher actually belong to him.

      Delete
  3. We have very few teachers these days. Most of them are Executives with targets.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They are forced to be. Every minute is scheduled tightly. What do you expect?

      Delete
  4. No more a profession its turned into a business and I hope someone can come in today's world and say “Just move away. You’re blocking my sunlight.”

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd like to share your optimism, Athena.

      Education is a commodity today, like any other thing in the world. Isn't love a commodity?

      Delete
  5. Great post. Haven't seen a more relevant article for Teacher's day. Also thank you for introducing to Diogenes, never knew he was the original promoter of cynicism.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One of the many fascinating philosophers of Greece, Diogenes was indeed a cynic par excellence. As I have said in the post, only a civilisation like the Greeks' could have found him admirable!

      Delete
  6. Brilliant read! Sanity is a burden we choose to live with.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Brilliant comment, Vinaya. And thanks for that.

      Shall I raise my hat to you!

      Delete
  7. I think the most profound sentence in this fiction is “The sun too penetrates into secrets, but it is not polluted by them.” I wish we could that sunlight. Sigh...

    ReplyDelete