Friday, 23 November 2007

What's in a Name?

I was relaxing in the Diogenes Club the other day, enjoying a pipe in my favourite chair by the large window whilst watching the world go by along Pall Mall, when it struck me that I should give some thought to the question of my club name. Having been admitted in through the hallowed portals of the most exclusive establishment in the country, I needed to decide what name I should go under when on club business. It was a tricky problem. Something in keeping with the spirit of Diogenes himself seemed to be an obvious route forward, but what?

Whilst puffing ruminatively on my Meerschaum, I tried to dredge up what little I could remember of the Classics that I studied whilst up at Oxford. If my memory served, Diogenes was a pupil of Antisthenes, and was also said to have been the teacher of Crates of Thebes. Together they were regarded as the founders of Cynicism.

Crates was the teacher of Zeno of Citium, another great Cynic, and also the founder of Stoicism. I must confess that I initially confused him with the inventor of the famous Paradoxes, but after checking in the club's copy of Encyclopaedia Britannica, I discovered that the paradoxes were the work of Zeno of Elea, a different chap entirely.

I quite liked the name Zeno - short and simple, and you can spell it with a Z or an X, which is quite useful for confusing people - but I wanted to know more about him. One doesn't like to hide behind a chap's name unless one knows something about the chap in question. The Encyclopaedia was uncharacteristically terse on the old boy, so I wandered over to the dining room and scanned the tables to see if 'Buffy' Buffington was in. He's a decent sort who does something at the Foreign Office, but despite that he possesses a first rate mind. Got a first in Greek Philosophy at Balliol, so I thought that if anyone knew, it would be he.

And so it proved. Over a quick snifter in the bar, he elucidated the main points of the Cynic's philosophy:

1. The goal of life is happiness which is to live in agreement with Nature.
2. Happiness depends on being self-sufficient, and a master of mental attitude.
3. Self-sufficiency is achieved by living a life of Virtue.
4. The road to Virtue is to free oneself from any influence such as wealth, fame, or power, which have no value in Nature.
5. Suffering is caused by false judgments of value, which cause negative emotions and a vicious character.

In short, a Cynic has no property and rejects all conventional values of money, fame, power or reputation, as a life lived according to nature requires only the bare necessities required for existence, and one can become free by unshackling oneself from any needs which are the result of convention.

Well, as you can imagine, I was absolutely stunned. I've never really had what you might call a philosophy of life, but here was Buffy quoting chapter and verse at me, whilst talking about some chap who lived over two thousand years ago!

My search for a nom de plume was at an end.

1 comment:

Dr Phil said...

Excellent contribution, Zeno old chap. And a very good summary of the true cynics way. I am looking forward to further contributions.