Recommendations and Trials with Diogenes and Epictetus

The works of Diogenes did not survive, and we only know about him from accounts of others. I and my friend Danjuma, recently lamented this. My friend had read my post on “Anti-Establishment” where Diogenes was mentioned; he was obviously as impressed as I am with this character, that he decided to find out more. Today I add a little to whatever he may have found, and I hope he also shares that which he found. What I share is an account given by Epictetus on Diogenes’ response to a request for recommendation. The reply to this seemingly simple request was typical Diogenes, very cynical, but thought provoking, see excerpt below:

That was a good reply which Diogenes made to a man who asked him for letters of recommendation.—”That you are a man, he will know when he sees you;—whether a good or bad one, he will know if he has any skill in discerning the good or bad. But if he has none, he will never know, though I write him a thousand times.”—It is as though a piece of silver money desired to be recommended to some one to be tested. If the man be a good judge of silver, he will know: the coin will tell its own tale.” Excerpt from The discourses of Epictetus (Translated by George Long)

Vineyards in Italy (Wikipedia). These beautiful grapes must pass through a crushing and pressing process to produce wine

While there is nothing wrong with recommendations, and we may require this to tick some boxes these days; what Diogenes was pointing out is that recommendations can be deliberately made to mislead, or that people can change, and also that what is good for one may not be good for another. What this means is that the ultimate recommendation is oneself and not what others say. Similarly, when people judge others, it doesn’t really matter, the truth will be self evident. This story again by Epictetus says it all:

In the same way my friend Heraclitus, who had a trifling suit about a petty farm at Rhodes, first showed the judges that his cause was just, and then at the finish cried, “I will not entreat you: nor do I care what sentence you pass. It is you who are on your trial, not I!”—And so he ended the case.” Excerpt from The discourses of Epictetus (Translated by George Long)

The excerpt above is a typical stoic reaction to trials. When people put you on trial and judge you; console yourself that it is they who are on trial! The typical stoic will maintain his stance and dignity, come what may; this is why Socrates in the face of death will not entreat his accusers, the narrative in the Apology and Crito by Plato was even as if he sought to provoke them further with the truth, rather than beg for his life with lies and pity. Again, Epictetus documented a part of it thus:

Anytus and Melitus may put me to death: to injure me is beyond their power.” And again:—”If such be the will of God, so let it be.” Excerpt from The discourses of Epictetus (Translated by George Long)

We all know the story, Socrates was murdered, albeit with his own hands using hemlock he was forced to drink. Events afterwards show why there is no need entreating those who pass judgments falsely, they are recalcitrant! They sought to murder Aristotle as well, based on trumped up charges, but luckily he took off. He stated that it wasn’t out of fear, but he only wanted to save Athens from committing the second crime against philosophy, the first being the murder of Socrates. One would have thought they would be sorry for murdering such a great man as Socrates, rather they sought to murder another great!

In a nutshell, it’s not what others say about you, good or bad. The discerning will appreciate your true value, and it is the loss of those that do not. I will not leave without giving you something relevant on this from the Nigerian Philosopher, hear him:

I react almost instantly when necessary, to obnoxiously unacceptable acts, events and issues, deceptions and heinous crimes and gross injustices from any quarters to any quarters to the extent that such reactions have been inaccurately described as impulsive or temperamental. I am not moved by such description because what I will not accept, I will not accept, I keep no malice.…. I seek no applause but appreciate understandingExcerpt from Olusegun Obasanjo, My Watch.

Sublime from the Nigerian Philosopher! Do not accept what you cannot accept regardless of whose ox is gored, even if it’s yours! When next you are passing through fire and severe trials, I recommend the song “Another in the Fire” by Hillsong United; they said to count it all joy when any battle comes! Again this is sublime, because remember that life is war, battles are inevitable, and are meant to shape you and transform you into a master in the art of war. Just remember your 7 considerations for success, and be spiritual and philosophical and victory is certain!

13th Century Chinese Pottery (Wikipedia). These beautiful porcelain were produced by passing ordinary clay through fire

Ande Elisha

The Amateur Philosopher