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The Crime of Diogenes

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THE CRIME OF DIOGENES by Michael E. Marotta

(This article -- with images of the Coin of Diogenes -- also appears here on CoinPeople under Ancient Coins/Articles. I ddi not realize that.)

 

Diogenes was one of the two most famous men of his time. The other was Alexander the Great. Alexander ruled the world. Diogenes lived like a dog.

 

He wrote nothing of his philosophy, choosing to teach by example. All we have of his life is secondary accounts. Plato called him “a Socrates gone mad.” When Plato defined man as a featherless biped, Diogenes fetched a plucked chicken which he called “Plato’s man.” Diogenes slept in doorways. In the summer, he rolled in hot sand. In the winter he embraced stone statues. He did these things to give his mind power over his body. Seeing a child drink from its hands, he threw away his cup. On a voyage, he was captured by pirates and sold into slavery. “Sell me to that man,” Diogenes said. “He needs a master.” He was sold to one Xeniades of Corinth who made him him tutor of his sons and manager of his house. When Alexander the Great met Diogenes, he offered to grant him any wish. “Stand out of the sun,” said the philosopher. “You are blocking my light.” According to legend, Alexander and Diogenes died on the same day in 323. Alexander was just over 30 and Diogenes was over 90.

 

All historians agree that Diogenes the Cynic came to Athens in the wake of some crime against the coinage of his hometown, Sinope. Diogenes was convicted of somehow “tampering” with the coinage. However, the exact nature of the crime is not clear to us today.

 

• Did Diogenes “deface” the coins?

• Did he “debase” them ?

• Did he “adulterate” the metal?

 

Bertrand Russell, in A History of Western Philosophy, called Diogenes "the son of a disreputable money-changer who had been sent to prison for defacing the coinage."

 

According to the Encyclopedia Americana: "Diogenes is said to have gone to Athens as an exile with his father, when either his father or he himself was accused of counterfeiting or tampering in some other way with the currency of Sinope."

 

In The Life of Greece, Will Durant called Diogenes "a bankrupt banker from Sinope."

 

The citation in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy says that he was "... an eccentric tramp at Athens and Corinth, defacing the conventional human standards -- as he or his father, Hicesias, was supposed to have defaced in some way the currency of Sinope...".

 

Yet another spin comes from the Encyclopedia Britannica Micropaedia: "Almost certainly forced into exile from Sinope with his father... He made it his mission to 'deface the currency,' perhaps meaning 'to put false coin out of circulation.’ That is, he sought to expose the falsity of conventional standards and to call men back to a simple, natural life."

 

According to Laertius, the crime of Diogenes was "adulterating the coinage." Laertius allowed that Diogenes may have conspired with the workers in the mint to "alter the political currency" or to "adulterate the state coinage." Another story from ancient times is that Diogenes' father entrusted him with the money and he “debased” it, causing his father to be imprisoned.

 

Is there any way to reconcile these accounts?

 

Suppose that Diogenes adulterated the silver bullion from which the coins were made. As an elected official, he would have no more access to the mint than our own secretary of the treasury. Therefore, he would need the help of at least some mint workers. To cover his tracks, as the mintmaster, he could then make a test cut on each debased coin. The test cut would be taken by most people as showing the coin to be genuine.

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An interesting and a fascinating account as always Michael, i do enjoy reading your posts greatly. Interesting about the character of Diogene's but they often say the only measure between insanity and genius is through success. Anyhow Plato was one to talk, or rather he wasn't since he always favoured talking through his former tutor Socrates. Mind you looking at what happened to Socrates you can see perhaps why Plato was being cautious in this respect.

 

As for Bertrand Russell it's best not to believe everything he said, afterall he though he was a vampire :ninja:

 

 

 

Suppose that Diogenes adulterated the silver bullion from which the coins were made.  As an elected official, he would have no more access to the mint than our own secretary of the treasury. Therefore, he would need the help of at least some mint workers.  To cover his tracks, as the mintmaster, he could then make a test cut on each debased coin.  The test cut would be taken by most people as showing the coin to be genuine.

 

 

This is not an unplausible theory, there are counterfeit Athenian Owls out there that were either cast or struck in copper and plated, the dies were made with a test cut engraved in them already to make people think the coins had been already tested and found good.

 

From your previous post am i right in thinking that you are suggesting that Diogenes did this less for world profit but merely to prove the point that coinage and laws were all superflous to nature and that by rejecting such materialistic things one could become more free or content within ones self? Hence why he lived a life of enforced poverty? Kind of like medieval Anchorites or Hermits.

 

Interesting.

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  From your previous post am i right in thinking that you are suggesting that Diogenes did this less for world profit but merely to prove the point that coinage and laws were all superflous to nature and that by rejecting such materialistic things one could become more free or content within ones self? Hence why he lived a life of enforced poverty? Kind of like medieval Anchorites or Hermits.

 

The ANA Authentication Bureau determined the specific gravity of the coin shown in the title post to be 10.32. This is about the same as an alloy of 90% silver and 10% copper. The coin shown has nder the eagle’s wing DIO for Diogenes and under the dolphin SINO for Sinope

 

I believe that Diogenes got caught cheating with the coinage when he was the elected (or chosen by lot) Mintmaster of Sinope. He left town in disgrace, possibly to avoid prison or worse -- though no one pursued him, so maybe they just confiscated his property. At Athens he turned over a new leaf. My favorite Diogene story is in the Academy, he heard Plato define man as "a featherless biped." So, the next day, he showed up with a plucked chicken, "Here is Plato's man!"

 

(Bertrand Russell's upper class socialism shows in his biography of Diogenes, though most of Western Intellectual Tradition is acceptable. Most of the sources just rehash the original biography by Diogenes Laertus in Lives of the Eminent Philosophers. For my Celator article, I retranslated the key passages, taking the crux of the matter ("paracharasis" in Greek) back through its etymology.)

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