Diogenes (Photo credit: Stifts- och landsbiblioteket i Skara)

There was a quote by Ludwig Wittgenstein on a piece of paper on my wall: ‘Context determines use’.  It amused me that the great philosopher was once found in a ditch, with his notebooks, by one of his friends.  Is this where the philosophers end up?  In a ditch?  In bed?  (Descartes wrote his philosophical tracts in bed).  Sitting at a desk. A lot of writers seemed to include the process of writing in their books.  Writing about writing.

Around this time I began to question the significance of the world I found myself in and its influence on me.  Our position in a certain place at a certain time was a signifier of our destiny.  The pursuit of an introspective life gave me a greater sense of self-awareness.  I began to appreciate the need for self-preservation and simplicity.  I saw my life in relation to my own personal history and the greater history around me.

Why study slavery?  Well, it was part of our undergraduate history curriculum. In addition to being part of our syllabus, I also found it fascinating, if not sickening at times. Diogenes of Sinope, who had been a slave, used to say to the freedmen of his town, ‘I am a slave, but a master of men’.  What did he mean?   My understanding was that he had a deeper understanding of himself and his personal worth.  In that sense, he was liberated from his servile position.  Diogenes would sometimes walk around the town with a lamp.  People would ask him, ‘Diogenes, why are you walking around with a lamp in the middle of the day?’  Diogenes answered, ‘I am looking for an honest man’.

Diogenes slept under a bathtub.  He lived a reflective life,exercised and tutored the youth.  In the course of his conquests, Alexander the Great passed through the town of Sinope.  He saw Diogenes leaning against a wall.  Alexander asked Diogenes if he could do anything for him.  Diogenes said, ‘Yes.  you can move out of my sun’.  Alexander walked away.  After some time he turned to his soldiers and said, ‘If I could be anyone I would be Diogenes’.  Diogenes was self-realized.  He understood that we are bound by nature’s laws and he strove to transcend them.