The Philosophy of Antisthenes

IMG_20151109_103730“Come, now, Antisthenes,” said Socrates, “take your turn and tell us how it is that with such slender means you base your pride on wealth.”

“Because, sirs, I conceive that people’s wealth and poverty are to be found not in their real estate but in their hearts. For I see many persons, not in office, who though possessors of large resources, yet look upon themselves as so poor that they bend their backs to any toil, any risk, if only they may increase their holdings; and again I know of brothers, with equal shares in their inheritance, where one of them has plenty, and more than enough to meet expenses, while the other is in utter want. Again, I am told of certain despots, also, who have such a greedy appetite for riches that they commit much more dreadful crimes than they who are afflicted with the direst poverty. For it is of course their want that makes some people steal, others commit burglary, others follow the slave trade; but there are some despots who destroy whole families, kill men wholesale, oftentimes enslave even entire cities, for the sake of money. As for such men, I pity them deeply for their malignant disease; for in my eyes their malady resembles that of a person who possessed abundance but though continually eating could never be satisfied.

“For my own part, my possessions are so great that I can hardly find them myself; yet I have enough so that I can eat until I reach a point where I no longer feel hungry and drink until I do not feel thirsty and have enough clothing so that when out of doors I do not feel the cold any more than my superlatively wealthy friend Callias here; and when I get into the house I look on my walls as exceedingly warm tunics and the roofs as exceptionally thick mantles; and the bedding that I own is so satisfactory that it is actually a hard task to get me awake in the morning. If I ever feel a natural desire for converse with women, I am so well satisfied with whatever chance puts in my way that those to whom I make my addresses are more than glad to welcome me because they have no one else who wants to consort with them.

“In a word, all these items appeal to me as being so conducive to enjoyment that I could not pray for greater pleasure in performing any one of them, but could pray rather for less—so much more pleasurable do I regard some of them than is good for one. But the most valuable parcel of my wealth I reckon to be this, that even though some one were to rob me of what I now possess, I see no occupation so humble that it would not give me adequate fare. For whenever I feel an inclination to indulge my appetite, I do not buy fancy articles at the market (for they come high), but I draw on the store-house of my soul. And it goes a long way farther toward producing enjoyment when I take food only after awaiting the craving for it than when I partake of one of these fancy dishes, like this fine Thasian wine that fortune has put in my way and I am drinking without the promptings of thirst. Yes, and it is natural that those whose eyes are set on frugality should be more honest than those whose eyes are fixed on money-making. For those who are most contented with what they have are least likely to covet what belongs to others.

“And it is worth noting that wealth of this kind makes people generous, also. My friend Socrates here and I are examples. For Socrates, from whom I acquired this wealth of mine, did not come to my relief with limitation of number and weight, but made over to me all that I could carry. And as for me, I am now niggardly to no one, but both make an open display of my abundance to all my friends and share my spiritual wealth with any one of them that desires it. But—most exquisite possession of all!—you observe that I always have leisure, with the result that I can go and see whatever is worth seeing, and hear whatever is worth hearing and—what I prize highest—pass the whole day, untroubled by business, in Socrates’ company. Like me, he does not bestow his admiration on those who count the most gold, but spends his time with those who are congenial to him.”

Such was the thesis maintained by Antisthenes.

(From the Symposium of Xenophon)

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