Diogenes was an ancient Greek philosopher whose fame sprang from a simple quest for a single honest man. He was often observed at high-noon, lantern in hand, searching the faces of his fellow Athenians with the eternal question, "Be thou an honest man?" History has never recorded whether his search was successful or not but the name of Diogenes has lived to become synonymous with the virtue of Honesty.
A copy of the following letter recently crossed the editorial desk of this publication. Although its authenticity has not been verified by latter-day historians we are reproducing it in the interest of that possibility and for the benefit of a discriminating readership. Ed.
"BE THOU AN HONEST MAN?"
by James Fletcher Baxter
©. 1996, All Rights Reserved
To The Most Honored and Learned Diogenes: A Bountious Peace to the Household of Thine August Presence. Greetings!
Ere the sun goes down upon a sin of my omission, I entrust this communique to the hand of my son and heir, dear Hermius, that he should deliver it from before my face and into thy Learned Presence.
When, on a recent noonday, I encountered thee upon the dusty road to Delphi and received the excellencies of salutation from thine own bearded mouth toward this humble servant, I did quake and forget the manners learned at the knee of my father's wife.
I had all but mislaid my own name when thy generosity of kindness melted this head of stone and restored me again to the earth of man and beast, sky and fencepost, leaf and tree.
Withstanding the apologies of this thy humble servant, you did honor this person further by accepting the minor and humble table offering in the shade of an oak at the side of the road. This arrowmaker's simple repast of biscuit, cheeses, two small fish, and a small skin of wine was, to my delight, accepted by Thine August Person.
I thank Zeus and Themis for the delight of your wisdom which you saw fit to pour out upon this poor servant in a monologue which lasted through the quarter day and until the meal had echoed its satisfaction on thy breath.
Thy words were as golden rods upon mine ears causing me to see the worthlessness of one's self, recognizing the marvelous superiority of others, and increasing within this wretched heart a desire to be a servant to the needs and authority of others - such as yourself.
Having understood the error of my ways through the spent days past, Thy Excellency allowed this servant to persuade the acceptance of my meager tunic of raw sheeps wool and the two small copper coins that I had saved for some future selfish pleasure. The nod and the smile bestowed upon me was the reward and delight of my heart.
Reputation having preceded thee, I was fearful of the question, which I knew if asked, would strike to the marrow of my being. Upon taking your leave my most profound fear was realized for you turned and with an awesome gaze into my soul said, "I quest. Be thou an honest man?"
Desolation of desolations! Rending my garment and casting clouds of dust into the air, I proclaimed my utter unrighteousness. "Leave me in the ashes of my peace," I cried. "I am not an honest man. I have cowardly betrayed the truth. Leave this liar to his sorrow and wretchedness." Mercifully, you departed.
I had decided that henceforth I should follow your magnificent example. I, too, would allow the hair of my face to grow forth. It would cover my shame and allow me to avoid the prying eye in the reflection glass of my bath.
No more would I earn my way in the world of selfishness. I, too, would trod the dusty roads of our fair Greece, ever searching for an honest man. I would bid my family a tearful but resolute farewell and strike out on my errand of love, selflessness, and concern for all humanity.
The wailing and tears of my wife and children were of no avail. I left word for the City Fathers to take the needs of my family to their bosom and departed.
Encountering a brother-stranger on the road I requested a small bite of food. Striking me in the ear with his stick I retreated under the hail of exceptionally large stones while he called after me the name of the small creature used of the medicants for the extraction of weak blood.
I found succor in the safety of a nearby bridge and under its stately arch nursed my wounds and pondered the meaning of the event.
Betaking myself to a nearby farm of herds, I rapped gently at the door. A man of huge proportion hove into the doorframe and inquired into the nature of the business I was about. I informed him of my quest for an honest man. He proclaimed several oaths and instructed me in the knowledge that it was none of my (oath) business. He further directed that I should remove my person from beyond the bounds of his property and forthwith called to four huge hounds resting by the hearth.
Out of breath and with my robe in a state of complete disarray, I rested at a fork in the road that was of sufficient distance to discourage further pursuit by the raging beasts.
Desiring to close the day with a last effort I approached a nearby wayfaring station and entered.
Through the acrid aroma of burning goat's fat and by the faint glow of an oil-wick, I perceived the keeper of the hostelry busily buffing a waxen table. Confidently approaching, I directed the question, "Be thou an honest man?" toward his person. Eyeing me cautiously for a moment, he carefully selected a large urn and forthwith broke it across my forehead.
Accepting the keeper's advice about sweeping my own doorstep, and his hurried aid through the front portal (which he was negligent in opening), I returned home to a joyous reunion with my family.
On the morrow, I shall return to my workbench and arrows, earning my way with selfish toil. I will have to shirk the great calling of finding an honest man. I will be too busy with the flint, the feather-ties, and the armorers. I am not worthy to be about the business of others. I will be at home with my wife and children. No one shall again suggest that I sweep my own doorstep for it is clean.
Forgive this unworthy one, O Master Diogenes.
Ah, a bath! And a shave is surely a gift of the Gods! I trust you will try it soon on that great beard of yours. Forgive the curiosity, O Great One, but just how long has it been since you shaved?