ONE of my all-time heroes is Diogenes the
Cynic, who spent most of his life chilling in
his barrel outside the city-state of
. He was the original Cynic because he
believed that men and women lived a life
dictated by rules and taboos and therefore no
one was really truthful or honest. Actually
Diogenes is my hero because he was witty,
rude, and had little respect for authority.
For example, when Alexander the Great rode
down to visit Diogenes in his barrel, he
offered Diogenes any gift of his choice. With
a scowl, Diogenes snapped back his response:
"What you've taken away, you can never give
"Huh?" said Alex.
"You're standing in my sun."
What most people know about Diogenes is that
he wandered around ancient
carrying a lantern and searching for an honest
man. In Plaka you can find the figures of him
and his lantern and Rataplan, his mangy mutt.
What most people don't know is why he
went searching for an honest man when he
believed, as a Cynic, that there was no such
A few scholars believe that Diogenes went on
his fruitless search as an altruistic
philosophical search for a truly evolved human
being. However, my years as an archaeology
student reading whatever was irrelevant to my
studies revealed to me a darker reason. It may
have had to do with the fact that he and his
father had been accused of embezzling money
from the Corinthian mint, where they had
worked. Perhaps Diogenes was trying to prove
that nobody is completely honest, and thus
wipe the slate clean from his little
Even though I don't live in a barrel like
Diogenes did, I did live out of my car in the
Irodotou Attikou Street
outside the Spanish ambassador's apartment
until one day I caught a policeman taking the
plates off my car. I brought up the idea of
paying him off in exchange for my number
plates. But unfortunately, the amount he
suggested was five times more than my yearly
budget for traffic offences. So, being rather
good at bargaining, I haggled. At which point,
this honest copper threatened to arrest me,
impound the car, and keep the
Suddenly I was reminded of Diogenes, who as I
mentioned was also was accused of something
that most ancient Greeks did routinely. In
fact, being caught with your fingers in the
till was so common, that ancient Greek
historians used to write with surprise and
wonder about the one or two cases where men,
having been entrusted with money or power,
were actually straight in their
Indeed, when anybody tried to swindle the
Romans in commercial dealings, the name the
Romans called such actions was "Greek
So I decided to follow my great hero's
footsteps and go in search of an "honest" man
(or anyone who could help me get my plates
back before 40 days.)
My first interviewee was the periptero
(kiosk) man I buy my Rex Lights from. "Do you
know an honest man?" I queried.
He winked at me, "I am," and he
I kept my hand out for the rest of my change.
"Really? What is an honest man?"
"Ah, an honest man is someone who says what
they mean, doesn't steal, doesn't lie, and
respects their responsibility to
"Do you know anyone in the traffic police?" I
"How much money do you have to spend?" he
I told him and he laughed. At this point, I
knew my task here was difficult.
So I decided to simply concentrate on
searching for an honest modern ancient
"Do you know of any other honest men in
He thought this over for a couple of seconds.
"How about honest women?"
"How about honest men on the islands?"
"Not a chance," he said, and proceeded to
recount the tale of being swindled at a tavern
in Hydra after choosing a "fresh" fish.
I wandered off to continue my search. The next
few people I asked had a similar response, ie
yes, they were honest and of course they
didn't know anyone else who was.
In true modern ancient Greek tradition,
individuality is the most important liberty.
There is no sense of hypocrisy when people
change their principles or lie to defend
themselves, or attack others, or just for the
fun of it. For example, we can take the great
Athenian general, Alcibiades who, on a
drinking binge with his mates, went around the
wealthy streets of
breaking off the phalluses from the
The Athenians, miffed at his juvenile antics,
punished him by not letting him lead the
campaign against the city of
. So, taking this with typical grace,
Alcibiades went to
and revealed the Athenians' plans, which led
to the Spartans crushing the Athenian
expedition. A Spartan general, Pausanias,
popularly known as The Lech, switched sides in
a similar way.
Throughout Greek history, villages and towns
have switched their allegiances, and this has
been deemed acceptable and not punished
because it was understand that it was usually
a case of self-preservation.
So the modern ancient Greeks think themselves
honest, as indeed I do. This is different from
most of my Northern European friends who
openly and freely admit that they are not
always honest. This is shocking to me and my
Greek compatriots, who would never admit such
Did Diogenes ever find his honest man? As far
as I know, he didn't. Nor did I find my cheap
corrupt traffic cop. So I had to wait to get
my plates back. Which I think somehow and in
someway makes me an honest man.