Wandering Greeks

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Authors: Robert Garland
sympathies of the jury, the tragedy he describes—that of the more vulnerable refugees, women especially, perishing from sickness or exhaustion soon after their departure—must have been all too familiar.
    When he was not earning money from fee-paying exiles by writing on their behalf, however, Isocrates was far from sympathetic to the plight of migrants. In a panegyric composed in ca. 370 he heaped praise on Evagoras, king of Salamis on Cyprus, who, after fleeing from the island to avoid being assassinated, “despised the wandering existence of exiles, the way they seek help from others in order to facilitate their return, and the manner in which they ingratiate themselves with those who are inferior” (9.28). To escape such a fate Evagoras took matters into his own hands and succeeded in returning to Cyprus with the aid of some fifty companions. Commendable though it no doubt was, Evagoras’s enterprise was hardly an example that the average exile could hope to emulate. In other political pamphlets Isocrates makes it clear that hehas nothing but fear and loathing for the vast majority of refugees, on the grounds that they present a threat to the stability of civilized society.
    The condition of the exile provided a fertile source of comment for philosophers of various persuasions. Democritus of Abdera (b. 460–57), who is jointly credited with Leucippus as the inventor of atomist philosophy, is said to have declared, evidently with pride, “I have wandered more extensively than anyone of my generation” (68 B 299.6–8 DK). Aristotle’s successor Theophrastus took this to mean that Democritus considered himself to be richer than Odysseus and Menelaus combined—the two most famous wanderers of legend—on the grounds that he had become a true philosopher because of his travels, whereas they had merely acquired a heap of treasure (68 A 16 DK = Ael. VH 4.20). Pythagoras was also “a great wanderer,” who visited Egypt, Babylon, Delos, and Crete, before finally establishing his philosophical school in Croton (Porph. Vit. Pythag . 6–21; D.L. 8.2–3).
    The Cynic philosopher Diogenes of Sinope (ca. 412/403–ca. 324/21), quoting from a lost tragedy, described himself as “a man who is apolis [without a city], a man who is aoikos [without a home], a man deprived of his fatherland, a beggar, a wanderer, a man who lives from day to day” (D.L. 6.38 = TGF, Adesp . 284). Since the Cynics believed in the principle of living according to nature, this state of being did not, as he saw it, constitute a handicap. On the contrary, he claimed to have benefited from the change of perspective that homelessness had bestowed upon him. When someone was abusing him for being an exile, Diogenes is said to have replied, “It was my exile that turned me into a philosopher, you jerk!” (D.L. 6.49). In other words, his period in exile had liberated him not only from the constraints of the polis but also from dependency on the civic order, thereby enabling him to achieve his anti-political goal of self-sufficiency. Even so, the benefit to the soul has to be weighed against the inevitable wear and tear on the body. Though the testimony is of dubious authenticity, the elderly Plato is said to havedeclined an invitation to leave Athens and give advice about founding a colony on the grounds that the frailty of his age prevented him from “wandering about and running the kinds of risks that one encounters both on land and at sea” (Ep.11.358e 6–8)
    Plato’s pupil Aristotle deemed the wanderer to be outside the human fold. He wrote ( Pol . 1.1253a3–7):
    He who is without a city-state by nature and not by circumstance is either a rogue or greater than a human being. He resembles the man “without a phratry, without laws, and without a hearth” who is reviled by Homer (Il.9.63–64), for he is by nature without a city-state and he yearns

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