The philosopher's Stone

In the winter of 1884, two young French epigraphers were exploring the ancient Greco-Roman town of Oinoanda in southwestern Turkey and made an intriguing discovery. Scattered in the well-preserved ruins on a hilltop covered in cedar trees, they found five stone fragments inscribed with writings of a then-unknown philosopher, Diogenes of Oinoanda. On one of the fragments, Diogenes explains why he committed his thoughts to stone:

"The majority of people suffer from a common disease, as in a plague, with their false notions about things, and their number is increasing. ...I wished to use this stoa to advertise publicly the [medicines] that bring salvation."

The “medicines” Diogenes hoped to use to cure the “disease” of false understanding was Epicureanism, a system of philosophy founded in the fourth century B.C. by the Greek philosopher Epicurus. It was grounded in physics, held that the pursuit of pleasure is the highest good, and eschewed belief in divine intervention. The wealthy Diogenes had paid for the inscription to be carved on the wall of a stoa, or covered walkway, that probably once stood in one of the town’s public squares. He makes plain that he hoped Oinoandans and visitors alike would make a close study of his words and come away converts to the Epicurean school of thought.

Philologist Jürgen Hammerstaedt, from the University of Cologne, believes that 75 to 80 percent of the inscription could remain underground or have been recycled as part of other buildings at the site. He is especially interested in the potential for discovering more of Diogenes’ personal letters, which could shed additional light on the philosopher himself. “After all, he was a remarkable man and a cosmopolitan man,” says Hammerstaedt, who recites a favorite quote from Smith’s translation of a passage in which Diogenes declares that he set up the inscription:

"Not least for those who are called foreigners, for they are not foreigners. For, while the various segments of the Earth give different people a different country, the whole compass of this world gives all people a single country, the entire Earth, and a single home, the world."


Kemo D. 7

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