Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Hunter and Cynicism

Dio’s The Hunter promotes an ascetic lifestyle congruent with the Cynic philosophy of Antisthenes and Diogenes and criticizes the materialist and hedonist lifestyle of contemporary Roman society.  The Hunter does not strictly mention the gods, how knowledge should be obtained, or what makes up the universe (religion, epistemology, and cosmology respectively); it is solely an outline for what makes up the ethical life.
Prior to the beginning of the hunter’s story he tells of his and his family’s current living situation: “We live by hunting mostly, though we till a little land besides.  For the place [land] is not ours…” (9).  It is from this early passage that the Cynical nature of the piece can already be seen; land is not something which any man shall own, even though the hunter goes on to say that it had once owned by a rich man who employed the hunter’s father in tending it.  The hunter sees no reason for the land to be the property of a man as man’s duty is in the upkeep and preservation of the land itself.  Later the hunter’s public defender states that “[the hunters] ought by rights be praised… those who built up and planted the public land… for it is clear that such land becomes thereby much more valuable…” and that such a practice will free men “from two great evils – idleness and poverty” (14-15).  Poverty as meant by the hunter’s public defender is a lack of that which is necessary for survival, the basest essentials, contrary to the Roman idea of poverty which is lack of monetary means or property.  The hunter has all the wealth he needs in his skins, shelter, and foodstuffs, whereas the Romans see him as quite impoverished and laugh at his lack of vanity.  “Would that we had all the good things he said we had, that we might have given to you and been rich men ourselves to boot.  But what we really have is enough for us.  Take whatever you please of it; and if you want it all, we’ll get more like it” (16-17).  The hunter has no want for excess, nor surplus of necessities; what he does have he is willing to part with so long as it does not threaten their existence and even that is a grey area as he is further willing to give way the last of his millet and skins, etc. in order to appease those who find him to be indebted and work all that much harder to ensure further supply. 
The hunter has no attachment to his dwellings and is willing to move elsewhere assuming provisions are provided and available (18).  He feels a need only to provide acts of kindness, and none of malice, towards his fellow people as is illustrated in the story told to the crowd by the once ship-wrecked Sotades whom the hunter cared for above himself and his own family without reprise (20).  The hunter speaks of his rejection of the courts fiduciary rewards, mainly because he has no use for it, and also because it can provide nothing which cannot be earned through earnest labor (21) and further about his borrowing seed from his daughter’s husband which he pays back with a portion of the harvested lot (23).
The Hunter portrays an acetic ethics: a life free from vanity and excess, existing on the rewards of one’s own labor and turning kind favors to others while at the same time welcoming assistance from those more able only if the assister may be repaid with interest.  Money is without value for the Cynic and pleasure is to be found in the rewards of labor.

Chrysostomos, Dio. The Hunters of Euboea. Trans. Bernadotte Perrin. New Haven: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Company, 1908. <http://books.google.com/books?id=GDo-AAAAYAAJ&dq=the%20hunter%20dio%20Chrysostom&pg=PA7#v=onepage&q&f=false>

This article was originally written April 13, 2010 as a prompt response for OU C LC 2613 - Survey of  Roman Civilization.

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