“And now a general assembly of the Greeks was held at the Isthmus,​ where a vote was passed to make an expedition against Persia with Alexander, and he was proclaimed their leader. Thereupon many statesmen and philosophers came to him with their congratulations, and he expected that Diogenes of Sinope also, who was tarrying in Corinth, would do likewise. But since that philosopher took not the slightest notice of Alexander, and continued to enjoy his leisure … Alexander went in person to see him; and he found him lying in the sun.” 


"I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all."  

Ecclesiastes 9:11 

Reading the histories of great men, learned philosophers and wise theologians, I am struck by two things.  

First, it is hard to say if any of the ancient stories that survive today are actually true. Consider the two storied meetings of the Tyrant and the Dog.  

Did Diogenes the Cynic really meet Alexander the Great in Corinth several centuries before Christ? Did Diogenes really, upon being asked by Alexander if there was anything he needed, respond with a dismissive “Yes, stand a little out of my sun”? 

What of their other meeting – the one where Alexander comes upon Diogenes looking intensely at a pile of human bones? Did Diogenes then really say to Alexander “I am searching for the bones of your father but cannot distinguish them from those of a slave"?

Are these accounts fact or fiction? I am inclined to say they are clever fictions, apocryphal stories meant to tell us something true and enduring despite what the literal facts may be. 

Indeed, whether one is reading ancient history or today’s news, it would be a mistake to assume that facts can never tell a lie or that fictions can never tell the truth. 

Whether or not Alexander the Great ever literally met with Diogenes the Dog has no bearing on the narrative truth of their meetings. Their stories have been passed down through the ages by learned men regardless of their historicity. The literal facts of men’s lives tend to shrink in importance compared to the narratives men tell about themselves. Man cannot be reduced to mundane facts, else his life’s meaning be flattened and warped into something inhuman. 

However, this brings me to the second thing that has struck me about reading history – that though man cannot be reduced to the literal facts, certain facts do have a way of bringing all men down to earth no matter their station. 

History abounds with profound insights into great minds and grand conquests of great men, yet what often sticks with me most are banal facts that make me chuckle at such men and minds. The literal facts are often funny and humbling, especially when they pertain to things that make us all too human. 

For instance, consider the fact that St. Augustine of Hippo and Napoleon Bonaparte both had awful bouts with piles, otherwise known as hemorrhoids. 

I laugh every time I picture Napoleon overlooking the battlefield at Waterloo wincing and distracted by intense pain in his posterior. Was it Wellington who really won or the swelling saddle of Napoleon? 

I can see it now, St. Augustine toiling over a theological treatise only to have his attention pulled away by a piercing pinch in his bottom, reminding him of original sin and spurring his hope for the purification and redemption of the body.

And they weren’t the only men in history with the all-too-human ailment. 

Gandhi had piles so bad he underwent surgery for it in 1919. Apparently, non-violent resistance just wouldn’t do. His historic contemporary, Winston Churchill, had hemorrhoids too. George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter — presidential piles all. Even modern-day celebs, female sex symbols such as Elizabeth Taylor or Marilyn Monroe, suffered the same humbling ailment. 

Hemorrhoids apparently do not care if one is swift or slow, strong or weak, wise or foolish, brilliant or dumb, learned or ignorant – and though no record exists, I can't help but wonder whether Alexander the Great ever suffered from piles, just as I can’t help but imagine that this would be in character as something Diogenes might have pondered upon meeting Alexander in Corinth. 

Maybe, just maybe, when the teacher of Ecclesiastes wrote, “Time and chance happen to them all,” a case of piles was on his mind. Of course, I cannot prove the literal fact of this silly speculation, but the narratives of history are sometimes too good not to be true.

Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and is currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 12 p.m. - 3 p.m. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email joeyclarklive@gmail.com. Follow him on X @TheJoeyClark or watch the radio show livestream.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com

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