It occurred to me yesterday evening, after finishing the graphic novel The Philosopher, the Dog and the Wedding from Barbara Stok, about an early female Greek philosopher named Hipparchia, that The Famous Anecdote about a conversation between Diogenes the cynic and Alexander the Great depicted in this book is represented in at least one other graphic novel I own. I thought: I have seen this scene before, but which comic book was it... Sure I heard about the story before, probably I picked it up during my unfinished tenure at the Faculty of Philosophy in Groningen at around 1999.
Since the book Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou was published in 2009, I grew an interest in history and philosophy based graphic novels. Over the years I bought several of them and recently I read Sophie's World, based on Jostein Gaarder's children's book on the history of Western Philosophy. I was sure I had seen images in it about the above ancient story. And since the book is set up chronologically, I knew I would be able to find it somewhere in the beginning. And yes! Sophie has a conversation with Diogenes, while he's walking his fish on a leash, and on return to his jar he lays down to take a rest. Then in comes Alexander the Great and asks his question.
The nice thing about the visual interpretation in this book is that the drawer takes quite some images to tell the story. Furthermore, there's one image which does not contain a speech balloon but just shows Alexander the Great in a bit confused and thinking state, and the reader feels the tension: how will Alexander respond to this very direct and not so polite wish from Diogenes. Even though knowing The Anecdote, that still moment of tension has great effect in the flow of images. I really like it.
But this wasn't all; I was conviced that I had seen it in another. At least, I had a clear sense that I must have seen it too in Harari's book Sapiens. And indeed, after some digging, one sees Harari having a stroll with his niece while he explains her the value of stories and beliefs, and tells her about the Greek school of cynicism that rejects basically all stories and beliefs, which the drawers support by depicting The Anecdote.
And contrary to Sophie's World, in which the perspective is more of a young adult being a bit frightened by the potential insult by Diogenes, Harari's use is supporting the argument in his textual lecture. The comic drawings support his talk, while in the former one experiences the situation at the jar.
In Barabara Stok's interpretation, the scene plays more the role of an eye opener to the main character Hipparchia – a female thinker with limited access to knowledge due to her cultural context. As she starts to reconsider her whole upbringing and social position after gaining interest in philosophical cynicism due a servant telling her The Anecdote.
So apart from visual differences in line, color, depiction of texture and shadows, these three interpretations all support the main story in a different way. Over the past centuries many more artists have depicted The Anecdote and these three approaches are great additions to that collection. I can imagine there's more graphic novels out there that contain The Anecdote – I sure hope to find these sometime.
Images taken from:
- The Philosopher, the Dog and the Wedding: The Story of the Infamous Female Philosopher Hipparchia by Barbara Stok, 2022
- Sapiens: A Graphic History by Yuval Noah Harari, 2020
- Sophie’s World: A Graphic Novel About the History of Philosophy Vol I: From Socrates to Galileo by Vincent Zabus and Nicoby, 2022, based on Jostein Gaarder's book Sophie’s World