Parallels: Olidammara the Laughing Rogue / The Cynics Diogenes and Menippus

Olidammara the Laughing Rogue (Deities & Demigods, 2002, illustration by M. Cavotta) / Diogenes bites Plato (Existential Comics #219)

1. Hecate’s Supper

Diogenes of Sinope (c. 412 – 323 BCE) was like the Oscar Wilde of his time. His snark was immensely popular, and for centuries after his death, if you wanted to say something sarcastic and make people pay attention, you’d just go ahead and say it and attribute it to him. (Which is why it’s so hard today to determine what Diogenes actually said and what he didn’t.) Alternatively, you could write a book with Diogenes as the protagonist, maybe another Cynic as well, and use them as your snarky mouthpieces.

That’s what Lucian of Samosata (c. 125 – 180 CE) did, in his Dialogues of the Dead. These take place in Hades, and feature the philosophers Menippus of Gadara (3rd century BCE) and Diogenes, now dead, snarking from the Underworld and pumping the cynicism to eleven. And I remembered this wonderful satirical work while I was reading an old article in Dragon Magazine about Olidammara the Laughing Rogue, the classic D&D deity (in the Greyhawk pantheon) of thieves, beggars, and bards. It says:

“Shrines of Olidammara’s faith are far more common than temples and may be found in urban or rural areas. Usually the shrine is just a pile of stones or an outdoor alcove bearing his mark where worshippers can pour an offering of wine or leave a bit of tasty food and a few copper coins. It is not considered an affront to the god for someone truly poor to take these coins, although stories exist of misers being punished for daring to take what is not their due.”

A humble shrine to Olidammara, illustration by Andrew Hu (Dragon #342)

This bit about poor people pilfering offerings from a god’s shrine was familiar. In Dialogues of the Dead, when Menippus dies, he gets immediately in trouble with Charon, the boatman, because he’s supposed to have coins for the fare and he emphatically doesn’t. (He’s a Cynic, being penniless is his thing.) When Charon insists to be paid, Menippus wisely explains that he cannot give what he doesn’t have, and when he gets frisked, all he has to show are lupin beans and a “Hecate’s supper”. Now lupin beans are basically livestock food, humans only resort to them when destitute. And Hecate’s supper? Well Hecate was the goddess of roads among other things, and she had shrines in street corners (particularly where three roads meet). People left offerings there every month “and these offerings were at once pounced upon by the poor, or, as here, the Cynics.”

It’s not clear what Hecate thought about this plundering of her shrines, or what people imagined she thought. It’s abundantly clear that the hungry didn’t particularly care. But Olidammara approves as much as Menippus (and Lucian), which is pleasing. And that’s not the only parallel.

Diogenes Sitting in His Tub by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1860)

2. The rich remember

Olidammara drops some aphorisms

“Hoarded gold is no treasure. A man who lives alone with all of his money in a vault is poorer than a penniless man surrounded by merriment. What is the point of money and fine things if you cannot use them to bring you happiness? Better to spend your gold on food, wine, and music than let your mouth, ears, and mind go numb from nothingness.” 

“A cage of gold is still a cage. A man surrounded by valuable things may think he is happy, but if he cannot leave his home for fear of his possessions being stolen, and cannot touch them for fear they might break, he is not actually happy. Take the man’s things so he is no longer bound to them and can be free to live as nature intended.”

Meanwhile in Hades, Diogenes messages the living

To Menippus the Cynic: If mortal subjects for laughter begin to pall, come down below, and find much richer material; it is the best of sport to see millionaires, governors, despots, now mean and insignificant; you can only tell them by their lamentations, and the spiritless despondency which is the legacy of better days.

To the rich: O vain fools, why hoard gold? why all these pains over interest sums and the adding of hundred to hundred, when you must shortly come to us with nothing beyond the dead-penny?

Menippus (detail) by Diego Velázquez (1638)

and Shades of rich men file a complaint against Menippus

CROESUS: Pluto, we can stand this snarling Cynic no longer in our neighbourhood; either you must transfer him to other quarters, or we are going to migrate. Midas here, and Sardanapalus and I, can never get in a good cry over the old days of gold and luxury and treasure, but he must be laughing at us, and calling us rude names; “slaves” and “garbage,” he says we are. And then he sings; and that throws us out. In short, he is a nuisance.

MENIPPUS: All perfectly true, Pluto. I detest these abject rascals! Not content with having lived the abominable lives they did, they keep on talking about it now they are dead, and harping on the good old days. I take a positive pleasure in annoying them. Well, you scum of your respective nations, let there be no misunderstanding; I am going on just the same. Wherever you are, there shall I be also; worrying, jeering, singing you down. Yours was the presumption, when you expected men to fall down before you, when you trampled on men’s liberty, and forgot there was such a thing as death. Now comes the weeping and gnashing of teeth: for all is lost! You do the whining, and I’ll chime in with a string of KNOW THYSELVES, best of accompaniments.

3. And then they diverged

Of course, Olidammara isn’t all Cynic. Cynics rejected wealth and luxury altogether and snubbed everything not necessary for survival, in the name of (basically) independence. The Laughing Rogue, on the contrary, wants you to grab all the finer things in life with both hands, and have a good time.

“The kernel of Olidammara’s philosophy is that life should be enjoyed, for a life of misery and boredom is a life wasted. Mortals should laugh, enjoy the company of friends and the playing of music, taste good food, and drink good wine. Although he is not a hedonist and doesn’t believe that mortals should be, he knows that a lifetime of meat, fruit, wine, and song is better than a a life of bread, water, and silence (unsurprisingly he has no ascetic or monk worshippers). His faithful should treat music as the art it is and strive to be as skilled at it as their patron. People should make jokes and laugh when the joke is on them, and try to avoid misery, temperance, and solemnity, for they are the greatest poison to the soul. He encourages people to practice occasional mayhem not for its own sake but to add excitement to boring lives and rattle the self-built cages of materialists.”

And, to return full circle to Hecate’s supper, Olidammara is something more than that. He discovered a source of fulfillment, joy, and bliss that all the squabbling philosophers in the time of Diogenes somehow failed to grasp. That shifty thieving scoundrel is sharing.

Olidammara’s Aphorism: “What is good alone is better with others. Any pleasurable thing is greater when you can share it with someone else. A fine wine is sweeter when raised in toast to a friend. A romantic song is stronger as a duet. A good meal is more savory when shared with a hungry man. A memory is richer when reminiscing with someone who was there.”

And you know what? I’ll drink to that.

Illustration by Andrew Hu (Dragon #342)

[All excerpts about the Laughing Rogue are from the article “Core Beliefs: Olidammara” by Sean K. Reynolds (Dragon #342, 2006). All excerpts of Dialogues of the Dead are from The Works of Lucian of Samosata, transl. Henry Watson Fowler and Francis George Fowler (1905).]

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