He turned it, churned it, upturned it; spattered it, battered it, bent it, bonked it, dubbed it, scrubbed it, rubbed it …

From Rabelais’ Prologe to the Third Book, a tale of Diogenes borrowed from Lucian’s How to Write History and thoroughly Rabelais-ized.

When Philip, King of Macedonia, undertook to besiege Corinth and reduce it to rubble, the Corinthians, warned by their spies that he was marching against them with a mighty army and vast array, were all rightly alarmed, overlooking nothing, all taking up their posts and doing their duty to resist his hostile advance and defend their city. Some brought everything movable out of the fields and into the fortresses, with their cattle, grain, wine, fruit, victuals and all necessary provisions.

Others repaired the walls, erected bastions, squared off outworks, dug trenches, excavated countermines, reinforced gabions, prepared emplacements, cleared clutter from the casemates, refixed bars on to advanced parapets, built high platforms for cannons, repaired the outer slopes of ditches, plastered the courtines between the bastions, built advanced pill-boxes, banked up earth parapets, keyed stones into barbicans, lined the chutes for molten lead, renewed cables on [Saracen-style] portcullises (or ‘cataracts’), stationed sentinels and sent out patrols.

Everyone was on the alert; everyone was carrying his hod. Some were burnishing breastplates, cleaning corselets and polishing the metal bands and head-armour of their horses, and their own plated jackets, light armour, helmets, [beavers, iron skull-caps, gisarmes,] headpieces, morions, coats of mail, [jaze-rants, wrist-guards, tasses,] gussets, limb-armour, breast-plates, joint-armour, hauberks, body-shields, bucklers, foot-armour, leg-plates, ankle-plates and spurs. Others were readying their bows, slings, crossbows, lead-shot, catapults, [fire-arrows,] fire-grenades, fire-pots, fire-wheels and fire-darts, ballistas, stone-hurling scorpions and other weapons for repelling and destroying siege-towers.

They sharpened spears, pikes, falchions, halberds, hooked spears, [sickles,] lances, zagayes, pitchforks, partisans, bladed maces, battle-axes, darts, javelins, light javelins, long stakes and leisters. They whetted swords, scimitars, broadblades, badlars, [scythes,] short-swords, rapiers, poniards, hangers, spiral-ferruled daggers, pricks, tucks, knives, blades, cutting-edges and dirks. Every man was exercising his prick: every man derusting his dagger. No woman was there, however old or matronly, who did not manage to furbish up her fanion, since you are aware that, of old, the ladies of Corinth would put up a good fight!

Diogenes, seeing all this fervent coming-and-going yet not being employed by the magistrates on anything whatsoever, spent a few days contemplating their behaviour without uttering a word. Then, moved by the martial spirit, he cast his cloke about him like a scarf, rolled his sleeves right up to his elbows, tucked in his robe like a peasant picking apples, entrusted to an ancient companion his shoulder-wallet, his books and his writing-tablets, went forth from the city in the direction of the Cranion (a hill and promontory hard by Corinth) on to the fair esplanade, and there trundled the earthenware barrel which served him as a shelter from inclement weather, and then, flexing his arms with great mental ardour, he turned it, churned it, upturned it; [spattered it,] battered it, bent it, bonked it, [dubbed it, scrubbed it, rubbed it, flattered it,] banged it, beat it; bumped it, topsy’d it, turvy’d it, dribbled it, tapped it, ting-ed it; stoppered it, unstoppered it, paced it, ambled it, shambled it, haggled it; tossed it, stopped it, [prodded it,] shot it; lifted it, laved it, louvered it; hampered it, aimed it, blamed it, blocked it; troubled it, huddled it, splattered it; fashioned it, fastened it; [walloped it, dolloped it, tickled it, tarred it, smutched it, touched it, hawked it, mawked it, hooked it, crooked it, twiddled it, twaddled it,] charmed it, armed it, alarmed it, saddled it, straddled it, caparisoned it, and – volleying it down from mount to vale – tumbled it along the Cranion, and then (as Sisyphus did with his stone) pushed it back up from vale to mount so that he all but holed it.

On seeing which, one of his friends asked him what had possessed him to make him so afflict his mind, body and barrel. Our philosopher replied that, not being employed by the State in any other task, he was storming about with his barrel so as not to be seen as the only one idle and dilatory amidst folk so ardent and busy.


Quand Philippe roy de Macedonie entreprint assieger & ruiner Corinthe, les Corinthiens par leurs espions aduertiz, que contre eulx il venoit en grand arroy & exercite numereux, tous feurent non à tort espouentez, & ne feurent negligens soy soigneusement mettre chascun en office & debuoir, pour à son hostile venue, resister, & leur ville defendre. Les vns des champs es forteresses retiroient meubles, bestail, grains, vins, fruictz, victuailles, & munitions necessaires. Les autres remparoient murailles, dressoient bastions, esquarroient rauelins, cauoient fossez, escuroient contremines, gabionnoient defenses, ordonnoient plates formes, vuidoient chasmates, rembarroient faulses brayes, erigeoient caualliers, ressapoient contrescarpes, enduisoient courtines, taluoient parapetes, enclauoient barbacanes, asseroient machicoulis, renouoient herses Sarrazinesques, & Cataractes, assoyoient sentinelles, forissoient patrouilles. Chascun estoit au guet, chascun portoit la hotte. Les vns polissoient corseletz, vernissoient alecretz, nettoyoient bardes, chanfrains, aubergeons, briguandines, salades, bauieres, cappelines, guisarmes, armetz, mourions, mailles, iazerans, brassalz, tassettes, goussetz, guorgeriz, hoguines, plastrons, lamines, aubers, pauoys, boucliers, caliges, greues, soleretz, esprons. Les autres apprestoient arcs, fondes, arbalestes, glands, catapultes, phalarices, micraines, potz, cercles, & lances à feu : balistes, scorpions, & autres machines bellicques repugnatoires & destructiues des Helepolides. Esguisoient vouges, picques, rancons, halebardes, hanicroches, volains, lancers, azes guayes, fourches fières, parthisanes, massues, hasches, dards, dardelles, iauelines, iauelotz, espieux. Affiloient cimeterres, brands d’assier, badelaires, paffuz, espées, verduns, estocz, pistoletz, viroletz, dagues, mandousianes, poignars, cousteaulx, allumelles, raillons. Chascun exerceoit son penard : chascun desrouilloit son braquemard. Femme n’estoit, tant preude ou vieille feust, qui ne feist fourbir son harnoys : comme vous sçauez que les antiques Corinthiennes estoient au combat couraigeuses.

Diogenes les voyant en telle ferueur mesnaige remuer, & n’estant par les magistratz enployé à chose aulcune faire, contempla par quelques iours leur contenence sans mot dire : puys comme excité d’esprit Martial, ceignit son palle en escharpe, recoursa ses manches iusques es coubtes, se troussa en cueilleur de pommes, bailla à un sien compaignon vieulx sa bezasse, ses livres, & opistographes, feit hors la ville tirant vers la Cranie (qui est une colline & promontoire lez Corinthe) une belle esplanade : y roulla le tonneau fictil, qui pour maison luy estoit contre les iniures du ciel, & en grande vehemence d’esprit desployant ses braz le tournoit, viroit, brouilloit, barbouilloit, hersoit, versoit, renversoit, grattoit, flattoit, barattoit, bastoit, boutoit, butoit, tabustoit, cullebutoit, trepoit, trempoit, tapoit, timpoit, estouppoit, destouppoit, detraquoit, triquotoit, chapotoit, croulloit, elançoit, chamailloit, bransloit, esbranloit, levoit, lavoit, clavoit, entravoit, bracquoit, bricquoit, blocquoit, tracassoit, ramassoit, clabossoit, afestoit, baffouoit, enclouoit, amadouoit, goildronnoit, mittonnoit, tastonnoit, bimbelotoit, clabossoit, terrassoit, bistorioit, vreloppoit, chaluppoit, charmoit, armoit, gizarmoit, enharnachoit, empennachoit, carapassonnoit, le devalloit de mont à val, & præcipitoit par le Cranie : puys de val en mont le rapportoit, comme Sisyphus faict sa pierre : tant que peu s’en faillit, qu’il ne le defonçast. Ce voyant quelqu’un de ses amis, luy demanda, quelle cause le mouvoit, à son corps, son esprit, son tonneau ainsi tormenter ? Auquel respondit le philosophe, qu’à autre office n’estant pour la republicque employé, il en ceste façon son tonneau tempestoit, pour entre ce peuple tant fervent & occupé, n’este veu seul cessateur & ocieux.

Lucian’s more restrained original (section 3):

When Philip was said to be already on the march, all the Corinthians were astir and busy, preparing weapons, bringing up stones, underpinning the wall, shoring up a battlement and doing various other useful jobs. Diogenes saw this, and as he had nothing to do—nobody made any use of him—he belted up his philosopher’s cloak and very busily by himself rolled the crock in which, as it happens, he was living up and down Cornel Hill. When one of his friends asked: “Why are you doing that, Diogenes?” he replied: “I’m rolling the crock so as not to be thought the one idle man in the midst of all these workers.”


ὁπότε γὰρ ὁ Φίλιππος ἐλέγετο ἤδη ἐπελαύνειν, οἱ Κορίνθιοι πάντες ἐταράττοντο καὶ ἐν ἔργῳ ἦσαν, ὁ μὲν ὅπλα ἐπισκευάζων, ὁ δὲ λίθους παραφέρων, ὁ δὲ ὑποικοδομῶν τοῦ τείχους, ὁ δὲ ἔπαλξιν ὑποστηρίζων, ὁ δὲ ἄλλος ἄλλο τι τῶν χρησίμων ὑπουργῶν. ὁ δὴ Διογένης ὁρῶν ταῦτα, ἐπεὶ μηδὲν εἶχεν ὅ τι καὶ πράττοι—οὐδεὶς γὰρ αὐτῷ ἐς οὐδὲν ἐχρῆτο—διαζωσάμενος τὸ τριβώνιον σπουδῇ μάλα καὶ αὐτὸς ἐκύλιε τὸν πίθον, ἐν ᾧ ἐτύγχανεν οἰκῶν, ἄνω καὶ κάτω τοῦ Κρανείου. καί τινος τῶν συνήθων ἐρομένου, Τί ταῦτα ποιεῖς, ὦ Διόγενες; Κυλίω, ἔφη, κἀγὼ τὸν πίθον, ὡς μὴ μόνος ἀργεῖν δοκοίην ἐν τοσούτοις ἐργαζομένοις.

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