If there’s one thing to take from the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope, it’s that no matter how smart or great you are people will probably prefer to remember someone who had similar ideas but was less of an asshole. Despite making cynicism as a philosophy famous, many will often cite him as a co-founder at best, alongside Crates, whom Diogenes taught. But Diogenes had an interesting spin on his version of the now cliched word – one that, for lack of a better way to put it, could be called “the way of the dog.” To talk about it, I’m going to use the N64’s depiction of the Goron race as my basis for comparison to others.
Let’s start with the Gorons: what do we know about them? For those that haven’t played a Zelda game, they look like this:
In short, Gorons are a familial and tough but occasionally dim-witted species. Majora’s Mask proved they can survive in harsh cold (albeit not when the cold conflicts with their food supply), while Ocarina of Time proved they can survive in harsh heat, making them quite adaptable to outdoor elements. They also make funny noises and solve a lot of problems by rolling around and punching things.
Now about the word “cynic”: the actual word derives from kynikos, the greek word for dog. Although some will argue that this was because an early cynic Antisthenes taught at Cynogarges stadium, there is some debate to the idea that they were simply called dogs, which in turn became used to their advantage. “A History of Cynicism from Diogenes to the 6th Century A.D.” writes:
“There are four reasons why the Cynics are so named. First because of the indifference of their way of life, for they make a cult of indifference and, like dogs, eat and make love in public, go barefoot, and sleep in tubs and at crossroads. The second reason is that the dog is a shameless animal, and they make a cult of shamelessness, not as being beneath modesty, but as superior to it. The third reason is that the dog is a good guard, and they guard the tenets of their philosophy. The fourth reason is that the dog is a discriminating animal which can distinguish between its friends and enemies. So do they recognize as friends those who are suited to philosophy, and receive them kindly, while those unfitted they drive away, like dogs, by barking at them.”
This theory, that Diogenes just was called a dog and decided to own it, has some evidence to it. Part of the reason Diogenes is so easily forgotten unlike Socrates or other more famous philosophers is that he was considered by and large to be either inconsiderate or just plain crazy; much like a dog, he would urinate and masturbate in public, defecate in theatres, and eat in the marketplace (something considered inappropriate then). But Diogenes also largely believed the dog lived a respectably simpler life. Dogs live without anxiety and largely in the present, eat anything, sleep anywhere, and instinctively understand basic concepts like who is a friend or foe. To Diogenes, we could learn a lot from dogs.
Back to the Gorons. Let’s break down the quote we have, and talk about the Gorons one piece of Diogene’s cynicism at a time:
1. “Dogs make a cult of indifference; they eat anything, and sleep anywhere.”
One of my favorite guilty pleasures in Majora’s Mask is screwing over the Goron who just happens to share the player’s name. If you arrive at the Stock Pot Inn after the mail deliveries, the player can claim a reservation despite never making one, only to see a blue-hatted Goron appear later in the afternoon and unsuccessfully try to claim his reservation. But, in spite of his reservation being stolen, he calmly ends the conversation with, “Well, it’s nice weather, so I’ll just sleep outside-goro.” And then he does!
While I think it’s funny to torment this Goron, the amazing thing is that he doesn’t seem all that annoyed or upset. He’ll make a comment about city life being hard, but beyond that he won’t really mind much. It is simply not the Goron way to sit around complaining about circumstance. And it is not just the Goron named after the player; within the Goron City of Termina, a baby cries so loudly that it wakes the entire area – and nobody, either during or after the incident, thinks to tell off the father for letting his child cry for hours on end (if you never resolve the issue as the protagonist, he will cry for three days straight.) They’ll cover their ears, but not a single one will try to shut up the kid directly. It is simply not the Goron way; despite being a huge bulky caveman-like species, they don’t really solve many problems with their fists or frustration.
One of the big things about early cynicism was that it was not as simple as we make it today; we have devolved the word to most often just refer to negative assumptions about the human race, but more broadly refer to believing humans are selfish and ruled by emotion. In Diogenes time, it was an ideal to live by, a desire to return to the same primitive nature that contemporary cynicism would imply is flawed. While Diogenes took it to an extreme, this simple life led by him (and by the Gorons) was one free from conventional desires and possessions, removing the desire for fame, power, or wealth that would cause other strife.
Oh, and about the eating anything one: Gorons eat rocks. Who does that? ‘
2. “The dog is a shameless animal.”
Animal is an interesting word to key into here. Have you ever heard someone say something like “If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck”? This could not apply more when comparing Gorons to dogs on a base level. They’re naked creatures with tough stomachs that even make noises that sort of sound like a dog.
In terms of shamelessness itself, you see this pretty easily with the Gorons. Aside from the nonchalant nudity, you can see in Ocarina of Time Gorons will, without tact, ask you for the Goron Ruby once you receive it from Darunia.
But this lack of shame, while a little socially inappropriate in some parts of our culture, makes a certain degree of sense. Without the need to hold up appearance, the Gorons get straight to the point in a lot of ways and communicate honestly – which, while brutish at times, does not create the same culture as others. The other species in the Zelda universe of this time will experience levels of malevolence and deceit that the Gorons don’t possess to the same degree; within Majora’s Mask alone, the skull kids will mug people, the Deku Scrubs will torture captives without hearing their full testimony, and the Zoras stalk their celebrities and try to sneak into their dressing rooms. Compared to this, the Goron tribe is relatively tame.
3. “The dog is a good guard, and can distinguish between friends and enemies.”
The one exception to their brutal honesty lies in their harsh loyalty. When a Goron loves you, he loves you for life.
In Ocarina of Time, saving the Goron food supply leads to Darunia, leader of the Hyrulian Gorons, declaring the player to be his Sworn Brother. The bond is so great that Darunia still refers to Link as such in his adult life, despite having not seen or spoken to Darunia in the last seven years. And, sure enough, we see the Sworn Brother bond take priority multiple times; Link’s pact with Darunia leads to him once again saving the Gorons, and Darunia’s pact with the King of Hyrule leads to him attempting to join Link’s side to save Hyrule despite Ganonorf having destroyed the land for years.
In Majora’s Mask, loyalty almost blinds them to the truth at times. In one of the funniest bits of subtle denial, the crying Elder’s Son will refer to each one of the player’s losses (at this point, the player is seen to the rest of the Goron world as their hero Darmani) as just having grown rusty over the cold winter. Each successive loss, the text remains a simple “You’ll get them next time,” drilling into the player’s head that this child refuses to just accept that his hero sucks.
Among other loyalties, the Goron tribes almost portray a sort of hero worship side; in Ocarina of Time they will name children after their heroes, and in Majora’s Mask they cheer for Darmani in a huge crowd if you return to the village after defeating Goht, thereby ending their infinite winter. This blindness by loyalty occasionally can cause problems, however; the same crowd will try to elect Darmani (who is still just Link in a mask) as their new leader for saving them, completely unaware that the Link is going to leave town and keep on his own quest as soon as the saves Termina. They also completely rewrite their history, with some Gorons stating “That’s just like you to pretend to be dead so your enemies will let their guard down,” Link, by saving the town wearing Darmani’s face, forces them all into a sort of denial that their hero died, which could lead to some issues after the player finishes the game.
Nonetheless, that endless devotion to those that have done them good is very much the way of any dog I know – and not exactly the worst trait to have.
Diogenes took what he learned and more or less took it to extremes. And while I don’t recommend anyone bite their enemies and urinate in public (which, again, Diogenes actually did!), the idea that a dog’s simplistic lifestyle may be more favorable to our culture’s overcomplicated and convoluted ways is at least worth considering every now and again. The Gorons, much like Diogenes did, live a life free of most worldly possessions and culture that the humans and other species have in the series – and it’s no mere coincidence that they tend to get along a little better. I think someone who were to take a lesson from the Gorons might still be better off with a middle ground, as being nude and eating rocks and sleeping outside aren’t ideal either, but there’s something to be said about the ideals they hold as a tribe.