Byron declares ‘I am Diogenes’ in Canto X of The Age of Bronze, his satire of the Congress of Verona (1822). This essay examines how through the mask of Diogenes of Sinope, the cosmopolitan Cynic philosopher whom Plato dubbed ‘Socrates gone mad’, Byron performs the role of parrhesiastes or practitioner of parrhesia, unrestrained freedom of speech. Witnessing the transition between Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic eras, Byron/Diogenes denounces militaristic imperium based on the cult of personality as madness, and excoriates politicians and the rentier class to which he belonged for devising new forms of empire predicated on multiplying not the wealth, but ‘The Debt of Nations’ through war if necessary. Rather than political indifference or nihilism, the parrhesia Byron enacts and embodies in The Age of Bronze brings to life Shelley’s well-known dictum in A Defence of Poetry, and anticipates the vigorous challenges to freedom that Thomas Piketty has diagnosed for our time.
‘Asked about the Versailles analogy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “I never make historical comparisons”’.