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May 31, 2022
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Diogenes as the father of cynicism drove everyone crazy

Diogenes as the father of cynicism drove everyone crazy

The Greek city of Corinth slumbers under the hot sun. This is 336 BC. Leaning against a large pot, the dirty old man sits as the man steps forward and stands in front of him.

The old man squints and looks at the spectacularly dressed man – this is Alexander himself. The newly crowned king of Macedonia, who in the next ten years will conquer the entire known world.

“Diogenes,” says the mighty commander. “Tell me what you want and I’ll give it to you.”

Immersed in himself, he waits for the answer of the unshaven philosopher whose outlook on life he admires.

And the Philosopher answers briefly: “Step back. You’re blocking my sun!”

Snapping back at the philosopher’s rude comment, Alexander exclaims, “If I weren’t Alexander, I’d like to be Diogenes!”

The philosopher retorts his words: “If I were not Diogenes, I would also like to be Diogenes.”

Counterfeiter’s link

Although the meeting between the great conqueror Alexander and the cynic Diogenes is described in several sources, historians are not sure whether it really took place. But the story perfectly describes a slovenly man who never compromised his principles. And he became the father of a new trend in Greek philosophy.

When Diogenes was born, there was no indication that he would live most of his life in a pot. He was born around 413 BC in the Greek colony of Sinop on the Black Sea coast of Anatolia. His father, Hykesias, was a banker and the family probably belonged to the city’s upper class. Which meant, among other things, that Diogenes received an excellent education.

Diogenes, puzzled, pondered the short answer.  But in time he understood the meaning: his destiny was to change the value of things and turn society upside down.

One of his father’s duties was to mint the city’s coins. But he was caught counterfeiting coins and put in jail. Diogenes, who assisted his father in this work, was expelled from the city and went to Athens.

On the way there, he visited the famous Delphic oracle. “What should I do to become famous?” he asked the Oracle. The answer came immediately “Change money!” Diogenes, puzzled, pondered the short answer. But in time he understood the meaning: his destiny was to change the value of things and turn society upside down.

Philosopher’s Apprentice

Diogenes was not yet 40 years old when he arrived in Athens, determined to create a radically different life for himself. Around 366 BC, he met the philosopher Antisthenes, who was a student of Socrates.

Antisthenes preached to his listeners that the conveniences created by society lead to a life of lies. He himself lived a Spartan life in seclusion, without any fuss. But this importunate type from Sinop insisted on becoming his student. Ignoring all attempts by the master to drive him away.

Antisthenes preached to his listeners that the conveniences created by society lead to a life of lies.  He himself lived a Spartan life in seclusion, without any fuss.  But this importunate type from Sinop insisted on becoming his student.  Ignoring all attempts by the master to drive him away.

When one day Antisthenes hit him with his stick in anger, Diogenes held out his head to him. “Chop it off because you won’t find wood strong enough to keep me away from you.”

Antisthenes gave in and in later years taught his philosopher student to live and think like him. Together they founded cynicism, a radical view of existence. Which means that the simplest life is the happiest. And that all ordinary desires for such things as wealth, power, and fame must be denied.

In keeping with ideals of cynicism, Diogenes gave up virtually all of his possessions. He walked barefoot and lived in a large pot designed for water or grain. There he could sleep at night on some straw and easily roll the dwelling to another place if he wanted to.

The Athenians called him Ken, which means “dog” in Greek. Because he was filthy, ate random food, and was as naughty as a stray dog. He bore his name with pride. His later followers called themselves kinikos – “like dogs”. But he did not have very many followers, as he spread his philosophy, ridiculing everyone around.

One day he called people to come and listen to him. But when a group of people gathered around him, he hit them with his stick: “I called people, not scoundrels!”

However, over time, this seemingly crazy man won the respect of the Athenians. When a young prankster broke Diogenes’ pot with a stone, the neighbors grabbed the boy and flogged him. They gave the philosopher a new pot.

Beggar and homeless

The star in the philosophical firmament of Greece was Plato.  The most famous student of Socrates and the object of hatred of Diogenes number one.  Plato defined man as "bipedal, featherless creature".  Diogenes immediately saw his chance, plucked the chicken and took it to the auditorium of Plato's school.

Diogenes had an aversion to all kinds of work and did not shy away from begging. He was convinced that his wise words gave all listeners something of value in return. The rich, however, he greatly despised.

Once a rich man wanted Diogenes to explain to him why he should give the philosopher money. The answer came quickly: “If I could convince you of anything, it would be to go and hang yourself as soon as possible.”

Diogenes boasted of his misfortune – he was a beggar and homeless. But as happy as the Persian king. He lived a correct life, as close as possible to the life of an animal. Music, literature and science he considered a waste of time. And most of all he hated lofty philosophical slogans.

The star in the philosophical firmament of Greece was Plato. The most famous student of Socrates and the object of hatred of Diogenes number one. Plato once defined man as “a bipedal, featherless creature.” Diogenes immediately saw his chance, plucked the chicken and took it to the auditorium of Plato’s school.

“Look, here is Plato’s man!”

Embarrassed, Plato had to add “with wide flat nails” to his definition.

Once, when Plato was asked to describe Diogenes, he replied: "Socrates, if he had gone mad".

From time to time, however, Plato managed to pinch his tormentor. When he invited some friends to his home after the feast of Dionysus, Diogenes also came. The dirty philosopher stumbled upon Plato’s beautiful carpet and exclaimed. “I fall on Plato’s pride!”

The owner’s weary reply: “How much pride are you showing in pretending you’re not proud, Diogenes?”

Once, when Plato was asked to describe Diogenes, he replied: “Socrates, if he had gone mad.”

Citizen of the world

Despite his impolite behavior, Diogenes was often invited to dine with the upper class of Athens. His brutally frank comments served as an entertaining element. However, it didn’t always look like his presence made the party rich.

When some of the guests at the dinner party amused themselves by throwing bones at him as if he were a dog, he stood up and peed on them as a dog would.

Diogenes’ sole purpose in life was to spread his philosophy. He traveled a lot and called himself a “citizen of the world.” However, when the philosopher was heading to the small Greek island of Aegina, south of Athens, he ran into a problem.

The ship on which he traveled was captured by pirates, and all the passengers were beside themselves with fear. They knew that they would be sold into slavery. Diogenes, however, took the situation calmly.

The ship on which he traveled was captured by pirates, and all the passengers were beside themselves with fear.  They knew that they would be sold into slavery.  Diogenes, however, took the situation calmly.

When he was taken to a slave market in Crete and asked what he could do, he answered loudly: “to rule the people.” Therefore, Diogenes asked to sell it to someone who needed a master.

The philosopher ended up in Corinth with the philosopher Xeniades, who needed a learned person. Who could help in the upbringing of his sons. The boys were to be taught practical skills such as horse riding and archery. But they were also taught the philosophy of Diogenes. Among other things, they learned to take care of themselves and be content with a simple diet and water to drink.

After the death of Xeniades, Diogenes remained in Corinth, where he resumed his street life, insulting everyone. He spent most of his time in the vicinity of the gym. The places where, as they say, Alexander the Great met him.

Death of a truth teller

According to the sources, during the last years of his stay in Corinth, Diogenes created a group of friends and followers. One morning in 323 B.C. he was found wrapped in a robe, dead at about the age of 90.

The philosopher had already told his followers that when he died, he would simply like to be thrown off the city walls. So that wild animals can eat his body. But the followers could not behave so cynically. They ended up burying him outside the city walls.

On his grave they erected a statue of a dog with the inscription: "Tell me, O dog, who is the man whose memorial you are guarding?  He is none other than the dog himself!"

On his grave they erected a statue of a dog with the inscription: “Tell me, O dog, who is the man whose monument you guard? He is none other than the dog himself!”

Although Diogenes left no writings of his own, ancient records of his frank mind and crude philosophy of truth survive for over 2,000 years. He inspired such philosophers as Nietzsche and Foucault. The philosophical direction of Diogenes, cynicism, gave its name to cynicism. A general distrust of traditional beliefs and indifference to the needs of the outside world and the suffering of others.

Research shows that this way of thinking is gaining more and more adherents in the world. The most annoying man of antiquity always had a few rude words in reserve.

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