People - Ancient Greece: Diogenes of Sinope
Ancient Greek philosopher and one of the founders of
Diogenes of Sinope in Wikipedia
Diogenes of Sinope (Greek: Διογένης ὁ Σινωπεύς Diogenes ho Sinopeus), was a Greek philosopher and one of the founders of Cynic philosophy. Also known as Diogenes the Cynic, he was born in Sinope (modern-day Sinop, Turkey) in 412 or 404 BCE and died at Corinth in 323 BCE.
Diogenes was one of the few men to ever publicly mock Alexander the Great and live. He intellectually humiliated Plato and was the only pupil ever accepted by Antisthenes, whom he saw as the true heir of Socrates. Diogenes taught his philosophy of Cynicism to Crates who taught it to Zeno of Citium who fashioned it into the school of Stoicism, one of the most enduring branches of Greek philosophy.
Diogenes of Sinope was always controversial. Exiled from his native city for defacing the currency, he moved to Athens and declared himself a cosmopolitan (in defiance of the prevailing city-state system). He became a disciple of Antisthenes, and made a virtue of extreme poverty, famously begging for a living and sleeping in a tub in the marketplace. He became notorious for his provocative behaviour and philosophical stunts such as carrying a lamp in the daytime, claiming to be looking for an honest man. He regularly argued with Plato, disputing his interpretation of Socrates and sabotaging his lectures. After being captured by pirates and sold into slavery, Diogenes eventually settled in Corinth, where he was befriended by Alexander.
Diogenes was a staunch admirer of Hercules. He believed that virtue was better revealed in action than in theory. His life was a relentless campaign to debunk the social values and institutions of what he saw as a corrupt society. None of his many writings have survived, but details of his life come in the form of anecdotes (chreia), especially from Diogenes Laërtius, in his book Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers.
Diogenes was born in the Greek colony of Sinope on the south coast of the Black Sea, either in 412 BCE or 404 BCE. Nothing is known about his early life except that his father Hicesias was a banker. It seems likely that Diogenes was also enrolled into the banking business aiding his father. At some point (and the details are confused) Hicesias and Diogenes became embroiled in a scandal involving the adulteration or defacement of the currency, and Diogenes was exiled from the city. This aspect of the story seems to be corroborated by archaeology: large numbers of defaced coins (smashed with a large chisel stamp) have been discovered at Sinope dating from the middle of the 4th century BCE, and other coins of the time bear the name of Hicesias as the official who minted them. The reasons for the defacement of the coinage are unclear, although Sinope was being disputed between pro-Persian and pro-Greek factions in the 4th century, and there may have been political rather than financial motives behind the act.
According to one story, Diogenes went to the Oracle at Delphi to ask for its advice, and was told that he should "deface the currency," and Diogenes, realizing that the oracle meant that he should deface the political currency rather than actual coins, traveled to Athens and made it his life's goal to challenge established customs and values.
In his new home, Athens, Diogenes' mission became to metaphorically deface the "coinage" of custom. Custom, he alleged, was the false coin of human morality. Instead of being troubled by what is really evil, some people however think it is merely conventionally evil. This distinction between nature ("physis") and custom ("nomos") is a favorite theme of ancient Greek philosophy, and one that Plato takes up in The Republic, in the legend of the Ring of Gyges.
Diogenes is alleged to have gone to Athens with a slave named Manes who abandoned him shortly thereafter. With characteristic humour, Diogenes dismissed his ill fortune by saying, "If Manes can live without Diogenes, why not Diogenes without Manes?" Diogenes would be consistent in making fun of such a relation of extreme dependency. He would particularly find the figure of a master who could do nothing for himself contemptibly helpless. He was attracted by the ascetic teaching of Antisthenes, a student of Socrates, who (according to Plato) had been present at his death. Diogenes became Antisthenes' pupil, despite the brutality with which he was initially received. Whether the two ever really met is still uncertain,  but he rapidly surpassed his master both in reputation and in the austerity of his life. He considered his avoidance of earthly pleasures a contrast to and commentary on contemporary Athenian behaviors. This attitude was grounded in a great disdain for what he perceived as the folly, pretense, vanity, self-deception, and artificiality of much human conduct.
The stories told of Diogenes illustrate the logical consistency of his character. He inured himself to the vicissitudes of weather by living in a tub belonging to the temple of Cybele. He destroyed the single wooden bowl he possessed on seeing a peasant boy drink from the hollow of his hands. It was contrary to Athenian customs to eat within the marketplace, and still he would eat, for, as he explained when rebuked, it was during the time he was in the marketplace that he felt hungry. The most scandalous of these activities involves his masturbation in the marketplace, to which he responded he wished it were as easy to relieve hunger by rubbing an empty stomach. He used to stroll about in full daylight with a lamp; when asked what he was doing, he would answer, "I am just looking for an honest man." Diogenes looked for a human being but reputedly found nothing but rascals and scoundrels.
When Plato gave Socrates' definition of man as "featherless bipeds" and was much praised for the definition, Diogenes plucked a chicken and brought it into Plato's Academy, saying, "Behold! I've brought you a man." After this incident, "with broad flat nails" was added to Plato's definition.
According to a story which seems to have originated with Menippus of Gadara, Diogenes was once on a voyage to Aegina, he was captured by pirates and sold as a slave in Crete to a Corinthian named Xeniades. Being asked his trade, he replied that he knew no trade but that of governing men, and that he wished to be sold to a man who needed a master. As tutor to Xeniades' two sons, he lived in Corinth for the rest of his life, which he devoted entirely to preaching the doctrines of virtuous self-control. He is even said to have lectured to large audiences at the Isthmian Games.
Although most of the stories about him living in a tub are located in Athens, there are some accounts of him living in a tub near the Craneum gymnasium in Corinth:
A report that Philip was marching on the town had thrown all Corinth into a bustle; one was furbishing his arms, another wheeling stones, a third patching the wall, a fourth strengthening a battlement, every one making himself useful somehow or other. Diogenes having nothing to do - of course no one thought of giving him a job - was moved by the sight to gather up his philosopher's cloak and begin rolling his tub energetically up and down the Craneum; an acquaintance asked for, and got, the explanation: "I do not want to be thought the only idler in such a busy multitude; I am rolling my tub to be like the rest."
Diogenes and Alexander
It was in Corinth that a meeting between Alexander the Great and Diogenes is supposed to have taken place. The accounts of Plutarch and Diogenes Laërtius recount that they exchanged only a few words: while Diogenes was relaxing in the sunlight in the morning, Alexander, thrilled to meet the famous philosopher, asked if there was any favour he might do for him. Diogenes replied, "Yes, stand out of my sunlight". Alexander then declared, "If I were not Alexander, then I should wish to be Diogenes." In another account of the conversation, Alexander found the philosopher looking attentively at a pile of human bones. Diogenes explained, "I am searching for the bones of your father but cannot distinguish them from those of a slave."
There are numerous accounts of Diogenes' death. He is alleged variously to have held his breath; to have become ill from eating raw octopus; or to have suffered an infected dog bite. When asked how he wished to be buried, he left instructions to be thrown outside the city wall so wild animals could feast on his body. When asked if he minded this, he said, "Not at all, as long as you provide me with a stick to chase the creatures away!" When asked how he could use the stick since he would lack awareness, he replied "If I lack awareness, then why should I care what happens to me when I am dead?" At the end, Diogenes made fun of people's excessive concern with the "proper" treatment of the dead. The Corinthians erected to his memory a pillar on which rested a dog of Parian marble.
Along with Antisthenes and Crates of Thebes, Diogenes is considered one of the founders of Cynicism. The ideas of Diogenes, like those of most other Cynics, must be arrived at indirectly. No writings of Diogenes survived even though he is reported to have authored over ten books, a volume of letters and seven tragedies. Cynic ideas are inseparable from Cynic practice; therefore what we know about Diogenes is contained in anecdotes concerning his life and sayings attributed to him in a number of scattered classical sources. None of these sources is definitive and all contribute to a "tradition" that should not be confused with factual biography.
It is not known, for example, whether Diogenes made a virtue of naked survival out of necessity or whether he really preferred poverty and homelessness. In any case, Diogenes' example argued for the benefits of an ascetic lifestyle. He apparently proved to the satisfaction of the Stoics who came after him that happiness has nothing whatever to do with a person's material circumstances. The Stoics developed this theme, but made it benign. Epictetus, for example, preached the virtue of modesty and inoffensiveness, but maintained that misfortune is good for the development of strong character.
Diogenes maintained that all the artificial growths of society were incompatible with happiness and that morality implies a return to the simplicity of nature. So great was his austerity and simplicity that the Stoics would later claim him to be a wise man or "sophos". In his words, "Humans have complicated every simple gift of the gods." Although Socrates had previously identified himself as belonging to the world, rather than a city, Diogenes is credited with the first known use of the word "cosmopolitan". When he was asked where he came from, he replied, "I am a citizen of the world (cosmopolites)". This was a radical claim in a world where a man's identity was intimately tied to his citizenship in a particular city state. An exile and an outcast, a man with no social identity, Diogenes made a mark on his contemporaries.
Despite having apparently nothing but disdain for Plato and his abstract philosophy, Diogenes bears striking resemblance to the character of Socrates, who had professed a love of virtue and an indifference to wealth, together with a disdain for general opinion. These aspects of Socrates' thought became the central inspiration for another of Socrates' pupils, Antisthenes.
Diogenes shared Socrates' belief that he could function as doctor to men's souls and improve them morally, while at the same time holding contempt for their obtuseness. Plato once described Diogenes as "a Socrates gone mad."
Diogenes was a self-appointed public scold whose mission was to demonstrate to the ancient Greeks that civilization is regressive. He taught by living example that wisdom and happiness belong to the man who is independent of society. Diogenes scorned not only family and political social organization, but property rights and reputation. The most shocking feature of his philosophy is his rejection of normal ideas about human decency. Exhibitionist and philosopher, Diogenes is said to have eaten in the marketplace, urinated on some people who insulted him, defecated in the theatre, masturbated in public and pointed at people with his middle finger. Sympathizers considered him a devotee of reason and an exemplar of honesty. Detractors have said he was an obnoxious beggar and an offensive grouch.
Diogenes the Dog
Many anecdotes of Diogenes refer to his dog-like behavior, and his praise of a dog's virtues. It is not known whether Diogenes was insulted with the epithet "doggish" and made a virtue of it, or whether he first took up the dog theme himself. The modern terms cynic and cynical derive from the Greek word kynikos, the adjective form of kyon (κύων), meaning dog. Diogenes believed human beings live artificially and hypocritically and would do well to study the dog. Besides performing natural bodily functions in public without unease, a dog will eat anything, and make no fuss about where to sleep. Dogs live in the present without anxiety, and have no use for the pretensions of abstract philosophy. In addition to these virtues, dogs are thought to know instinctively who is friend and who is foe. Unlike human beings who either dupe others or are duped, dogs will give an honest bark at the truth. Diogenes stated that "other dogs bite their enemies, I bite my friends to save them."
The term "Cynic" itself derives from the Greek word κυνικός, kynikos, "dog-like" and that from κύων, kyôn, "dog" (genitive: kynos). One explanation offered in ancient times for why the Cynics were called dogs was because Antisthenes taught in the Cynosarges gymnasium at Athens. The word Cynosarges means the place of the white dog. Later Cynics also sought to turn the word to their advantage, as a later commentator explained:
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.
As noted (see Death), Diogenes' association with dogs was memorialized by the Corinthians, who erected to his memory a pillar on which rested a dog of Parian marble.
Diogenes is discussed in a 1983 book by German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk (English language publication in 1987). In his Critique of Cynical Reason, Diogenes is used as an example of Sloterdijk’s idea of the “kynical” — in which personal degradation is used for purposes of community comment or censure. Calling the practice of this tactic “kynismos,” Sloterdijk explains that the kynical actor actually embodies the message he/she is trying to convey. The goal here is typically a false regression that mocks authority — especially authority that the kynical actor considers corrupt, suspect, or unworthy.
There is another discussion of Diogenes and the Cynics in Michel Foucault's book Fearless Speech. Here Foucault discusses Diogenes' antics in relation to the speaking of truth (parrhesia) in the ancient world.
Diogenes' name has been applied to a behavioural disorder characterised by involuntary self-neglect and hoarding. The disorder afflicts the elderly and has no relation to Diogenes' deliberate Herculean rejection of material comfort.
Both in ancient and in modern times, his personality has appealed strongly to sculptors and to painters. Ancient busts exist in the museums of the Vatican, the Louvre, and the Capitol. The interview between Diogenes and Alexander is represented in an ancient marble bas-relief found in the Villa Albani.
Among artists who have painted the famous encounter of Diogenes with Alexander there are works by de Crayer, de Vos, Assereto, Langetti, Sevin, Sebastiano Ricci, Gandolfi, Wink, Abildgaard, Monsiau, Martin, and Daumier. The famous story of Diogenes searching for an "honest man" has been depicted by Jordaens, van Everdingen, van der Werff, Pannini, and Corinth. Others who have painted him with his famous lantern include de Ribera, Castiglione, Petrini, Gérôme, Bastien-Lepage, and Waterhouse. The scene in which Diogenes discards his cup has been painted by Poussin, Rosa, and Martin; and the story of Diogenes begging from a statue has been depicted by Restout. In Raphael's fresco The School of Athens, a lone reclining figure in the foreground represents Diogenes.
Diogenes has also been the subject of sculptures, with famous bas-relief images by Puget and Pajou.
Diogenes is referred to in Anton Chekhov's story Ward No. 6; William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell; François Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel; Goethe's poem Genialisch Treiben; as well as in the first sentence of Søren Kierkegaard's novelistic treatise Repetition. In Cervantes' short story The Man of Glass (El Licenciado Vidriera), part of the Novelas Ejemplares collection, the (anti-)hero unaccountably begins to channel Diogenes in a string of tart chreiai once he becomes convinced that he is made of glass. Diogenes is the primary model for the philosopher Didactylos in Terry Pratchett's Small Gods. He is mimicked by a beggar-spy in Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Scion and paid tribute to with a costume in a party by the main character in its sequel, Kushiel's Justice. The character Lucy Snowe in Charlotte Bronte's novel Villette is given the nickname Diogenes. Diogenes also features in Part Four of Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. He is a figure in Seamus Heaney's The Haw Lantern. In Christopher Moore's Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, one of Jesus' apostles is a devotee of Diogenes, complete with his own pack of dogs which he refers to as his own disciples. His story opens the first chapter of Dolly Freed's 1978 book Possum Living. The dog that Paul Dombey befriends in Charles Dickens' Dombey and Son is called Diogenes.
The philosopher's name was adopted by the fictional Diogenes Club, an organization that Sherlock Holmes' brother Mycroft Holmes belongs to in the story The Greek Interpreter by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is called such as its members are educated, yet untalkative and have a dislike of socialising, much like the philosopher himself. The group is the focus of a number of Holmes pastiches by Kim Newman.
If you notice a broken link or any error PLEASE report it by clicking HERE
© 1995-2017 Bible History Online