Diogenes of Sinope (4th Century BCE)

views updated

(4th Century BCE)

Diogenes of Sinope, who lived in the fourth century BCE, was the prototype of the Cynics, who probably were so called from Diogenes' Greek nickname, the Dog (kuon ; adjective form, kunikos ). Tradition held that on coming to Athens in exile, he was influenced by Antisthenes' teaching; Diogenes' ascetic distortion of Socratic temperance gives some point to Plato's supposed remark that he was a "Socrates gone mad."

It is not easy to recover the philosopher from, on the one hand, the lurid fog of anecdotal tradition that represents the stunts of an eccentric tramp at Athens and Corinth defacing conventional human standardsas he or his father, Hicesias, was supposed to have defaced in some way the currency of Sinopeor, on the other, the idealized legend that grew after his death. But doxographic traces (for example, Diogenes Laërtius, VI.7073) and, indeed, the tradition as a whole presuppose a serious teacher who, in disillusioned protest against a corrupt society and hostile world, advocated happiness as self-realization and self-mastery in an inner spiritual freedom from all wants except the bare natural minimum; and who, in a bitter crusade against the corrupting influence of pleasure, desire, and luxury, extolled the drastic painful effort involved in the mental and physical training for the achievement of a natural and inviolable self-sufficiency.

The anecdotes illustrate Diogenes' philosophy in action. Since for Diogenes virtue was revealed in practice and not in theoretical analysis or argument, the stories of, for example, his embracing statues in winter and his peering with a lantern in daytime for a human being, the tales of his fearless biting repartee and criticism of notables such as Alexander, however embroidered or apocryphal, correctly reflect his pointed teaching methods, which encouraged the development of a new didactic form, the chreia, or moral epigram. Some exaggeration here is due to the "dog-cynic" shamelessness pedagogically employed to discount convention, and some is no doubt inherent in the uncompromising extremes of Diogenes' doctrines.

He is credited with tragedies illustrating the human predicament and with a Republic, which influenced Zeno the Stoic, that was notorious for its scandalous attack on convention. His famous remark that he was a citizen of the world is more probably antinational than international, for he was concerned with the individual rather than the community. Diogenes sought to make any man king, not of others, but of himself, through autonomy of will, and his own life was his main philosophical demonstration to this end.

See also Antisthenes; Cynics; Diogenes Laertius; Hellenistic Thought; Plato; Zeno of Citium.


works on diogenes of sinope

Crönert, W. Kolotes und Menedemos. Leipzig, 1906.

Diogenes Laërtius. Lives, VI. 2081.

Dudley, D. R. History of Cynicism. London, 1937.

Höistad, R. Cynic Hero and Cynic King. Uppsala, Sweden, 1949.

Sayre, F. The Greek Cynics. Baltimore, 1948.

I. G. Kidd (1967)