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Diogenes (ca. 400-ca. 325 B.C.), a Greek philosopher, was the most famous exponent of Cynicism, which called for a closer imitation of nature, the repudiation of most human conventions, and complete independence of mind and spirit.

The son of Hicesias, Diogenes was born in Sinope. He arrived in Athens after he and his father had been exiled from their native city for debasing the coinage in some way. His life in Athens was one of great poverty, but it was there that he adopted Antisthenes's teachings and became the chief exponent of Cynicism.

Although late authors attribute many works to Diogenes, none survives. One persistent tradition is that he wrote tragedies, perhaps to show that the misfortunes celebrated in the works of that genre could have been averted through the way of life which he taught. Because of his great notoriety and because many people in antiquity considered him the founder of Cynicism, a body of legend soon grew up about him and obscured the true accounts of his life. One certainty is that he developed a caustic wit which he used unsparingly on his contemporaries to show them the utter disregard in which he held their conventions and beliefs. The date and place of his death are uncertain, although it is unlikely that he lived later than 325 B.C.

Diogenes was not famous for developing a strong theoretical argument for his way of life. Antisthenes, the pupil of Socrates, was his inspiration, and he put into practice his master's teachings in a way which made a striking impression upon his contemporaries. Indeed, it was Diogenes's application of Antisthenes's principles which gained for him the notoriety he enjoyed. His goals were self-sufficiency, a tough and ascetic way of life, and anaideia, or shamelessness.

The first was the ultimate goal at which the Cynic life aimed. It involved a search for true happiness through the realization that wealth, rank, honors, success, and other such worldly aims were as nothing compared with complete independence of mind. The second and third aims supported the first.

Diogenes held that through a rigorous denial of all but the barest necessities of life one could train the body to be free of the world and its delusions. Through anaideia one could show the rest of humanity the contempt in which their conventions were held.

It was perhaps this last characteristic of Diogenes and his followers which gave the sect its name, since anaideia involved carrying out acts in public which most men usually do in private. Other accounts hold that the name Cynic (doglike) derives from the Gymnasium Kynosarges in Athens, where Antisthenes taught.

Crates, Diogenes's pupil, propagated the master's teachings after his death. In addition to the influence which Diogenes had on numbers of his contemporaries, he also served as a source for the development of Stoicism.

Further Reading

Excellent accounts of the life of Diogenes, as it can be pieced together from various ancient traditions, may be found in D. R. Dudley, A History of Cynicism (1937), and Farrand Sayre, Diogenes of Sinope (1938). Also good, although more for the Cynics as a group than for Diogenes, is Eduard Zeller, Outlines of the History of Greek Philosophy (1881; trans. 1931). □

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c. 400 b.c.e.–c. 325 b.c.e.


Fashion for a Philosopher.

Philosophers did not always dress according to convention. Empedocles (c. 493–c. 433 b.c.e.)—best known for defining the four elements of earth, air, fire and water—wore sandals with soles of bronze. Socrates went barefoot in all weather. But the philosopher who made a cult of shunning all luxury was Diogenes of Sinope, who founded the Cynic school of philosophy (though some credited its foundation to a disciple of Socrates named Antisthenes, whom Diogenes considered his teacher). Diogenes was exiled from Sinope on the south shore of the Black Sea, some said because either he or his father was the city's mint master and minted coins that were adulterated with base metal. He came to Athens and soon made a reputation as a man who rejected all conventions. He maintained that a person would attain happiness by satisfying his needs in the simplest possible way.

Insulted Those in Finery.

There were various stories told about his rude remarks to persons dressed in finery whom he met. A young man who was splendidly attired asked him some questions, and Diogenes said he would not answer until he discovered if his questioner was a man or a woman. He told a man who gave himself airs because he was wearing a lion's skin not to disgrace the garb of nature. When he saw a youth dressing himself with care so as to look neat and handsome, he told him that if he was beautifying himself to impress men, he was to be pitied, and if for women, he was immoral. His rudeness earned him the nickname "dog" (in Greek, kyon), from which comes the word "cynic"; hence his followers were called "Cynics."

Not a Formal School.

The Cynics were never organized into a formal school of philosophy, but like the "hippies" of the 1960s and the 1970s in America, every Cynic chose his own philosophy. The common thread amongst Cynics was a love of the simple life and disdain for fine clothes and all possessions. Although the Cynic sect faded out in the second and first centuries b.c.e., it revived in the first century c.e., and Rome was full of Cynic beggar philosophers whose shabby clothes proclaimed their calling. Like Diogenes, they exercised the right of free speech, and their open criticism of the emperors frequently earned them banishment from Rome.


Donald R. Dudley, A History of Cynicism from Diogenes to the Sixth Century A.D. (London, England: Bristol Classical Press, 1998).

Mark Edwards, "Cynics," in Encyclopedia of Greece and the Hellenic Tradition. Ed. Graham Speake (Chicago, Ill.: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000): 426–427.

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Diogenes (c.400–c.325 bc), Greek philosopher. The most famous of the Cynic school, he lived ascetically in Athens (according to legend, he lived in a tub) and was accordingly named Kuōn (‘the dog’), from which the Cynics were then said to have derived their name. According to one story, he used to walk round Athens by day with a light, explaining that he was looking for an honest man. He emphasized self-sufficiency and the need for natural, uninhibited behaviour, regardless of social conventions.

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Diogenes (active 4th century bc) Greek philosopher. Diogenes founded the Cynic school of philosophy. He believed that by reducing personal needs to a minimum, one can have mastery over one's soul.


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