For all we do here at this site to combat hunger and poverty and raise awareness of the present-day hunger and poverty epidemics, this site wouldn't be complete without a page dedicated to my number one hero Diogenes (412 BC - 323 BC), the wise social critic who gave up possessions and chose to live in poverty.
-Scott Hughes, The Hunger & Poverty Blog
A Socrates Gone Mad
The people of ancient Greece knew the philosopher Diogenes by many nick names. Plato called Diogenes "a Socrates gone mad". Most often the Greeks called Diogenes "the dog". The Greek word for dog was "cynic". In fact, Diogenes teacher Antisthenes - pupil of Socrates - founded the Greek school of cynicism, and Diogenes was and is the most notorious cynic.
Now you know the etymology of the word cynic.
The story of how Diogenes and Antisthenes came together is an interesting one. Attracted by the ascetic teaching of Antisthenes, Diogenes came to be his student. Antisthenes struck Diogenes with his staff when Diogenes first came to the doors of the cynic school, but Diogenes refused to leave and said "Strike me, Antisthenes, but you will never find a stick sufficiently hard to remove me from your presence, while you speak anything worth hearing." Then, Diogenes became a student of Antisthenes.
Diogenes became the pupil of Antisthenes and rapidly surpassed his master both in reputation and in the austerity of his life. Unlike the other citizens of Athens, Diogenes avoided earthly pleasures. His attitude was grounded in his great disdain for what he perceived as the folly, vanity, pretence, self-deception, social climbing, and artificiality of much human conduct.
"I am Diogenes the Dog. I nuzzle the kind, bark at the greedy and bite scoundrels."
Naturally, all the stories of Diogenes seem to have the same sort of cynical comedy to them as his first encounter with Antisthenes. Here they are:
Favorite Remarks of the Cynic:
Once, when watching an incompetent bowman at an archery contest, Diogenes walked over and sat down right next to the target, explaining that it was the only place where he felt safe.
When Diogenes noticed a prostitute's son throwing rocks at crowd, Diogenes said to him "Careful, son. Don't hit your father."
One day Diogenes shouted out for men, and when people collected, hit out at them with his stick, saying, "It was men I called for, not scoundrels."
Diogenes was particularly upset by extravagant and lavish interior decorations, and at one rich man's house, on finding himself surrounded by expensive carpets and sumptuous cushions, Diogenes spat in the owner's face, and then wiped it with his rough cloak and apologized, saying it was the only dirty place in the room he could find to spit.
After being banished from Sinope, Diogenes said, "The Sinopeans have condemned me to banishment; I condemn them to stay at home!"
When Lysias the druggist asked him if he believed in the gods," How can I help believing in them," said he, "when I see a god-forsaken wretch like you?"
He was asking alms of a bad-tempered man, who said, "Yes, if you can persuade me." "If I could have persuaded you," said Diogenes, "I would have persuaded you to hang yourself."
When some strangers expressed a wish to see Demosthenes, he stretched out his middle finger and said, "There goes the demagogue of Athens."
At a feast certain people kept throwing all the bones to Diogenes as they would to a dog. He played a dog's trick and urinated on them.
"Of what use is a philosopher who doesn't hurt anybody's feelings?"
When asked what wine he found most pleasant to drink, Diogenes replied, "That for which other people pay."
Diogenes was great at pouring scorn on his contemporaries. The school of Euclides he called bilious, and Plato's lectures a waste of time, the performances at the Dionysia great peep-shows for fools, and the demagogues the mob's lacqueys. He used to also say that when he saw physicians, philosophers and pilots at their work, he deemed man the most intelligent of all animals; but when again he saw interpreters of dreams and diviners and those who attended to them, or those who were puffed up with conceit of wealth, he thought no animal more silly. He would continually say that for the conduct of life we need right reason or a halter.
Regardless of his cynicism, Diogenes was loved by the Athenians. At all events, when a youngster broke up his tub, they gave the boy a flogging and presented Diogenes with another.
The Philosophy of Diogenes:
Diogenes said that there was one only good, namely, knowledge; and one only evil, namely, ignorance.
Being asked whether death was an evil thing, Diogenes replied, "How can it be evil, when in its presence we are not aware of it?"
When someone declared that life is an evil, Diogenes said, "Not life itself, but living ill."
Diogenes was asked, Why do people give to beggars but not to philosophers? "Because they think they may one day be lame or blind, but never expect that they will turn to philosophy," Diogenes replied.
Being asked what creature's bite is the worst, he said, "Of those that are wild, a sycophant's; of those that are tame, a flatterer's".
When asked from where he came, Diogenes said, "I am a citizen of the world."
To a young man who complained that he was ill suited to study philosophy, Diogenes said, "Why then do you live, if you do not care to live well?"
When asked what was the proper time for supper, Diogenes replied, "If you are a rich man, whenever you please; and if you are a poor man, whenever you can."
A student asked to borrow a book, he replied: "You are a silly man. If you wanted figs you wouldn't be satisfied with painted ones. But you take no notice of the practice of virtue and study only those who write about it".
Friends of Diogenes wanted to ransom him, where upon he called them simpletons; "for", said he, "lions are not the slaves of those who feed them, but rather those who feed them are at the mercy of the lions: for fear is the mark of the slave, whereas wild beasts make men afraid of them."
When asked what was the right age for marriage, Diogenes replied: "For a young man, not yet; for an old man, not at all."
When asked how he would like to be buried, Diogenes replied 'face downwards', when asked why, he explained that the Macedonians were rising in power so rapidly that the world would shortly be turned upside down and he would then be the right way up.
Diognes was breakfasting in the market place, and the bystanders gathered round him with cries of "dog." "It is you who are dogs," said Diogenes, "when you stand round and watch me at my breakfast."
Some one wanted to study philosophy under him. Diogenes gave him a tunafish to carry and told him to follow him. And when for shame the man threw it away and departed, some time after on meeting him he laughed and said, "The friendship between you and me was broken by a tuna."
When someone boasted that at the Pythian games he had vanquished men, Diogenes replied, "Nay, I defeat men, you defeat slaves."
As he was leaving the public baths, somebody inquired if many men were bathing. He said, "No." But to another who asked if there was a great crowd of bathers, he said, "Yes."
The question was put to Diogenes, what hope is; and his answer was, "The dream of a waking man."
Chided as an old man who ought to rest, he replied, "What, if I were running in the stadium, ought I to slacken my pace when approaching the goal? Ought I not rather put on speed?"
Diogenes often used the phrase "paracharatein to nomisma," meaning 'altering the currency'. What he was told to do by the oracle at Delphi.
To a man whose shoes were being put on by his servant, Diogenes said, "You have not attained to full felicity, unless he wipes your nose as well; and that will come, when you have lost the use of your hands."
When breakfasting on olives amongst which a cake had been inserted, he flung it away and addressed it thus: "Stranger, be gone from the princes' path."
After being reproached for masturbating in the marketplace he would say "If only it was as easy to banish hunger by rubbing the belly as it is to masturbate."
Dio Chrysostom described Diogenes as terminating a discourse by squatting down and evacuating his bowels in the presence of his hearers.
After being captured by pirates, Diogenes was asked what he can do and he replied "I can govern men; therefore sell me to one who wants a master." Then as a slave, Diogenes said, "You must obey me, although I am a slave; for, if a physician or a steersman were in slavery, he would be obeyed."
Being reproached for eating in the market-place "Well, it was in the market-place," Diogenes said, "that I felt hungry."
When some one said, "Most people laugh at you," his reply was, "And so very likely do the asses at them; but as they don't care for the asses, so neither do I care for them."
Seeing a youth dressing with elaborate care, Diogenes said, "If it's for men, you're a fool; if for women, a knave."
The Lantern Of Diogenes:
Diogenes was also famous for walking through the streets of Athens in broad daylight waving a lantern and announcing that he was looking for a "honest man".
He lit a lamp in broad daylight and said, as he went about, "I am looking for a man."
Diogenes the Vandal:
Of the golden statue of Phryne at Delphi, Diogenes was said to have written upon it: "From the licentiousness of Greece."
Diogenes and Others:
Diogenes had many interesting encounters with other philosophers and important men. Here are some of my favorite recollections of those encounters:
Diogenes and Alexander the Great
"I am Alexander the Great," said the monarch to Diogenes. "And I am Diogenes the Cynic," replied Diogenes
Alexander stood opposite Diogenes and asked, "Are you not afraid of me?" "Why, what are you," said Diogenes, "a good thing or a bad?" Alexander replied, "A good thing" whereupon Diogenes said, "Who, then, is afraid of the good?"
Diogenes asked Alexander what his plans were. Alexander answered that he planned to conquer and subjugate Greece. Then what? Diogenes asked. Alexander said that he planned to conquer and subjugate Asia Minor. And then? Alexander said that he planned to conquer and subjugate the world.
Diogenes, who was not easily dissuaded from a line of inquiry, posed the question again: What next? Alexander the Great told Diogenes that after all that conquering and subjugating, he planned to relax and enjoy himself. Diogenes responded: Why not save yourself a lot of trouble by relaxing and enjoying yourself now?
Alexander the Great said:
"If I were not Alexander, I should wish to be Diogenes."
When someone was extolling the good fortune and splendor another had experienced in sharing the suite of Alexander The Great, Diogenes said, "Not so, but rather ill fortune -- for he breakfasts and dines when Alexander thinks fit."
Diogenes and Plato
Plato once said to Diogenes "If you had paid your respects to Dionysus, you would not be washing lettuces now," to which, with equal calmness Diogenes replied, "If you had washed lettuces, Plato, you would not have had to pay your respects to Dionysus."
Plato had defined Man as an animal, biped and featherless, and was applauded. Diogenes plucked a fowl and brought it into the lecture-room with the words, "Here is Plato's man."
When Diogenes was invited to dine at Plato's house, he preceded to trample over all the embroidered cushions with his muddy feet. "Thus I trample on the pride of Plato", Diogenes cried. "With the pride of Diogenes", replied Plato.
When Plato styled him a dog," Quite true," he said, "for I come back again and again to those who have sold me."
Again, another time he was eating dried figs when he encountered Plato and offered him a share of them. When Plato took them and ate them, he said, " I said you might share them, not that you might eat them all up."
As Plato was conversing about Ideas and using the nouns "tablehood" and "cuphood," Diogenes said, "Table and cup I see; but your tablehood and cuphood, Plato, I can nowise see." "That's readily accounted for," said Plato, "For you have the eyes to see the visible table and cup; but not the understanding by which ideal tablehood and cuphood are discerned."
Diogenes, Aristippus, and Dionysus
A philosopher named Aristippus, who had quite willingly sucked up to Dionysus and won himself a spot at his court, saw Diogenes cooking lentils for a meal. "If you would only learn to compliment Dionysus, you wouldn't have to live on lentils."
Diogenes replied, "But if you would only learn to live on lentils, you wouldn't have to flatter Dionysus."
Diogenes and Craterus
When Craterus wanted him to come and visit him, " No," he replied, " I would rather live on a few grains of salt at Athens than enjoy sumptuous fare at Craterus's table."
Diogenes and Philip
He was seized and dragged off to Philip, and being asked who he was, replied, " A spy upon your insatiable greed." For this he was admired and set free.
"Aristotle has to dine when Philip thinks fit; Diogenes can dine at any time he chooses"
Diogenes Also Said:
"Dogs and philosophers do the greatest good and get the fewest rewards."
"He has the most who is most content with the least."
"All things are the property of the wise."
"Why not whip the teacher when the pupil misbehaves?"
"When two friends part they should lock up each other's secrets and exchange keys. The truly noble mind has no resentments."
"Discourse on virtue and they pass by in droves. Whistle and dance the shimmy, and you've got an audience."
"Things of value are battered for things that are worthless and vice-versa."
"As a matter of self-preservation, a man needs good friends or ardent enemies, for the former instruct him and the latter take him to task."
"Most men are within a finger's breadth of being mad."
"Those who have virtue always in their mouths, and neglect it in practice, are like a harp, which emits a sound pleasing to others, while itself is insensible of the music."
"The foundation of every state is the education of its youth."
"A man should live with his superiors as he does with his fire; not too near, lest he burn; not too far off, lest he freeze."
"All things are in common among friends."
"It is better to have one friend of great value than many friends who were good for nothing."
"It takes a wise man to discover a wise man."
"Man is the most intelligent of the animals -- and the most silly."
"What I like to drink most is wine that belongs to others."
"Blushing is the color of virtue."
"I do not know whether there are gods, but there ought to be."
"I am Diogenes the Cynic, called a dog because I fawn on those who give me anything, I yelp at those who refuse, and I set my teeth in rascals."
"All things belong to the gods. The wise are friends of the gods, and friends hold things in common. Therefore all things belong to the wise."
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