Diogenes the Eccentric Philosopher
Diogenes of Sinope was a cynic philosopher. Cynic philosophy was a great influence on the development of Stoic Philosophy. He was a student Antisthenes who was a student of Socrates. The word cynic is derived from the Greek word which means dog like.
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.
“I am Diogenes the Dog. I nuzzle the kind, bark at the greedy and bite scoundrels.”
He believed that virtue was better revealed in action than in theory. He used his lifestyle and behavior to criticize the social values and institutions of what he saw as a corrupt society.
Diogenes made a virtue of poverty. He begged for a living and slept in a tub in the marketplace (Some versions say he used to live in a wine barrel).This attitude was grounded in a disdain for what he regarded as the folly, pretense, vanity, self-deception, and artificiality of human conduct.
Practical good was the chief aim of his philosophy; and he did not conceal his disdain for literature and the fine arts. He laughed at men of letters for reading the sufferings of Odysseus while neglecting their own, and at orators who studied how to enforce truth but not how to practice it.
Diogenes shared Socrates’ belief that he could function as doctor to men’s souls and improve them morally.
Diogenes taught by living example. He tried to demonstrate that wisdom and happiness belong to the man who is independent of society and that civilization is regressive. He scorned not only family and political social organization, but property rights and reputation. He even rejected normal ideas about human decency. 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.
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.
There are many humorous incidents from Diogenes life. In fact since none of his writings have survived we know of his philosophy through anecdotes from his life.
~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.
~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.”
~The question was put to Diogenes, what hope is; and his answer was, “The dream of a waking man.”
~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.”
~”It’s my fate to steal,” pleaded the man who had been caught red-handed by Diogenes.
“Then it is also your fate to be beaten,” said Diogenes, hitting him across the head with his staff. (also attributed to Zeno)
~A heckler in the crowd shouted out, “My mind is not made like that, I can’t be bothered with philosophy.”
“Why do you bother to live,” Diogenes retorted, “if you can’t be bothered to live properly?”
~In the midst of serious discourse in the Craneum, Diogenes realised no one was listening. So he instead began to whistle and dance about to attract attention. Immediately, people flocked round him. Diogenes stopped and said, “You idiots, you are not interested to stop and pay attention to wisdom, yet you rush up to observe a foolish display.”
“Discourse on virtue and they pass by in droves. Whistle and dance the shimmy, and you’ve got an audience.”
~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.”
But perhaps the most famous incident from his life is when Alexander comes to meet him:
When Alexander the Great was coming to India he met one great man, Diogenes. In their dialogue there is one point which is relevant. Diogenes asked him, “What are you going to do after you have conquered the whole world?”
Alexander said, “After I have conquered the whole world, I am going to relax, just like you.”
Diogenes was having a sunbath, naked. He lived naked, by the side of a river, and he was lying in the sand enjoying the morning sun and the cool breeze.
Diogenes laughed and he said, “If after conquering the whole world you are just going to relax like me, why not relax right now? Is conquering the whole world a precondition for relaxation? I have not conquered the whole world.”
Alexander felt embarrassed because what he was saying was right. Then Diogenes said, “Why are you wasting your life in conquering the world — only to relax, finally, just like me. This bank of the river is big enough, you can come, your friends can come. It is miles long and the forest is beautiful. And I don’t possess anything. If you like the place where I am lying down, I can change!”
Alexander said, “Perhaps you are right, but first I have to conquer the world.”
Diogenes said, “It is up to you. But remember one thing: have you ever thought that there is no other world? Once you have conquered this world, you will be in difficulty.”
It is said that Alexander became immediately sad. He said, “I have never thought about it. It makes me feel very sad that I am so close to conquering the world … and I am only thirty-three, and there is no other world to conquer.”
Diogenes said, “But you were thinking to relax. If there was another world, I think first you would conquer that and then relax. You will never relax because you don’t understand a simple thing about relaxation — it’s either now or never. If you understand it, lie down, throw these clothes in the river.
If you don’t understand, forget about relaxation. And what is the point in conquering the world? What are you going to gain by it? Except losing your life, you are not going to gain anything.”
Alexander said, “I would like to see you again when I come back. Right now I have to go, but I would have loved to sit and listen to you. I have always thought of meeting you — I have heard so many stories about you. But I have never met such a beautiful and impressive man as you. Can I do anything for you? Just a word, a hint from you, and it will be done.”
Diogenes said, “If you can just stand a little to the side, because you are preventing the sun. That will be enough gratitude — and I will remain thankful for my whole life.”
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