Cynic led a dog’s life
It’s fortunate that the Greek philosopher Diogenes lived when he did. If he were alive today and perhaps seeing Material Girl Madonna on TV, he’d bark about the world’s blatant corruption and once again ask to be thrown to wild animals.
Yeah, he’d likely be thrown into a padded cell these days. Good thing he lived when he did.
Diogenes was born about 402 or 404 BC, according to Wikipedia. In his youth he turned into a rebel with a cause – renouncing the customs of what he considered a corrupt society. He ended up in Athens, where he lived and slept in a tub in the market place. He preached that extreme austerity was the only virtuous path to follow in life.
“All men, in their yearning for wealth and comfort, were forced into dishonesty, he said, and to demonstrate what he meant he would go about the market place in broad daylight with a lighted lamp,” Isaac Asimov writes in Words from History. “’ I am looking for an honest man,’ he would say, implying that even the sun plus the lamp would not reveal one.”
Asimov goes on to explain the Diogenes and his followers were considered doglike because of their anti-social “barking and snarling … The Greek word for doglike is “kunikos” which become “cynicus” in Latin. In English, we speak of this group of men therefore as cynics. Diogenes and those who thought like him accepted the name, for the said they were like watchdogs standing guard over public virtue.”
Legend has it that Diogenes even dissed Alexander the Great and got away with it.
Diogenes relayed his philosophy of Cynicism to Crates, according to Wikipedia, which adds that Crates later taught it to Zeno of Cituum, who was known for teaching Stoicism. (See blog entry of Friday, April 13.)
Wikipedia notes that historians differ over how Diogenes died. One theory holds he simply held his breath until he died; another theory says eating raw octopus did him in. Another – more fitting to his life as a cynic – was that he died of an infected dog bite, again according to Wikipedia.
Wikipedia adds that upon his death Diogenes wanted 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!’”
At any rate, cynicism now means a belief that people are only motivated by selfish desires.
Diogenes searching for an honest man by J.H.W. Tischbein (circa 1780)
Diogenes sitting in his tub by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1860)
Photos of paintings courtesy of Wikipedia