previous next


Διογένης), a CYNIC of Sinope in Pontus, born about B. C. 412. His father was a banker named Icesias or Icetas, who was convicted of some swindling transaction, in consequence of which Diogenes quitted Sinope and went to Athens. His youth is said to have been spent in dissolute extravagance; but at Athens his attention was arrested by the character of Antisthenes, who at first drove him away, as he did all others who offered themselves as his pupils. [ANTISTHENES.] Diogenes, however, could not be prevented from attending him even by blows, but told him that he would find no stick hard enough to keep him away. Antisthenes at last relented, and his pupil soon plunged into the most frantic excesses of austerity and moroseness, and into practices not unlike those of the modern Trappists, or Indian gymnosophists. In summer he used to roll in hot sand, and in winter to embrace statues covered with snow; he wore coarse clothing, lived on the plainest food, and sometimes on raw meat (comp. Julian, Orat. vi.), slept in porticoes or in the street, and finally, according to the common story, took up his residence in a tub belonging to the Metroum, or temple of the Mother of the Gods. The truth of this latter tale has, however, been reasonably disputed. The chief direct authorities for it are Seneca (Ep. 99), Lucian (Quomodo Conscr. Hist. ii. p. 364), Diogenes Laertius (6.23), and the incidental allusion to it in Juvenal (14.308, &c.), who says, Alexander testa vidit in ilia magnum habitatorem, and Dolia nudi non ardent Cynici. Besides these, Aristophanes (Aristoph. Kn. 789), speaks of the Athenian poor as living, during the stress of the Peloponnesian war, in cellars, tubs (πιθάκναις), and similar dwellings. To these arguments is opposed the fact, that Plutarch, Arrian, Cicero, and Valerius Maximus, though they speak of Diogenes basking in the sun, do not allude at all to the tub; but more particularly that Epictetus (apud Arrian. 3.24), in giving a long and careful account of his mode of life, says nothing about it. The great combatants on this subject in modern times are, against the tub, Heumann (Act. Philosoph. vol. ii. p. 58), and for it, Hase, whose dissertation de Doliari Habitatione Diogenis Cynici, was published by his rival. (Paecil. vol. i. lib. iv. p. 586.) The story of the tub goes on to say that the Athenians voted the repair of this earthenware habitation when it was broken by a mischievous urchin. Lucian, in telling this anecdote, appeals to certain spurious epistles, falsely attributed to Diogenes. In spite of his strange eccentricities, Diogenes appears to have been much respected at Athens, and to have been privileged to rebuke anything of which he disapproved with the utmost possible licence of expression. He seems to have ridiculed and despised all intellectual pursuits which did not directly and obviously tend to some immediate practical good. He abused literary men for reading about the evils of Ulysses, and neglecting their own; musicians for stringing the lyre harmoniously while they left their minds discordant; men of science for troubling themselves about the moon and stars, while they neglected what lay immediately before them; orators for learning to say what was right, but not to practise it. Various sarcastic sayings of the same kind are handed down as his, generally shewing that unwise contempt for the common opinions and pursuits of men, which is so unlikely to reform them.

The removal of Diogenes from Athens was the result of a voyage to Aegina, in the course of which the ship was taken by pirates, and Diogenes carried to Crete to be sold as a slave. Here when he was asked what business he understood, he answered " How to command men," and he begged to be sold to some one who needed a ruler. Such a purchaser was found in the person of Xeniades of Corinth, over whom he acquired such unbounded influence, that he soon received from him his freedom, was entrusted with the care of his children, and passed his old age in his house. During his residence among them his celebrated interview with Alexander the Great is said to have taken place. The conversation between them is reported to have begun by the king's saying, " I am Alexander the Great," to which the philosopher replied, " And I am Diogenes the Cynic." Alexander then asked whether he could oblige him in any way, and received no answer except " Yes, you can stand out of the sunshine." Considering, however, that this must have happened soon after Alexander's accession, and before his Persian expedition, he could not have called himself the Great, which title was not conferred on him till he had gained his Eastern victories, after which he never returned to Greece. These considerations, with others, are sufficient to banish this anecdote, together with that of the tub, from the domain of history; and, considering what rich materials so peculiar a person as Diogenes must have afforded for amusing stories, we need not wonder if a few have come down to us of somewhat doubtful genuineness. We are told, however, that Alexander admired Diogenes so much that he said, " If I were not Alexander, I should wish to be Diogenes." (Plut. Alex. 100.14.) Some say, that after Diogenes became a resident at Corinth, he still spent every winter at Athens, and he is also accused of various scandalous offences, but of these there is no proof; and the whole bearing of tradition about him shews that, though a strange fanatic, he was a man of great excellence of life, and probably of real kindness, since Xeniades compared his arrival to the entrance of a good genius into his house.

With regard to the philosophy of Diogenes there is little to say, as he was utterly without any scientific object whatever. His system, if it deserve the name, was purely practical, and consisted merely in teaching men to dispense with the simplest and most necessary wants (D. L. 6.70); and his whole style of teaching was a kind of caricature upon that of Socrates, whom he imitated in imparting instruction to persons whom he casually met, and with a still more supreme contempt for time, place, and circumstances. Hence he was sometimes called " the mad Socrates." He did not commit his opinions to writing, and therefore those attributed to him cannot be certainly relied on. The most peculiar, if correctly stated, was, that all minds are air, exactly alike, and composed of similar particles, but that in the irrational animals and in idiots, they are hindered from properly developing themselves by the arrangement and various humours of their bodies. (Plut. Plac. Phil. 5.20.) This resembles the Ionic doctrine, and has been referred by Brucker Hist. Crit. Phil. 2.2. 1.21) to Diogenes of Apollonia. The statement in Suidas, that Diogenes was once called Cleon, is probably a false reading for Κύων. He died at the age of nearly ninety, B. C. 323, in the same year that Epicurus came to Athens to circulate opinions the exact opposite to his. It was also the year of Alexander's death, and as Plutarch tells us (Sympos. 8.717), both died on the same day. If so, this was probably the 6th of Thargelion.

Further Information

Clinton, F. H. vol. ii.; Ritter, Gesch. der Philosophie, 7.1, 4.


hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
412 BC (1)
323 BC (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: