Who Is Diogenes?

Learn about Diogenes, the father of Cynicism.

The world's greatest Cynic, Diogenes, was born in 412 B.C.E in Sinope, a city on the Black Sea. As a young man he moved with his father to Athens. There he began to learn the teachings of a group known as the Cynics. The name Cynic was derived from the Greek word ky-ni-kos which roughly translated as doglike and describes the antisocial behaviour of adherents of the belief. The cynics believed that fulfilment in life was to be obtained by the total abstinence from all worldly pleasures. To them, virtue was the only good. They became suspicious and contemptuous of others.

The young Diogenes became a student of one of the founders of Cynicism, a man named Antisthenes. He became totally obsessed with the frugal lifestyle of the Cynics, taking the disowning of materialism to new heights. He did, in fact, become a dour ascetic.

Diogenes became convinced that Cynicism and the total abstinence of the things of the world was the path to ultimate enlightenment. On one occasion he is said to have walked the streets of Athens in the middle of the day with a lighted lamp in search of a virtuous person. This type of eccentric behaviour was often used to draw attention to the Cynics and attract new recruits to the ranks of believers.

On one memorable occasion Diogenes was approached by the great Alexander the Great. Alexander, apparently in an attempt to undermine the cynic belief, asked Diogenes what he wanted most in the world. Diogenes' answer? He wanted Alexander to step aside so that he was no longer blocking the Sun.

Diogenes and his fellow Cynics as a result of their casting away all creature comforts, lived as beggars. They looked upon working for a living with utter disdain. They also rejected any civic duties or responsibilities. And, of course, they became bitterly sarcastic towards others.

Diogenes, himself, was the master at showing disrespect and throwing sarcasm at others. As a result, he came to be referred to simply as "˜the dog.'

Diogenes died about 320 B.C.E, having lived for nine angry decades. His eccentricity and extreme antisocial behaviour proved to be the downfall of Cynicsm. The belief fell into disrepute soon after his passing. Within in time it had disappeared all together. All that is left of it in our modern world is the word "˜cynic' which is used unfavourably to describe a person who is disposed to find fault with others, an unwitting imitator of the father of cynicism, Diogenes.

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