The godfather of cynicism shares striking characteristics with the modern millennial memer. He was irritable and edgy, and his anecdotes have been documented in Diogenes Laertius’ anthology about the lives and times of eminent philosophers, despite his ragged ways. His ideologies were revolutionary to the point of indecency. He adhered to no socially acceptable conventions without a shred of shame and thus earned the epithet ‘dog,’ from which the title ‘cynic’ was derived. He justifies being a called a dog: “Because I fawn upon those who give me anything, and bark at those who give me nothing, and bite the rogues.”
Diogenes considered Plato his foremost rival and heedlessly irked the immortal philosopher. He criticized Plato’s interpretations of Socrates’ teachings, to which Plato rebutted by branding Diogenes as a ‘Socrates gone mad.’ Nonetheless, Diogenes was not satisfied with mere verbal rows. He took his cynicism a step further by trying to sabotage Plato’s lectures at the Academy, where Plato spoke to his followers, by bringing food along with him to eat during the discussions and thereafter steal the attention away from Plato. Even that, however, was not enough to satiate him, who took yet another step and made what is probably the biggest mockery of anyone in history – the infamous featherless chicken anecdote.
In this well-known yet possibly fictitious account by cynic philosopher and satirist Menippus in his book, The Sale of Diogenes, Diogenes was captured by a notorious pirate captain named Skirpalos and his crew. He was then sold as a slave to a man who Diogenes himself pointed to, and said, ‘Sell me to this man; he needs a master.’ The man considered Diogenes’ advice, and charged him with the responsibility of his household and the education of his children. Diogenes thus settled in Corinth, an ancient city in south-central Greece. In Corinth, Diogenes passed on his unseemly ways of life to Crates, who forwarded it to Zeno of Citium, who furthermore molded it into Stoicism. This was a school of thought that emphasized on virtue being happiness and life being unpredictable. Even during the Hellenistic period, Stoicism was one of the premier schools amid the educated aristocracy, and in the Roman Empire, it is said that all of Alexander the Great’s successors were so-called stoics. If true, this sequence of events is exceedingly ironical, for Diogenes is known to have publicly mocked Alexander the Great himself.
The version of this famous incident recounted by Diogenes Laertius describes how Alexander the Great came to a suburb in Corinth, where Diogenes had leisurely settled, to meet with him and grant him anything he desired. Diogenes reportedly did not care enough to even acknowledge his presence, but when he noticed a horde of people approaching him, he sat up and gazed upon Alexander. The ruler greeted Diogenes and asked him what he desired the most, to which Diogenes had timelessly replied, “Stand a little out of my sun.” Alexander was said to be so deeply affected by this spiteful response that he developed admiration for the homeless philosopher. While walking away, the monarch’s followers jested and laughed about the incident in order to preserve their dignity, and Alexander remarked, “But truly, if I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes.” After his death, to acknowledge the life of the irritable yet memorable man who disliked all material possessions, the people of Corinth erected a pillar on which rests a dog made of flawless Parian marble.
Author: Aayush Agarwal