Diogenes of Sinope

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Diogenes of Sinope

Greek: Διογένης
Nicknames: "Diogenes the Cynic"
Birthdate:
Birthplace: Sinop, Sinop Province, Turkey
Death: Died in Corinth, Peloponnesia, Greece
Immediate Family:

Son of Hicesias

Occupation: Greek philosopher and one of the founders of Cynic philosophy
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Diogenes of Sinope

Diogenes of Sinope (Διογένης ὁ Σινωπεύς)

Diogenes the Cynic (Greek: Διογένης ὁ Κυνικός, Diogenēs ho Kunikos) was a Greek philosopher and one of the founders of Cynic philosophy. Also known as Diogenes of Sinope (Greek: Διογένης ὁ Σινωπεύς, Diogenēs ho Sinōpeus), he was born in Sinope (modern-day Sinop, Turkey) in 412 or 404 BCE and died at Corinth in 323 BCE.

Diogenes was one of the few men to ever publicly mock Alexander the Great and live. He intellectually humiliated Plato and was the only pupil ever accepted by Antisthenes, whom he saw as the true heir of Socrates. Diogenes taught his philosophy of Cynicism to Crates who taught it to Zeno of Citium who fashioned it into the school of Stoicism, one of the most enduring branches of Greek philosophy.

Diogenes of Sinope was always controversial. Exiled from his native city for defacing the currency, he moved to Athens and declared himself a cosmopolitan (in defiance of the prevailing city-state system). He became a disciple of Antisthenes, and made a virtue of extreme poverty, famously begging for a living and sleeping in a tub in the marketplace. He became notorious for his provocative behaviour and philosophical stunts such as carrying a lamp in the daytime, claiming to be looking for an honest man. He regularly argued with Plato, disputing his interpretation of Socrates and sabotaging his lectures. After being captured by pirates and sold into slavery, Diogenes eventually settled in Corinth, where he was admired by Alexander.

Diogenes was a staunch admirer of Hercules. He believed that virtue was better revealed in action than in theory. His life was a relentless campaign to debunk the social values and institutions of what he saw as a corrupt society. None of his many writings have survived, but details of his life come in the form of anecdotes (chreia), especially from Diogenes Laërtius, in his book Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. Life

Diogenes was born in the Greek colony of Sinope on the south coast of the Black Sea, either in 412 BCE or 404 BCE. Nothing is known about his early life except that his father Hicesias was a banker. It seems likely that Diogenes was also enrolled into the banking business aiding his father. At some point (and the details are murky) Hicesias and Diogenes became embroiled in a scandal involving the adulteration or defacement of the currency, and Diogenes was exiled from the city. This aspect of the story seems to be corroborated by archaeology: large numbers of defaced coins (smashed with a large chisel stamp) have been discovered at Sinope dating from the middle of the 4th century BCE, and other coins of the time bear the name of Hicesias as the official who minted them. The reasons for the defacement of the coinage are unclear, although Sinope was being disputed between pro-Persian and pro-Greek factions in the 4th century, and there may have been political rather than financial motives behind the act.

According to one story, Diogenes went to the Oracle at Delphi to ask for its advice, and was told that he should "deface the currency," and Diogenes, realizing that the oracle meant that he should deface the political currency rather than actual coins, traveled to Athens and made it his life's goal to challenge established customs and values.

In Athens

In his new home, Athens, Diogenes' mission became to metaphorically deface the "coinage" of custom. Custom, he alleged, was the false coin of human morality. Instead of being troubled about the true nature of evil, people merely rely on customary interpretations. This distinction between nature ("physis") and custom ("nomos") is a favorite theme of ancient Greek philosophy, and one that Plato takes up in The Republic, in the legend of the Ring of Gyges.

Diogenes is alleged to have gone to Athens with a slave named Manes who abandoned him shortly thereafter. With characteristic humour, Diogenes dismissed his ill fortune by saying, "If Manes can live without Diogenes, why not Diogenes without Manes?" Diogenes would be consistent in making fun of such a relation of extreme dependency. He would particularly find the figure of a master who could do nothing for himself contemptibly helpless. He was attracted by the ascetic teaching of Antisthenes, a student of Socrates, who (according to Plato) had been present at his death. Diogenes became Antisthenes' pupil, despite the brutality with which he was initially received. Whether the two ever really met is still uncertain, but he rapidly surpassed his master both in reputation and in the austerity of his life. He considered his avoidance of earthly pleasures a contrast to and commentary on contemporary Athenian behaviors. This attitude was grounded in a great disdain for what he perceived as the folly, pretense, vanity, self-deception, and artificiality of much human conduct.

The stories told of Diogenes illustrate the logical consistency of his character. He inured himself to the vicissitudes of weather by living in a tub belonging to the temple of Cybele. He destroyed the single wooden bowl he possessed on seeing a peasant boy drink from the hollow of his hands. It was contrary to Athenian customs to eat within the marketplace, and still he would eat, for, as he explained when rebuked, it was during the time he was in the marketplace that he felt hungry. He used to stroll about in full daylight with a lamp; when asked what he was doing, he would answer, "I am just looking for an honest man." Diogenes looked for a human being but reputedly found nothing but rascals and scoundrels.

When Plato gave Socrates' definition of man as "featherless bipeds" and was much praised for the definition, Diogenes plucked a chicken and brought it into Plato's Academy, saying, "Behold! I've brought you a man." After this incident, "with broad flat nails" was added to Plato's definition.

In Corinth

According to a story which seems to have originated with Menippus of Gadara, Diogenes was once on a voyage to Aegina, he was captured by pirates and sold as a slave in Crete to a Corinthian named Xeniades. Being asked his trade, he replied that he knew no trade but that of governing men, and that he wished to be sold to a man who needed a master. As tutor to Xeniades' two sons, he lived in Corinth for the rest of his life, which he devoted entirely to preaching the doctrines of virtuous self-control. He is even said to have lectured to large audiences at the Isthmian Games.

Diogenes and Alexander

It was in Corinth that a meeting between Alexander the Great and Diogenes is supposed to have taken place.[22] The accounts of Plutarch and Diogenes Laërtius recount that they exchanged only a few words: while Diogenes was relaxing in the sunlight in the morning, Alexander, thrilled to meet the famous philosopher, asked if there was any favour he might do for him. Diogenes replied, "Yes, stand out of my sunlight". Alexander then declared, "If I were not Alexander, then I should wish to be Diogenes." In another account of the conversation, Alexander found the philosopher looking attentively at a pile of human bones. Diogenes explained, "I am searching for the bones of your father but cannot distinguish them from those of a slave."

Death

There are numerous accounts of Diogenes' death. He is alleged variously to have held his breath; to have become ill from eating raw octopus; or to have suffered an infected dog bite. 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. The Corinthians erected to his memory a pillar on which rested a dog of Parian marble.

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Diogenes of Sinope's Timeline

-412
-412
Sinop, Sinop Province, Turkey
-323
-323
Age 88
Corinth, Peloponnesia, Greece