Who's Who Ancient Greece: The Philosophers

Diogenes of Sinope (410-323 BC)
The Cynical School

DiogenesHead of the Cynical School of philosophy, Diogens lived many years in Athens and died in Corinth.

He was influenced by the teachings of Antisthenis, and may have been his pupil. He extended the asceticism of this teacher, believing in absolute self-sufficiency and in limiting ones needs exclusively to those that were necessary to one's survival.

A living example of these ideas, he wore old clothing, never trimmed his beard, carried a sack over his shoulder and lived, according to some, in a terracotta jar (meaning one of the huge clay pots used for storing oil or grain, called pithi), though others say that he lived in an old discarded bathtub.

diogenesAccording to some, he was captured by pirates while on a sea voyage and sold into slavery in Corinth where he lived with his master and preached virtuous self-control.

His behavior, both blasphemous and provocative, generated many anecdotes. One of these relates how Alexander went to find him, when he failed to show up with other distinguished Greeks whom he had called together to participate in his campaign against the Persians.

Finding Diogenes sitting in the sun next to his pithos, he asked the philosopher if there was some favor he could bestow upon him.

The reply was, 'I want you to get out of my light!' He was called 'Kyon' (an ancient Greek word for 'dog') due to his apathy (though certainly many dogs do not fit this stereotype).

The Cynics imitating dogs in the sense that they had no interest in culture, or in how they appeared to others, hence the term cynic came to mean anyone whose behavior was brash and honest to the point of rudeness.

His life style did not lend itself to the writing of treatises, but many of Diogenes' sayings have been remembered, and his philosophical ideas had influence in both the Hellenistic and Roman periods, with the Emporer Julian an avid supporter of Cynicism.