Diogenes Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Diogenes of Sinope (di-AHJ-uh-neez of si-NOH-pee) was a major early Cynic philosopher. Cynicism (“doggishness”) predated Diogenes and may be discerned in Plato’s portrait of Socrates and in the precepts espoused by Antisthenes, a notable figure in Socrates’ circle, who may or may not have been Diogenes’ mentor. However, Diogenes’ penchant for playing like a dog, flaunting the insult of “doggishness” embodied in the name of Cynicism as though it were a compliment, linked him permanently with the philosophy. The ancient biographical tradition relates that Diogenes fled to Athens after being exiled from Sinope, a prosperous Greek Black Sea trading metropolis, where he was involved in defrauding the currency, along with his father, an alleged financier. More data regarding Diogenes’ background and the details of this particular incident have not been preserved; the extant information largely consists of an assortment of aphoristic traditions contained in a treatise entitled Peri biōn dogmatōn kai apophthegmatōn tōn en philosophia eudokimīsantōn (third century c.e.; The Lives and Opinions of the Philosophers, 1853) and attributed to Diogenes Laertius, about whom exceedingly little is known.

Although all genuine early Cynic documents have been lost, it is still possible to create a profile of the ancient Cynic movement. Unlike other contemporary philosophical systems, Cynicism was more a method of social critique grounded in antiestablishment principles than a school with a doctrine that cultivated adherents. Caustic commentary on normative modes of thinking, exhibitionist acts that mocked all social trappings, and a choice of lifestyle based on simple essentials made the Cynic sage the essence of Cynicism. Metaphysical theory was regarded as useless and scientific speculation as an elitist sport. Practice and principle were fundamentally equivalent. Cynicism itself was a vocation or calling, the object of which was to challenge assumptions by accosting the public with words and deeds contrived to...

(The entire section is 847 words.)