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Diogenes the Cynic Short Biography

Diogenes the Cynic

Diogenes of Sinope, called the Cynic, was born in Sinope, a Ionian colony of the Black Sea, around 412 B.C. and died in Corinth in 323 B.C. Greek philosopher. He was the most outstanding disciple of Antistenes, founder of the cynical school.


Since no of his writings is preserved, it is only possible to reconstruct his ideas through the many anecdotes that circulated about his figure, which reflect more a way of life than an articulated philosophical discourse.

Called”delirious Socrates” by Plato, Diogenes always went barefoot, wore a cape and lived in a barrel, rejecting conventions, honors and riches and even every attempt at knowledge; for him, virtue was the good sovereign.

An object of mockery and, at the same time, of respect for the Athenians, he was a model of wisdom for the Stoic Epictetus.

He lived in a jar, ate with the dogs and did all his needs in public. Today,”Diogenes syndrome” refers to a behavioural disorder characterized by total personal neglect and the accumulation of large amounts of household rubbish and garbage.


Before leaving for the conquest of Asia, Alexander the Great stopped in Corinth and asked to meet”the philosopher who lived with the dogs”, or at least that is a legend with a long tradition.

The young Macedonian was astonished by Diogenes of Sinope, for he did not look like any sage that the young Macedonian, educated by Aristotle, had ever known or imagined: he slept in a jar and was surrounded 24 hours a day by a pack of dogs.

Alexander began a conversation with the then elderly man and, horrified by the conditions in which he lived, asked him if there was anything he could do to improve his situation. “Yes, get out of my way, you’re blocking the sun”, replied the philosopher in a bad way to the man who already owned Greece.

According to the legend, the Macedonian not only accepted the displeasure without getting angry but also showed his greatest admiration: “If it had not been Alexander, I would have wished to be Diogenes”.

Alexander and Diogenes “the Cynic”

It is alleged that Alexander told Diogenes “If I were not Alexander, then I would have wanted to be Diogenes.” Diogenes replies “If I were not Diogenes, then I would have also wanted to be Diogenes.”

The Cynical School

Belonging to the cynical school, he considered civilization and its way of life to be an evil in itself.

Diogenes de Sinope took the ideas of the founder of this philosophy, Antestenes, to the extreme.

Far from what is understood today as cynicism (a tendency not to believe in human sincerity or goodness and to express this attitude through irony and sarcasm), the ideas of Antistenes sought to achieve happiness by getting rid of everything superfluous.

Thus, this direct disciple of Socrates retired to the outskirts of Athens to live under his own laws, without obeying social conventions.

However, it was his outstretched disciple Diogenes who made his work famous through the most absolute destitution.

Childhood of Diogenes

Little is known about the childhood of Diogenes, born in the Greek colony of Sinope (in present-day Turkey) in 412 BC, except that he was the son of a banker named Hicesias.

Some historians have argued that they were both making counterfeit coins for political purposes and not for personal gain until they were banished to Athens for this reason.

Archaeologists have, in fact, been able to corroborate the episode through the large number of counterfeit coins bearing the signature of Hicesias, the officer who minted them, found at the philosopher’s birthplace.

Dressed only in a humble, gnawed cape

Disappointed by the superficiality of the Athenians and their social rigours, the young philosopher met Antistenes – a disciple of Socrates who, according to Plato, was present during his suicide.

Diogenes took his teacher’s teachings to the letter, giving himself to a life of extreme austerity with the pretense of exposing the vanity and artifice of human behavior.

Thus he established his home in a jar, which he left only to sleep in the porticoes of the temples, dressed in a humble cloak and began to walk barefoot regardless of the season.
However, according to the myth about his life, for the Greek nothing was humble enough and he always found new ways to reduce his dependence on the material.

On one occasion, he saw a boy drinking water with his hands from a fountain: “This boy,” he said, “has taught me that I still have superfluous things,” and he threw away his bowl (a hemispherical container used to carry liquids).

He also threw off his plate when he saw another child, when his own was broken, put the lentils he ate in the concave of a piece of bread.

The lifestyle

Diogenes advocated an ascetic lifestyle and put it into practice; it was based on self-sufficiency and rigorous training of the body to have the least possible needs.

With these approaches he broke with the ideal of man as a political animal that Aristotle still maintained.

He believed that happiness was achieved by exclusively satisfying natural needs in the simplest and most practical way, without being conditioned by the weight of institutions.
He considered that conventions contrary to these principles were unnatural and should be ignored.

For this reason, it was called Kyon (dog), from which it derives the name of cynics. With his teachings, he changed the ethics of the city for the ethics of the wise, an idea that would remain forever in Greek philosophy.


Diogenes’ attitude, not for nothing, could sometimes be that of an obscene provocateur or a subversive element.

In addition to making his needs public, as proof that no human activity is so shameful as to require privacy, he masturbated in the Agora.

The main and busiest square in Athens, with no other explanation, than”I wish, by rubbing my belly, that hunger would be extinguished in such a docile way!

Among the many anecdotes about his life, the attitude of a wealthy man who had the audacity to invite him to a banquet in his luxurious mansion with the only prohibition against spitting in his house was also offensive.

Diogenes gargle a few times to clear his throat and spat directly into his face, claiming he had found no dirtier place to vent.

Captured by pirates and sold into slavery

Without really knowing the circumstances that led him to Corinth, where he would meet Alexander the Great.

Legend has it that Diogenes was captured by pirates and sold into slavery on his way to Egina (Saronic Islands, Greece).

It was bought by a local aristocrat, Xeniades of Corinth, who gave him back his freedom and made him the guardian of his two sons.

He spent the rest of his life in this city, wherein the same way the bizarre anecdotes about the philosopher’s behavior are fertile.

Precisely because of his death, different and fabled versions have also been written.

According to one of them, she died of colic caused by the ingestion of a live octopus. It is not for nothing that the most excessive one assures us that she died of her own free will: holding her breath until she died. “When I die, throw me to the dogs. I’m used to it,” were his last words.

Socrates and Diogenes

The movie the  Diogenes, Socrates and a dog set out in modern-day Munich and end up in the courtyard of the Munich School of Philosophy on Kaulbach Street.

Diogenes Syndrome

Today, the”Diogenes Syndrome”, in reference to the philosopher, is referred to as the behavioural disorder characterized by total personal and social abandonment.

The accumulation of large amounts of household waste and garbage in the home. In 1960, the first scientific study of this pattern of behavior was carried out, naming it in 1975 with the name of the bizarre philosopher.

However, from the historical point of view, the link between this disorder and the austere behavior of the Greek is incorrect, since the accumulation of any kind of thing is the opposite of what was preached by that man who lived in a jar.

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