Diogenes the Cynic

Dear S,

We're not exactly sure how Diogenes got banned from Sinope, but from some accounts it looks like he debased their currency.  We can be thankful he did, because it was in exile that he met his role model -- not a man, but a mouse.  

Diogenes noticed that mice could be anywhere in any weather and eat anything and everything would be fine.  So he hugged statues covered in snow and made snow angels in the burning sand.  Anything to harden himself against anything nature could throw at him, because he knew nature would throw anything at him, and it was best to be ready for it.  Thus he took pride in laying low, and got his kicks laying others low too.  Well before Jesus existed he knew that it's better to take the lowly seat, and let the master move you to His right hand Himself.

And God did.  Apparently Diogenes was so good at debasing himself and other people that he became a kind of Groucho Marx of Greece.  Diogenes Laertius (a different Diogenes) lists a whole volume of his one-liners, and says he was a constant pain in Plato's ass and had lots of fun at his expense.  One time Plato said, in one his lectures, that he classified man as a featherless biped.  Diogenes left the lecture, got a chicken, plucked all its feathers out, and dropped it off in front of the students.  Here is Plato's man, he said. 

Another lecturer was trying to prove that all movement is an illusion.  Diogenes got up in the middle of the lecture and started wandering around aimlessly, ruining the lecture and getting laughs out of the students.  One time Diogenes was giving a serious lecture about a serious topic, but nobody was listening.  So he started whistling and whooping and then when he had everyone's attention, he asked them why they paid attention to stupid things but not to serious ones.  

When someone laughed at him because the Sinopeans condemned him to exile, his only reply was, yes, and I've condemned them to stay home.  When he was captured and being sold into slavery, the marketer asked him what he was good at.  He answered governing men, and advised the crier to ask the public if anyone needed to buy a master.

When Xeniades bought him, he followed this advice closely, and Diogenes was put in charge of the kids.  He taught them fighting and hunting and all his wise sayings -- which were so good they were memorized by heart, for fun, alongside the major poets and other famous philosophers.  He kept the kids only moderately well exercised -- not enough to make them gym-rats, like so many other Greeks, but to keep them in good color and good-enough shape.  They were taught, as rich kids, to be tough, and eat plain food and drink water, and to not rely on servants for anything.  The kids loved him, and looked up to him, and enjoyed him -- which means they took him seriously.  A real feat for any teacher, but especially a slave teaching rich kids.

He said disabled people aren't the blind or the lame, but anyone who doesn't have a wallet.   When someone asked him why people give to beggars, but not philosophers, he answered because people think they could end up lame or blind, but never that they'll turn to philosophy.   When he was told to chase his runaway slave, he said It would be absurd if Manes could live without Diogenes, but Diogenes couldn't get on without Manes.   

Alexander and Diogenes
These kinds of sayings, which he lived out notoriously, got him international renown.  Alexander the Great heard about him and admired him and paid him a visit.  Diogenes was outside trying to get a tan when Alexander stood right in the sunlight and said he'd give Diogenes anything he wanted.  Diogenes propped himself on one elbow and said, then move out of my light.  Alexander is reported to have said If I hadn't been Alexander, I would have loved to be Diogenes.  

Lysias the druggist asked Diogenes if he believed in the gods.  Diogenes replied, How can I help believing in them, when I see a god-forsaken wretch like you?  And when a disreputable man had him over to the house, Diogenes noticed that Let nothing evil enter was inscribed on the door.  Diogenes asked, then how is the master supposed to get in?  And when he saw a man getting arrested at the temple for stealing one of the worship bowls, he said the great thieves are leading away the little thief -- proof that Joel Osteen is as eternal and omnipresent as God, and smart men enjoy making fun of him.

What's the official philosophy of Diogenes?  Who cares?  What I get from Diogenes and Rochefoucald is that lots of boring books are written by pretentious men -- and that real wisdom is destructive too, and comes in the form of a one-liner.  


P.S. One of my favorite lines, which didn't fit anywhere above, was when a prostitute's son was throwing rocks at a crowd.  Take care you don't hit your father, Diogenes shot back. 
Was there ever a more fitting name for any philosopher?  Diogenes means "Born of God."  Cynic means "Dog."    

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