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Life of Antisthenes (c. 445-365 BCE)

Dernière mise à jour : 22 févr. 2021

Life of Antisthenes

(c. 445-365 BCE)

"Antisthenes was an Athenian, the son of Antisthenes. And he was said not to be a legitimate Athenian; in reference to which he said to some one who was reproaching him with the circumstance, “The mother of the Gods too is a Phrygian;” for he was thought to have had a Thracian mother. (...)

Originally he was a pupil of Gorgias the rhetorician. (...) Afterwards, he attached himself to Socrates, and made such progress in philosophy while with him, that he advised all his own pupils to become his fellow pupils in the school of Socrates.

And as he lived in the Piræus, he went up forty furlongs to the city every day, in order to hear Socrates, from whom he learnt the art of enduring, and of being indifferent to external circumstances, and so became the original founder of the Cynic school. (...)

He said once to a youth from Pontus, who was on the point of coming to him to be his pupil, and was asking him what things he wanted, “You want a new book, and a new pen, and a new tablet” — meaning a new mind. (...)

On one occasion he was asked why he had but few disciples, and said,

“Because I drove them away with a silver rod.”

When he was asked why he reproved his pupils with bitter language, he said, “Physicians too use severe remedies for their patients.” On one occasion one of his friends was lamenting to him that he had lost his memoranda, and he said to him, “You ought to have written them on your mind, and not on paper.”

On one occasion he was being praised by some wicked men, and said, “I am sadly afraid that I must have done some wicked thing.” One of his favourite sayings was, “That the fellowship of brothers of one mind was stronger than any fortified city.”

He used to say,“That those things were the best for a man to take on a journey, which would float with him if he were shipwrecked.” He was once reproached for being intimate with wicked men, and said, “Physicians also live with those who are sick; and yet they do not catch fevers.”

When he was asked what advantage he had ever derived from philosophy, he replied,

“The advantage of being able to converse with myself.”

He was asked on one occasion what learning was the most necessary, and he replied, “To unlearn one’s bad habits.” And he used to exhort those who found themselves ill spoken of, to endure it more than they would any one’s throwing stones at them.

He used to laugh at Plato as conceited; accordingly, once when there was a fine procession, seeing a horse neighing, he said to Plato, “I think you too would be a very frisky horse:” and he said this all the more, because Plato kept continually praising the horse. At another time, he had gone to see him when he was ill, and when he saw there a dish in which Plato had been sick, he said, “I see your bile there, but I do not see your conceit.”

He used to advise the Athenians to pass a vote that asses were horses; and, as they thought that irrational, he said,

“Why, those whom you make generals have never learnt to be really generals, they have only been voted such.”


The doctrines he adopted were these. He used to insist that virtue was a thing which might be taught; also, that the nobly born and virtuously disposed, were the same people; for that virtue was of itself sufficient for happiness, and was in need of nothing, except the strength of Socrates. (...)

Diocles also attributes the following apophthegms to him. To the wise man, nothing is strange and nothing remote. The virtuous man is worthy to be loved. Good men are friends. It is right to make the brave and just one’s allies. Virtue is a weapon of which a man cannot be deprived. It is better to fight with a few good men against all the wicked, than with many wicked men against a few good men. (...)

What is good is honourable, and what is bad is disgraceful. Think everything that is wicked, foreign. Prudence is the safest fortification; for it can neither fall to pieces nor be betrayed. One must prepare one’s self a fortress in one’s own impregnable thoughts.

He used to lecture in the Gymnasium called Cynosarges, not far from the gates; and some people say that it is from that place that the sect got the name of Cynics. And he himself was called Haplocyon (downright dog).


He died of some disease; and while he was ill Diogenes came to visit him, and said to him, “Have you no need of a friend ?” Once too he came to see him with a sword in his hand; and when Antisthenes said, “Who can deliver me from this suffering ?” he, pointing to the sword, said, “This can;” But he rejoined, “I said from suffering, but not from life;” for he seemed to bear his disease the more calmly from his love of life.

And there is an epigram on him written by ourselves, which runs thus:

In life you were a bitter dog, Antisthenes, Born to bite people’s minds with sayings sharp, Not with your actual teeth. Now you are slain By fell consumption, passers by may say, Why should he not, one wants a guide to Hell.




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