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Life of Diogenes of Sinope, The Cynic (404‐323 BC)

Dernière mise à jour : 22 févr. 2021

Life of Diogenes of Sinope, The Cynic

(404‐323 BC)

by Diogenes Laertius

(3rd C. AD)

"Diogenes (404‐323 BC) was a native of Sinope, son of Hicesius, a banker.

Diocles relates that he went into exile because his father was entrusted with the money of the state and adulterated the coinage. But Eubulides in his book on Diogenes says that Diogenes himself did this and was forced to leave home along with his father.


On reaching Athens he fell in with Antisthenes. Being repulsed by him, because he never welcomed pupils, by sheer persistence Diogenes wore him out. Once when he stretched out his staff against him, the pupil offered his head with the words,

“Strike, for you will find no wood hard enough to keep me away from you, so long as I think you’ve something to say.”

From that time forward he was his pupil, and, exile as he was, set out upon a simple life.

Through watching a mouse running about, says Theophrastus in the Megarian dialogue, not looking for a place to lie down in, not afraid of the dark, not seeking any of the things which are considered to be dainties, he discovered the means of adapting himself to circumstances.

He was the first, say some, to fold his cloak because he was obliged to sleep in it as well, and he carried a wallet to hold his victuals, and he used any place for any purpose, for breakfasting, sleeping, or conversing. And then he would say, pointing to the portico of Zeus and the Hall of Processions, that the Athenians had provided him with places to live in.


He was great at pouring scorn on his contemporaries.

The school of Euclides he called bilious, and Plato’s lectures wastes of time, the performances at the Dionysia great peep‐shows for fools, and the demagogues the mob’s lackeys.

He used also to say that when he saw physicians, philosophers and pilots at their work, he deemed man the most intelligent of all animals; but when again he saw interpreters of dreams and diviners and those who attended to them, or those who were puffed up with conceit of wealth, he thought no animal more silly. He would continually say that for the conduct of life we need right reason or a halter. (...)

And one day when Plato had invited to his house friends coming from Dionysius, Diogenes trampled upon his carpets and said, “I trample upon Plato’s vainglory.”

Plato’s reply was, “How much pride you expose to view, Diogenes, by seeming not to be proud.” Others tell us that what Diogenes said was, “I trample upon the pride of Plato,” who retorted, “Yes, Diogenes, with pride of another sort.”

Diogenes once asked him for wine, and after that also for some dried figs; and Plato sent him a whole jar full. Then the other said,

“If some one asks you how many two and two are, will you answer, Twenty ? So, it seems, you neither give as you are asked nor answer as you are questioned.”

Thus he scoffed at him as one who talked without end.

When one day he was gravely discoursing and nobody attended to him, he began whistling, and as people clustered about him, he reproached them with coming in all seriousness to hear nonsense, but slowly and contemptuously when the theme was serious.

He would say that men strive in digging and kicking to outdo one another, but no one strives to become a good man and true.

And he would wonder that the grammarians should investigate the ills of Odysseus, while they were ignorant of their own. Or that the musicians should tune the strings of the Iyre, while leaving the dispositions of their own souls discordant; that the mathematicians should gaze at the sun and the moon, but overlook matters close at hand; that the orators should make a fuss about justice in their speeches, but never practice it.


John William Waterhouse - Diogenes, 1882 (detail)

Some one wanted to study philosophy under him. Diogenes gave him a tuna fish to carry and told him to follow him. And when for shame the man threw it away and departed, some time after on meeting him he laughed and said,

“The friendship between you and me was broken by a tuna.”


One day, observing a child drinking out of his hands, he cast away the cup from his wallet with the words,

“A child has beaten me in plainness of living.”

He also threw away his bowl when in like manner he saw a child, who had broken his plate, taking up his lentils with the hollow part of a morsel of bread.

Being reproached for eating in the market‐place

“Well, it was in the market‐place,” he said, “that I felt hungry.”

When some one said, “Most people laugh at you,” his reply was,

“And so very likely do the asses at them; but as they don’t care for the asses, so neither do I care for them.”

Alexander once came and stood opposite him and said,

“I am Alexander the great king.”
“And I,” said he, “am Diogenes the Cynic.”

Being asked what he had done to be called a hound, he said,

“I fawn on those who give me anything, I yelp at those who refuse, and I set my teeth in rascals.”

Being asked what was the most beautiful thing in the world, he replied,

“Freedom of speech.”

Jules Bastien-Lepage : Diogène, 1872

Further, when he was sold as a slave, he endured it most nobly.

For on a voyage to Aegina he was captured by pirates under the command of Scirpalus, conveyed to Crete and exposed for sale. When the auctioneer asked in what he was proficient, he replied,

“In ruling men.”

Thereupon he pointed to a certain Corinthian with a fine purple border to his robe, the man named Xeniades above‐mentioned, and said,

“Sell me to this man; he needs a master.”

Thus Xeniades came to buy him, and took him to Corinth and set him over his own children and entrusted his whole household to him. And he administered it in all respects in such a manner that Xeniades used to go about saying,

“A good genius has entered my house.”

Diogenes is said to have been nearly ninety years old when he died.

Regarding his death there are several different accounts. One is that he was seized with colic after eating an octopus raw. Another is that he died voluntarily by holding his breath. This account was followed by Cercidas of Megalopolis (or of Crete), who in his meliambics writes thus:

Not so he who aforetime was a citizen of Sinope,

That famous one who carried a staff,

Doubled his cloak, and lived in the open air.

But he soared aloft with his lip tightly pressed against his teeth

And holding his breath withal. For in truth he was rightly named

Diogenes, a true‐born son of Zeus, a hound of heaven.

Hence, it is said, arose a quarrel among his disciples as to who should bury him: nay, they even came to blows; but, when their fathers and men of influence arrived, under their direction he was buried beside the gate leading to the Isthmus.

Over his grave they set up a pillar and a dog in Parian marble upon it.

Subsequently his fellow‐citizens honoured him with bronze statues, on which these verses were inscribed:

Time makes even bronze grow old :

but thy glory Diogenes, all eternity will never destroy.

Since thou alone didst point out to mortals the lesson

Of self‐sufficiency and the easiest path of life.



Diogenes Laertius ; Lives of Eminent Philosophers

[Trans. R.D. Hicks. London,William Heinemann,1925]


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