Diogenes Of Sinope Biography

(Greek philosopher and one of the founders of Cynic philosophy)

Born: 412 BC

Born In: Sinop, Turkey

Diogenes, also known as Diogenes the Cynic, was a Greek philosopher. He was one of the philosophers who originated the Cynic philosophy, a way of thinking that advocated the rejection of luxury and promoted “living in virtue”. Diogenes believed that virtue was revealed more in action than in theory. He lived a life of extreme austerity and was known to beg for a living and sleep in the marketplace without any proper bedding. He also disregarded the laws and customs of the land, owing to which he became a controversial figure. He declared himself to be a citizen of the world and refused to claim allegiance to just one place. He carried out several political stunts, the best known of which is the incident when he went around carrying a lamp during the day, claiming to look for an “honest man.” He also gained much notoriety for publicly mocking Alexander the Great. According to some sources, he was likely a student of the philosopher Antisthenes, who himself studied with Socrates. Diogenes was captured by pirates and sold into slavery. Despite this, he was able to pass on his philosophy of Cynicism to Crates.

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Quick Facts

Also Known As: Diogenes

Died At Age: 89

Family:

father: Hicesias

Born Country: Greece

Quotes By Diogenes Of Sinope Philosophers

Died on: 323 BC

place of death: Corinth, Greece

Founder/Co-Founder: Cynic philosophy

Childhood & Early Life

Diogenes was born in c. 412 BC in Sinope. His father, Hicesias, was a banker and mintmaster. Nothing else is known about his family.

It is believed that he also helped his father in his banking business.

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Currency Debasement Scandal

Diogenes and his father once became involved in a currency debasement scandal. The exact date of this incident is not known, and the details regarding the same are also blurry. Some sources state that it was Diogenes who defaced the currency while others claim that it was Hicesias and not Diogenes who committed the crime.

Following this incident, both Hicesias’ and Diogenes’ citizenships were snatched and the father-son duo was exiled from the city.

One popular story states that Diogenes was told to “deface the currency” when he went to the Oracle at Delphi to seek her advice. He later realized that the oracle meant defacing the “political currency” rather than actual money.

Following this realization, he decided to challenge established customs and rituals of the land.

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Life In Athens

Diogenes moved to Athens and took a slave named Manes with him. Manes managed to escape, leaving his former master alone. Diogenes dealt with the situation in his characteristic stoical manner and decided that he was better off alone rather than “depending on someone.”

In Athens, Diogenes first came across Antisthenes, a student of Socrates. He was much impressed by Antisthenes and asked him to be his mentor. Antisthenes, who wasn’t in the habit of taking in students, initially refused. However, Diogenes wouldn’t give up and relentlessly pursued Antisthenes until he accepted him as a student.

In the ensuing decades, Diogenes went on to surpass Antisthenes in popularity. Also, he led a life that was even more austere than that of his master.

Diogenes was committed to leading a life as austere as possible. He was strict in his avoidance of earthly pleasures and owned very few items. He rejected all personal possessions and considered self-control to be a great virtue.

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He lived in the marketplace of Athens and took shelter in either a large wine cask or an abandoned bathtub. He owned nothing. According to a story, he once had a bowl for food and water but threw it away after he saw someone drink water with his cupped hands. 

He also had no regard for the laws and customs of the land. In Athens, it was not acceptable to eat in the marketplace. However, Diogenes disregarded the custom and would eat there even if rebuked. He also defecated in the theater, urinated on those who insulted him, and masturbated in full view of others.

He developed a practice of carrying around a lamp in broad daylight. When asked about this peculiar behavior, he would reply that he was looking for an honest man but could only see rascals and scoundrels.

According to a story that likely originated with Menippus of Gadara, Diogenes was captured by pirates while he was traveling to Aegina and was sold into slavery in Crete. His new master, whose name was Xeniades, hired him to tutor his sons. Different accounts provide varying details of his life henceforth, but it appears that Diogenes spent the rest of his life in Corinth.

In Corinth, a meeting between Alexander the Great and Diogenes supposedly took place. Different sources tell different stories about their conversation, but the allusion is that Diogenes insulted Alexander.

Cynicism

Along with his mentor, Antisthenes, and Crates of Thebes, Diogenes is counted amongst the founders of Cynicism. Diogenes is reported to have written over ten books and seven tragedies even though none of his works survive. 

According to Diogenes, he was a “citizen of the world” (cosmopolites) and has been credited with the first known use of this word. As an exile and outcast, he was indeed a man with no social identity in an era where a person’s identity was deeply tied to his citizenship of a specific city-state.

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Death

Diogenes lived a remarkably long life for his era. The details regarding his death are shrouded in obscurity. Some sources claim that he allegedly held his breath until he died while a few others state that he fell ill after eating raw octopus and died. According to yet another story, he was bitten by an infected dog.

He died in 323 BC. He was around 89 years old. Before he died, he left instructions for his body to be thrown outside the city wall. However, there is no record of this happening.

Trivia

Plato is said to have described Diogenes as "a Socrates gone mad."

See the events in life of Diogenes Of Sinope in Chronological Order

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