Diogenes of Sinope, so named because he was born in Sinope (modern-day Sinop, Turkey), an Ionian colony on the Black Sea in 412 or 404 BC and died at Corinth in 323 BC.
When asked from where he came, Diogenes said, “I am a citizen of the cosmopolitan, a citizen of the world.”
He is known as one of the classical Greek philosophers, though often misunderstood and thought to be mad. His genius lay in his utter truthfulness to himself and to life. He lived simply and without the illusions of society, and was seen as an annoyance and crank by those around him.
When someone was queried as to what sort of man Diogenes was, his reply was, “A Socrates gone mad.”
Diogenes explained himself this way. “It is not that I am mad, it is only that my head is different from yours.”
Diogenes and Alexander the Great
If I were not Alexander, I should wish to be Diogenes.
– Alexander the Great, in Plutarch’s Lives,
Diogenes’ reply was. “Stand out of my light.”
The Master and the Slave
On Philosophers, Philosophy, the State….
Why do people give to beggars, he was asked, but not to philosophers? “Because they think they may one day be lame or blind, but never expect that they will turn to philosophy.”
To a young man who complained that he was ill suited to study philosophy, Diogenes said “Why then do you live, if you do not care to live well?”
And to someone who declared life to be an evil, he corrected him, “Not life itself, but living ill.”
Of grammarians, he was astonished that they desire to learn everything about the misfortunes of Odysseus but nothing about their own.
Of mathematicians, that they keep their eyes on the heavens and overlook what is at their feet.
Of orators, that they speak of justice but never practice it.
Of the golden statue of Phrynê at Delphi, Diogenes was said to have written upon it: “From the licentiousness of Greece.”
Once he saw the officials of a temple leading away some one who had stolen a bowl belonging to the treasurers, and said, “The great thieves are leading away the little thief.”
Diogenes on Human Beings
When people laughed at him because he walked backward beneath the portico, he said to them: “Aren’t you ashamed, you who walk backward along the whole path of existence, and blame me for walking backward along the path of the promenade?”
He was going into a theatre, meeting face to face those who were coming out, and being asked why, “This,” he said, “is what I practise doing all my life.”
When asked what wine he found most pleasant to drink, Diogenes replied, “That for which other people pay.”
Asked why he begged in front of a statue, Diogenes replied that he did so to get used to being refused.
Criticized for drinking in a tavern, he said that he also had his hair cut in a barber’s shop.
Seeing a bad archer, he sat down beside the target so get out of harm’s way.
When asked when a man should marry, he replied that a young man ought not to marry just yet and an old man not at all.
Looking for an Authentic Man
Yesterday the wisest man
holding a lit lantern in daylight
was searching around town saying
I am tired of all these beasts and brutes
I seek a true human!
We have all looked for one
but no one could be found
but my search is for
the one who cannot be found.
– Rumi, in Divani Shams Ghazal #441