D iogenes the Cynic, son of Icesius a banker, was born about the 91st Olympiad, in Sinope, a city of Paphlagonia. He was accused of having forged money, in concert with his father. Icesius was arrested, and died in prison. Alarmed at the fate of his father, Diogenes fled to Athens. When he had arrived at that city, he inquired for Antisthenes; but the latter, having resolved never to take a scholar, repulsed him and beat him off with his stick. Diogenes was by no means discouraged by this treatment. "Strike—fear not," said he to him, bowing his head; "you shall never find a stick hard enough to make me run off, so long as you continue to speak." Overcome by the importunity of Diogenes, Antisthenes yielded, and permitted him to become his scholar.
Banished from his native country and without any resource, Diogenes was reduced to great indigence. He perceived one day, a mouse running briskly up and down, without any fear of being surprised by the approach of night, without any anxiety about a lodging-place, and even without thinking of food. This reconciled him to his misery. He resolved to live at his ease, without constraint, and to dispense with everything which was not absolutely necessary for the preservation of life. He doubled his cloak, that by rolling himself up in it, it might serve the purposes both of a bed and of a coverlet. His movables consisted of a bag, a jug, and a staff; and wherever he went he always carried his furniture along with him. His stick, however; he used only when he went to the country, or on some emergency. Persons really lame were, he said, neither the deaf nor the blind, but those who had no bag.
He always went barefoot, nor did he wear sandals even when the ground was covered with snow. He endeavored also to accustom himself to eat raw flesh, but this was a point of perfection to which he never could arrive. He entreated a person of his acquaintance to afford him some little hole in his lodging, to which he might occasionally retire. But as he was dilatory in giving him a positive answer he took possession of an earthen tub, which he always carried about with him, and which was the only house he ever had. In the heat of summer when the fields were scorched by the sun, he used to roll among the burning sands, and in winter to embrace statues covered with snow, that he might accustom himself to endure without pain the inclemencies of heat and cold.
He treated everyone with contempt. He accused Plato and his scholars of dissipation, and of the crime of loving good cheer. All the orators he styled "the slaves of the people." Crowns were, he said, as brittle marks of glory as bubbles of water, which burst in the formation; that theatrical representations were the wonder of fools only. In a word, nothing escaped his satiric humor.
He ate, he spoke, he slept, without discrimination, wherever chance placed him. Pointing to Jupiter's porticos on one occasion, he exclaimed: "How excellent a dining-room the Athenians have built for me there!"
He frequently said: "When I consider the rulers, the physicians, and the philosophers whom the world contains, I am tempted to think man considerably elevated by his wisdom above the brutes; but when, on the other hand, I behold augurs, interpreters of dreams, and people who can be inflated with pride on account of their riches or honors, I cannot help thinking him the most foolish of all animals."
When taking a walk one day, he observed a child drinking from the hollow of his hand. He felt greatly affronted at the sight. "What!" exclaimed Diogenes, "do children know better than I do with what things a man ought to be contented?" Upon which he took his jug out of his bag, and instantly broke it, as a superfluous movable.
The province in philosophy to which Diogenes attached himself, was that of morals. He did not, however, entirely neglect the other sciences. He was possessed of lively parts, and easily anticipated objections.
As he was one day discoursing on a very serious and important subject everyone passed by without giving himself the least concern about what Diogenes was saying. Upon this, he began to sing. The people crowded about him. He immediately seized the opportunity of giving them a severe reprimand for flocking about him and attending with eagerness to a mere trifle, while they would not so much as listen to things of the greatest importance.
Walking out once at noon, with a lighted torch in his hand, he was asked what he was in quest of. "I am searching for a man," said he. On another occasion he called out in the middle of a street: "Ho! men—men." A great many people assembling around him, Diogenes beat them away with his stick, saying "I was calling for men."
Alexander passing through Corinth on one occasion, had the curiosity to see Diogenes, who happened to be there at that time. He found him basking in the sun in the grove Craneum, where he was cementing his tub. "I am," said he to him, "the great king Alexander." "And I," replied the philosopher, "am the dog Diogenes." "Are you not afraid of me?" continued Alexander. "Are you good or bad?" returned Diogenes. "I am good," rejoined Alexander. "And who would be afraid of one who is good?" replied Diogenes.
Alexander admired the penetration and free manners of Diogenes. After some conversation, he said to him: "I see, Diogenes, that you are in want of many things; and I shall be happy to have an opportunity of assisting you: ask of me what you will." "Retire a little to one side then," replied Diogenes; "you are depriving me of the rays of the sun."
It is no wonder that Alexander stood astonished at seeing a man so completely above every human concern. "Which of the two is richest?" continued Diogenes: "he who is content with his cloak and his bag, or he for whom a whole kingdom is not sufficient, but who is daily exposing himself to a thousand dangers in order to extend its limits?" Alexander's courtiers felt indignant that so great a king should do so much honor to such a dog as Diogenes, who did not even rise from his place. Alexander perceived it, and turning about to them said: "Were I not Alexander, I should wish to be Diogenes."
As Diogenes was one day going to Egina, he was taken by pirates, who brought him to Crete, and exposed him to sale. He did not appear to be in the least disconcerted, nor to feel the least uneasiness on account of his misfortune. Seeing one Xeniades, corpulent and well-dressed, "I must be sold to that person," said he, "for I perceive he needs a master. Come, child," said he to Xeniades, as he was coming up to purchase him, "come, child, buy a man." Being asked what he could do, he said he had the talent of commanding men. "Crier," said he, "call out in the market, If anyone needs a master, let him come here and purchase one."
Xeniades charged him with the instruction of his children, a task which Diogenes performed with great fidelity. He made them commit to memory the finest passages of the poets, with an abridgment of his own philosophy, which he composed on purpose for them. He made them exercise themselves in running, wrestling, hunting, horsemanship, and in using the bow and the sling. He accustomed them to very plain fare, and in their ordinary meals to drink nothing but water. He ordered them to be shaven to the skin. He brought them with him into the streets very carelessly dressed, and frequently without sandals and tunics. These children had a great affection for Diogenes, and took particular care to recommend him to their parents.
When Diogenes was in slavery, some of his friends used their interest to procure him his liberty. "Fools!" said he, "you are jesting. Do you not know that the lion is not the slave of them who feed him? They who feed him are his slaves."
Diogenes one day heard a herald publish that Dioxippus had conquered men at the Olympic games. "Say slaves and wretches," said he to them. "It is I who have conquered men."
When it was said to him, "You are old, you must take your ease," he said, "What? must I slacken my pace at the end of my course? Would it not be fitter that I should redouble my efforts?"
When walking in the streets, he observed a man let fall some bread which he was ashamed to lift. In order to show him that a man ought never to blush, when he is desirous to save anything, Diogenes collected the fragments of a broken bottle and carried them through the town. "I am like good musicians," said he, "who leave the true sound that others may catch it." To one who came to him to be his disciple, he gave a gammon of bacon to carry and desired him to follow him. Ashamed to carry it through the streets, the man threw it down and made off. Diogenes meeting him a few days after, said to him, "What? has a gammon of bacon broken our friendship?"
After reflecting on his life, Diogenes smiling said: "That all the imprecations generally uttered in tragedies had fallen upon him; that he had neither house, nor city, nor country; and that, in a state of indigence he lived from day to day; but that to fortune he opposed firmness; to custom, nature; and reason to the disorders of the soul."
Diogenes was greatly beloved and highly esteemed by the Athenians. They publicly scourged one who had broken his tub, and gave the philosopher another.
He was one day asked where he chose to be buried after his death? He replied: "In an open field." "How!" said one, "are you not afraid of becoming food for birds of prey and wild beasts?" "Then I must have my stick beside me," said Diogenes, "to drive them away when they come." "But," resumed the other, "you will be devoid of all sensation." "If that be the case," replied he, "it is no matter whether they eat me or not, seeing I shall not be sensible to it."
Some say that having arrived at the age of ninety, he ate a neat's-foot raw, which caused indigestion to such a degree that he burst. It is said by others that feeling himself burdened with age, he retained his breath, and was thus the cause of his own death. His friends coming next day, found him muffled up in his cloak. Upon first discovering him they doubted whether he were not asleep (which with him, was very unusual); they were soon convinced that he was dead. There was a great dispute among them about who should bury him; but when on the eve of breaking out into open violence, the magistrates and old men of Corinth opportunely arrived to appease the disturbance.
Diogenes was buried beside the gate lying toward the isthmus. There was erected, beside his tomb, a dog of Parian marble. The death of this philosopher happened in the first year of the 114th Olympiad, on the same day that Alexander died at Babylon.