Diogenes of Sinope
Diogenes of Sinope (or Diogenes the Cynic; c. 412 BC – 323 BC) was the most famous of the Cynic philosophers of ancient Greece. No writings of his survive, but his sayings are recorded by Diogenes Laërtius and others.
Quoted by Plutarch
- When Alexander the Great addressed him with greetings, and asked if he wanted anything, Diogenes replied "Yes, stand a little out of my sunshine."
- Aristotle dines when it seems good to King Philip, but Diogenes when he himself pleases.
- Plutarch, On Exile, 12 (Moralia, 604D)
- If you are to be kept right, you must possess either good friends or red-hot enemies. The one will warn you, the other will expose you.
- Plutarch, Moralia, 74C
Quoted by Diogenes Laërtius
- Quotations are taken from Book 6 of Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laërtius as translated by R. D. Hicks (1925) vol. 2.
- 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."
- Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 21,
- Being asked where in Greece he saw good men, he replied, "'Good men nowhere, but good boys at Sparta."
- Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 27
- When some one boasted that at the Pythian games he had vanquished men, Diogenes replied, "Nay, I defeat men, you defeat slaves."
- Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 33, 43
- To Xeniades, who had purchased Diogenes at the slave market, he said, "Come, see that you obey orders."
- Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 36
- 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."
- Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 37
- He used to reason as follows: 'Everything belongs to the gods; the wise are friends of the gods; friends hold all things in common; ergo, everything belongs to the wise.'
- Plato had defined Man as an animal, biped and featherless, and was applauded. Diogenes plucked a fowl and brought it into the lecture-room with the words, "Behold Plato's man!"
- Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 40
- To one who asked what was the proper time for lunch, he said, "If a rich man, when you will; if a poor man, when you can."
- Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 40
- λύχνον μεθ᾽ ἡμέραν ἅψας περιῄει λέγων "ἄνθρωπον ζητῶ."
- He lit a lamp in broad daylight and said, as he went about, "I am looking for a human."
- Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 41. This line is frequently translated as "I am looking for an honest man."
- He was seized and dragged off to King Philip, and being asked who he was, replied, "A spy upon your insatiable greed."
- Perdiccas threatened to put him to death unless he came to him, "That's nothing wonderful," Diogenes said, "for a beetle or a tarantula would do the same."
- Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 44
- 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 Laërtius, vi. 45
- When scolded for masturbating in public, he said "I wish it were as easy to banish hunger by rubbing my belly."
- Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 46, 69
- Variant: If only it were as easy to banish hunger by rubbing the belly as it is to masturbate.
- As quoted in Encarta Book of Quotations (2000) edited by Bill Swainson, p. 274
- When some one reminded him that the people of Sinope had sentenced him to exile, he said, "And I sentenced them to stay at home."
- Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 49
- He once begged alms of a statue, and, when asked why he did so, replied, "To get practice in being refused."
- Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 49
- To the question what wine he found pleasant to drink, he replied, "That for which other people pay."
- Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 54
- When asked why people give to beggars but not to philosophers, he replied, 'Because they expect they may become lame and blind, but never that they will become philosophers.'
- He was breakfasting in the marketplace, and the bystanders gathered round him with cries of "dog." "It is you who are dogs," cried he, "when you stand round and watch me at my breakfast."
- Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 61
- 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."
- Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 64
- When the slave auctioneer asked in what he was proficient, he replied, "In ruling people."
- Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 74
Quoted by Stobaeus
- Quoted by Stobaeus, compiler of a 5th century philosophical anthology.
- 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?"
- Stobaeus, iii. 4. 83
- οἱ μὲν ἄλλοι κύνες τοὺς ἐχθροὺς δάκνουσιν, ἐγὼ δὲ τοὺς φίλους, ἵνα σώσω.
- Boasting, like gilded armour, is very different inside from outside.
- Stobaeus, iii. 22. 40
- The noblest people are those despising wealth, learning, pleasure and life; esteeming above them poverty, ignorance, hardship and death.
- Stobaeus, iv. 29a. 19
- Self-taught poverty is a help toward philosophy, for the things which philosophy attempts to teach by reasoning, poverty forces us to practice.
- Stobaeus, iv. 32a. 11
- Poverty is a virtue which one can teach oneself.
- Stobaeus, iv. 32a. 19
Quoted by Philo
- Diogenes the cynic, seeing one of the so-called freedmen pluming himself, while many heartily congratulated him, marveled at the absence of reason and discernment. “A man might as well,” he said, “proclaim that one of his servants became a grammarian, a geometrician, or musician, when he has no idea whatever of the art.” For as the proclamation cannot make them men of knowledge, so neither can it make them free.
- Philo, Every Good Man is Free, F. H. Colson, trans. (1941), 157
Quoted by Porphyry
- Thieves and fighters do not come from eaters of barley-bread; but informers and tyrants come from meat-eaters.
Quotes about Diogenes
- If I were not Alexander, I should wish to be Diogenes.
- Even bronze is aged by time, but not all the ages, Diogenes, shall destroy thy fame, since you alone did show to mortals the rule of self-sufficiency and the easiest path of life.
- Antiphilus of Byzantium, quoted in the Greek Anthology, 16. 334.
- As for Diogenes, Basil never ceased admiring him, the philosopher who was so set upon being content with nothing but the gifts of nature that he even threw away his drinking-cup, after he had learned from a boy how to bend over and drink from the hollow of his hands.
- When some people urged that it is impossible for man to live like the animals owing to the tenderness of his flesh and because he is naked and unprotected, [Diogenes] would say in reply that men are so very tender because of their mode of life. ... Man’s ingenuity and his discovering and contriving so many helps to life had not been altogether advantageous to later generations, since men do not employ their cleverness to promote courage or justice, but to procure pleasure.
- When [Diogenes] observed how other men were harassed throughout their whole lives, ever plotting against one another, ever encompassed by a thousand ills and never able to enjoy a moment’s rest, nay, not even during the great festivals nor when they proclaimed a truce; and when he beheld that they did or suffered all this simply in order to keep themselves alive, and that their greatest fear was lest their so-called necessities should fail them, and how, furthermore, they planned and strove to leave great riches to their children, he marvelled that he too did not do the like, but was the only independent man in the world.
- All articles of great expense, of vexatious and operose provision, [Diogenes] disallowed, and demonstrated their pernicious effects upon the user; yet forbade none of those bodily conveniences, which may be procured without difficulty and molestation, whether to alleviate cold or hunger or other craving appetites, but manifested by his own practice a preference to healthy situations before sickly, and to such as were more tolerable than others through all the vicissitudes of seasons. Nor was he less attentive to a plentiful supply of wholesome food, and a moderate portion of apparel: but kept himself aloof from public business, from lawsuits, from animosities, from wars and political conspiracies. The life of the Gods was the principal model of his practice: for Homer characterizes them as living at their ease with reference to the laborious and troublesome condition of mankind.
- Dio Chrysostom, “Diogenes, or, On Arbitrary Government,” Select Essays of Dio Chrysostom, G. Wakefiled, trans. (1800)
- [Diogenes] was surprised by the fact that had he claimed to be a physician for the teeth, everybody would flock to him who needed to have a tooth pulled; yes, and by heavens, had he professed to treat the eyes, all who were suffering from sore eyes would present themselves, and similarly, if he had claimed to know of a medicine for diseases of the spleen or for gout or for running of the nose; but when he declared that all who should follow his treatment would be relieved of folly, wickedness, and intemperance, not a man would listen to him or seek to be cured by him, ... as though it were worse for a man to suffer from an enlarged spleen or a decayed tooth than from a soul that is foolish, ignorant, cowardly, rash, pleasure-loving, illiberal, irascible, unkind, and wicked, in fact utterly corrupt.
- When [Diogenes of Sinope] 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.”
- Diogenes Laërtius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, 6.73
- No labor, according to Diogenes, is good but that which aims at producing courage and strength of soul rather than of body.
- Epictetus, (ca. 55-135 AD) Golden Sayings of Epictetus (62)
- Diogenes compared them to fig-trees growing over precipices; for their fruit was devoured by daws and crows, not by men.
- Diogenes the Cynic, it is related, was mighty of all people in regard to everything from self-control to endurance. He indulged in sexual lusts, not associating it with pleasure, an attractive good thing to some, but because of the harm that the retention of semen would cause if he avoided the habit of releasing it. When a prostitute who promised to visit him was delayed for some time, he rubbed his genitals with his hand, ejecting semen. After the whore arrived, he sent her away, saying: "my hand celebrated the wedding-hymn first." But it is clearly correct that, likewise, the disciplined man does not on account of pleasure indulge in lusts, but in order to relieve the hindrance acting as if this was not associated with pleasure.
- Galen, On the Affected Parts, Alard (1813), p. 104
- Diogenes received an invitation to dine with one whose house was splendidly furnished, in the highest order and taste, and nothing therein wanting. Diogenes, hawking, and as if about to spit, looked in all directions, and finding nothing adapted thereto, spat right in the face of the master. He, indignant, asked why he did so? "Because," Diogenes, "I saw nothing so dirty and filthy in all your house. For the walls were covered with pictures, the floors of the most precious tessellated character — and ranged with the various images of gods, and other ornamental figures."
- Diogenes ... refuses to be taken in by complacent popular belief that we already know human goodness from our daily experience, or by confident professorial claims that we can capture the mystery of our humanity in definitions. But mocking or not, and perhaps speaking better than he knew, Diogenes gave elegantly simple expression to the humanist quest for self-knowledge: I seek the human being—my human being, your human being, our humanity. In fact, the embellished version of Diogenes' question comes to the same thing: To seek an honest man is, at once, to seek a human being worthy of the name, an honest-to-goodness exemplar of the idea of humanity, a truthful and truth-speaking embodiment of the animal having the power of articulate speech.
- Leon R. Kass, “Looking for an Honest Man”
- Diogenes, in his mud-covered sandals, tramps over the carpets of Aristippus. The cynic pullulated at every corner, and in the highest places. This cynic did nothing but saboter the civilisation of the time. He was the nihilist of Hellenism. He created nothing, he made nothing. His role was to undo — or rather to attempt to undo, for he did not succeed in his purpose. The cynic, a parasite of civilisation, lives by denying it, for the very reason that he is convinced that it will not fail. What would become of the cynic among a savage people where everyone, naturally and quite seriously, fulfils what the cynic farcically considers to be his personal role?
Yesterday the wisest man
holding a lit lantern
was searching around town saying
I am tired of
all these beasts and brutes
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, translated by Nader Khalili in Rumi, Fountain of Fire
- Diogenes Laërtius, Life of Diogenes, translated by Robert Drew Hicks (1925)
- Diogenes of Sinope entry at The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy