The Divine Foolishness of Diogenes

Diogenes 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.

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.”

“I do not know whether there are gods, but there ought to be.”
He loved to live simply and with freedom – working for no-one, wearing no clothes, living as his nature dictated.
One day upon seeing a dog drinking water straight from the river he threw away his bowl and drank directly.  Marveling at how the  dog had showed him that it was possible to live even more simply than he had been living before.

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 was sane enough to be crazy, and crazy enough to be sane.

Diogenes and Alexander the Great


If I were not Alexander, I should wish to be Diogenes.
– Alexander the Great.  Plutarch’s Lives,

Alexander the Great met Diogenes and was very impressed by his presence and his power.  He later remarked that if he could be anyone, he would want to be Diogenes.
He must have saw how happy this man was, how content and how much like a king he was, an emperor without a kingdom.
Diogenes called him out on his bluff and said.  “You want to be me?  Ok give up your armies and gold. You can live like me right this very moment. “
But Alexander moved on…. He still had games to play, illusions to chase, worlds to conquer
When they first met, Diogenes was lazily sunning himself.  Alexander upon talking with him and sensing some great beauty and wisdom in this man,  offered to grant him any request.
Diogenes’ reply was. “Stand out of my light.”

The Master and the Slave

It happened that Diogenes came to be exiled for a time form his home of Sinope.  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.”

On a voyage to Aegina he was captured by pirates under the command of Scirpalus, conveyed to Crete and exposed for sale as a slave. 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, and said, “Sell me to this man; he needs a master.”

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 upon being asked why:  “This,” he said, “is what I practice 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.  “A young man ought not to marry just yet, and an old man not at all.”

Looking for an Authentic Man


Diogenes was known for moving about the city while carrying a lit lantern in the daylight. When asked why he was doing such an absurd thing, he said he was “looking for a man”.
He was looking for a real man, an awake man, a free man, an authentic man, a sovereign man, an honest man, a Man, a Human Being
And by searching with a lantern in the daylight he was showing the absurdity of his search….
He was looking for a man with the light in his eyes,  A man who is aflame.
Seems he never found his man, would he find one today?
Could you look Diogenes in the eye?

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
they said

he replied
but my search is for
the one who cannot be found.

– Rumi, in Divani Shams Ghazal #441


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