Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Ancient Joker

Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are the most famous philosophers as far as the western society is concerned.
As I mentioned in my previous posts, the joker is something different. The joker is rarely mainstream...
Diogenes of Sinope was someone that epitomized the joker ideal. I'll try to give you some insights on his life and teachings.

Diogenes lived in Greece sometime around 4th century BCE. Like I said in all my joker posts, I am not going to write about his biography, but I do encourage you to learn more about him. This is my take on him...

He was one of the founder of the Cynic philosophy. Modern usage of the word has a negative connotation, but in the past it had a very different meaning. Cynic is a greek word for dog, and the Cynics used dogs as an ideal example of their philosophy. They emphasized the life in agreement with nature, In that way, they rejected all desires for power, wealth, money and promoted living a simple life of virtue. Diogenes himself was often referred to as a ''Dog''.

What I like the most about Diogenes is that he lived his philosophy. He led by an example. You might say it is a bit too extreme, and I agree but there is something about Diogenes that is at the same time both shocking and inspiring. He lived in a jar, and doing so, he tried to show his disdain for material possessions. He used his eccentric behavior to point out the hypocrisy in the greek society. Usually when we talk about the problems in our society, we refer to that ''good old days''. But there were no''good old days'', every society in history had the problems that we are facing now, we just have cell phones and the internet, everything else is pretty much the same.

There are very few writings about Diogenes, and most information about him comes from various anecdotes.
He had a very strange sense of humor and was prone to extreme behavior.
Often he would urinate on the people who would insult him and pointed out to them with his middle finger.
There are so many funny and insightful anecdotes about him so I will copy some of them for you to read...

When he was asked where he came from, he replied, "I am a citizen of the world (cosmopolites)". This was a radical claim in a world where a man's identity was intimately tied to his citizenship in a particular city state.

He destroyed the single wooden bowl he possessed on seeing a peasant boy drink from the hollow of his hands.

Diogenes used to stroll about in full daylight with a lamp; when asked what he was doing, he would answer, "I am just looking for an honest man''.Diogenes looked for a human being but reputedly found nothing but rascals and scoundrels.

He criticized Plato's abstract philosophy and Plato named him ''Socrates gone mad''.

When Plato gave Socrates' definition of man as "featherless bipeds" and was much praised for the definition, Diogenes plucked a chicken and brought it into Plato's Academy, saying, "Behold! I've brought you a man." After this incident, "with broad flat nails" was added to Plato's definition.

Diogenes was captured by pirates while on voyage to Aegina and sold as a slave in Crete to a Corinthian named Xeniades. Being asked his trade, he replied that he knew no trade but that of governing men, and that he wished to be sold to a man who needed a master.

It was in Corinth that a meeting between Alexander the Great and Diogenes is supposed to have taken place.The accounts of Plutarch and recount that they exchanged only a few words: while Diogenes was relaxing in the sunlight in the morning, Alexander, thrilled to meet the famous philosopher, asked if there was any favor he might do for him. Diogenes replied, "Yes, stand out of my sunlight". Alexander then declared, "If I were not Alexander, then I should wish to be Diogenes." In another account of the conversation, Alexander found the philosopher looking attentively at a pile of human bones. Diogenes explained, "I am searching for the bones of your father but cannot distinguish them from those of a slave."

When asked how he wished to be buried, he left instructions to be thrown outside the city wall so wild animals could feast on his body. When asked if he minded this, he said, "Not at all, as long as you provide me with a stick to chase the creatures away!" When asked how he could use the stick since he would lack awareness, he replied "If I lack awareness, then why should I care what happens to me when I am dead?"

My favorite ancient philosopher for sure, radical and funny. Sadly he is rarely mentioned and not a lot of people have heard of him. I tried to change it with this post.

Diogenes... The joker or sage? Who could tell... 


  1. Very interesting post, the way i view him, he's both a joker and a sage, he's obviously wise and he obviously has a good sense of humour. It's funny how he did'nt have much but reflect such a high degree of style, his philosophy was clean.

  2. Wow... I never heard of him. Yes, he is a funny guy! At the same time, he seem to realize the beauty of nature far more than the masses. He is detached from materialism and enjoy the simple life which everyone would look down on. Thanks for the post. Hope to see more jokers from you.

  3. Love the post, keep them coming. When reading through the post, I think Osho even mentioned him in one of his books, talking about the meeting that he had with Alexander the Great, very interesting, a funny guy.

  4. Awesome I will definitely do some studying on him!


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