Poems about Diogenes the Cynic

Poems about Diogenes the Cynic

Diogenes-the-CynicHere are some lines of ancient Greek verse about Diogenes of Sinope, the founder of Cynic philosophy.  I’ve also included some ancient verse about his student Monimos of Syracuse.

The staff and cloak are mentioned as typical accoutrements, along with the knapsack.  What is the main thing Diogenes gets praised for here?  Teaching the doctrine of self-sufficiency (autarkeia), or self-reliance, which is paradoxically described as the “easiest path through life”.

He is now no more, the Sinopean,

The staff-bearer with the doubled cloak who lived in the open air,

But has gone off because he pressed his lips and teeth together

And held his breath; for he was Diogenes in very truth,

A son of Zeus and hound of heaven.

Cercidas of Megalopolis, in Diogenes Laertius.  “Diogenes” means son of Zeus, and “Cynic” comes from the word for dog.  These verses describe some of the stereotypical accoutrements and behaviours of the Cynics.  Death by holding one’s breath was considered a form of suicide favoured by philosophers.

Even bronze yields to time, but your glory,

O Diogenes, will remain intact through all eternity,

Since you taught mortals the doctrine of self-sufficiency

And showed them the easiest path through life.

Engraved on bronze statues of Diogenes the Cynic erected in Corinth following his death, according to Diogenes Laertius.  These lines might be taken to refer to what was considered the essence of the Cynic philosophy, the legacy of Diogenes being what the ancients describe as a “short-cut to virtue” consisting of a life of voluntary poverty and self-imposed hardship for the purposes of philosophical training.

The following relates to Monimos of Syracuse:

There was a man named Monimos, Philo, a wise one,

But none too famous – who carried a knapsack?-

Not one but three.  Never did he use a saying

Like “Know thyself”, by heaven, or other of the quoted

Proverbs, no, he went much further, the dirty beggar,

And declared all human suppositions to be illusion.

From Menander’s comedy The Groom.  Monimos, a student of Diogenes the Cynic, seems to be mocked here for being greedy compared to other Cynics, and carrying three knapsacks of food.

What do you think?

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