Diogenes of Sinope
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Diogenes "the Cynic", Greek philosopher, was born in Sinope (modern day Sinop, Turkey) about 412 BC (according to other sources 399 BC), and died in 323 BC at Corinth. Details of his life come in the form of anecdotes ("chreia") from Diogenes Laërtius, in his book The Life as a dog man.
Diogenes of Sinope is said to have been a disciple of Antisthenes, who (according to Plato's Phaedo) was present at the death of Socrates. Diogenes, a beggar who made his home in the streets of Athens, made a virtue of extreme poverty. He taught contempt for human achievements and a return to animalism. His was a relentless campaign to debunk social values and institutions.
Diogenes' name has been applied to a behavioural disorder characterised by involuntary self-neglect and hoarding. The disorder afflicts the elderly and has no relation to Diogenes' deliberate Herculean rejection of material comfort.
Both in ancient and in modern times, Diogenes' personality has appealed strongly to sculptors and to painters. Ancient busts exist in the museums of the Vatican, the Louvre, and the Capitol. The interview between Diogenes and Alexander is represented in an ancient marble bas-relief found in the Villa Albani.
Among artists who have painted the famous encounter of Diogenes with Alexander there are works by de Crayer, de Vos, Assereto, Langetti, Sevin, Sebastiano Ricci, Gandolfi, Wink, Abildgaard, Monsiau, Martin, and Daumier. The famous story of Diogenes searching for an "honest man" has been depicted by Jordaens, van Everdingen, van der Werff, Pannini, and Corinth. Others who have painted him with his famous lantern include de Ribera, Castiglione, Petrini, Gérôme, Bastien-Lepage, and Waterhouse. The scene in which Diogenes discards his cup has been painted by Poussin, Rosa, and Martin; and the story of Diogenes begging from a statue has been depicted by Restout. In Raphael's fresco The School of Athens, a lone reclining figure in the foreground represents Diogenes.
Diogenes is referred to in Anton Chekhov's story Ward No. 6; William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell; François Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel; Goethe's poem Genialisch Treiben; as well as in the first sentence of Søren Kierkegaard's novelistic treatise Repetition. In Cervantes' short story The Man of Glass (El licenciado Vidriera), part of the Novelas Ejemplares collection, the (anti-)hero unaccountably begins to channel Diogenes in a string of tart chreiai once he becomes convinced that he is made of glass. Diogenes gives his own life and opinions in Christoph Martin Wieland's novel Socrates Mainomenos (1770; English translation Socrates Out of His Senses, 1771). Diogenes is the primary model for the philosopher Didactylos in Terry Pratchett's Small Gods. He is mimicked by a beggar-spy in Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Scion and paid tribute to with a costume in a party by the main character in its sequel, Kushiel's Justice. The character Lucy Snowe in Charlotte Bronte's novel Villette is given the nickname Diogenes. Diogenes also features in Part Four of Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. He is a figure in Seamus Heaney's The Haw Lantern. In Christopher Moore's Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, one of Jesus' apostles is a devotee of Diogenes, complete with his own pack of dogs which he refers to as his own disciples. His story opens the first chapter of Dolly Freed's 1978 book Possum Living.
The philosopher's name was adopted by the fictional Diogenes Club, an organization that Sherlock Holmes' brother Mycroft Holmes belongs to in the story The Greek Interpreter by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is called such as its members are educated, yet untalkative and have a dislike of socialising, much like the philosopher himself. The group is the focus of a number of Holmes pastiches by Kim Newman.
Diogenes and contemporary theory
Diogenes of Sinope is discussed in a 1983 book by German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk (English language publication in 1987). In his Critique of Cynical Reason, Diogenes is used as an example of Sloterdijk’s idea of the “kynical” — in which personal degradation is used for purposes of community comment or censure. Calling the practice of this tactic “kynismos,” Sloterdijk explains that the kynical actor actually embodies the message he/she is trying to convey. The goal here is typically a false regression that mocks authority — especially authority that the kynical actor considers corrupt, suspect, or unworthy.