story of diogenes and alexander the great

“You’re nothing but a hound dog!” is what you’re telling someone when you accuse them of being a cynic. Coming from the Ancient Greek word for dog, kinikos, Cynics felt an affinity with dogs because they lived in the moment and would bark at anything that wasn’t the truth.

The most famous Cynic philospoher was Diogenes, who shocked his fellow Athenians by declaring himself a Cosmopolitan, a citizen of the world – an unheard of notion at the time.

But then Diogenes loved to make trouble.

He loved especially to go and heckle Plato during his speeches and when the celebrated philosopher defined man as a ‘featherless biped’, Diogenes plucked the feathers from a chicken and walked into Plato’s academy declaring he had ‘brought him a man.’ Plato was forced to add fingernails to his definition.

Diogenes is famous for living naked in an old clay wine barrel in the street and sometimes walked around with an oil lamp in the daytime, explaining that he was looking for an honest man. One story has him chased out of the marketplace for masturbating in public and he later lamented that if only it was as easy to cure hunger by rubbing his belly.

The most famous of the stories surrounding Diogenes though is surely when he is said to have met Alexander the Great. The conquerer of the known world, fascinated by the accounts of a philosopher living in a barrel, is said to have walked up to him and asked him what it was that he wanted. Diogenes replied:

‘I want you to move out of my sunlight.’

True to his principles of simple austerity, when asked what he would like to be done with his body after his death, he replied he should like it to be thrown over the city walls to the wild animals. On the proviso that he was given a stick to chase them away.