Diogenes – the Mad philosopher

Asked where he came from, he said, “I am a citizen of the world.

Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 63

The Sufi mystic, Jalalaldin Rumi in his work,  Divan-e-Shams,talks about this cynic form the ancient Greece as :

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.

– translated by Nader Khalili in Rumi, Fountain of Fire

Diogenes of Sinope was one of the founders of Cynic philosophy. He was allegedly the student of Antisthenes; to whom he said, “Strike, for you will find no wood hard enough to keep me away from you, so long as I think you’ve something to say.” Antisthenes did not welcome disciples. He had stretched out his staff against Diogenes, when he said the above words in response to this action. It is said of Antisthenes that he was present when Socrates drank the poison Hemlock in the jail. Diogenes was all in favor of direct verbal interaction over the written account or books. He reprimands Hegesias upon being asked to lend his writing tablet:

“You are a simpleton, Hegesias; you do not choose painted figs, but real ones; and yet you pass over the true training and would apply yourself to written rules”

Plato had responded something like this when he was asked about Diogenes, “He is…A Socrates gone mad” (Diogenes Laertius, Book 6, Chapter 54). Diogenes’ sense of shamelessness was an extension of cynicism and it involved a repositioning of convention below nature and reason. It was contrary to Athenian convention to eat in the marketplace, and yet there he would eat for, as he explained when reproached, it was in the marketplace that he felt hungry. The most scandalous of these sorts of activities involves his act of masturbation in the marketplace, to which he responded “I wish it were as easy to relieve hunger by rubbing an empty stomach”.Ancient_Khorasan_highlighted

This later found not a far cry association with Sufi practice of  Malāmatiyya  among the  mystic group active in 9th century Greater Khorasan. Wiki says -The Malamati is one for whom the doctrine of “spiritual states” is fraught with subtle deceptions of the most despicable kind; he despises personal piety, not because he is focused on the perceptions or reactions of people, but as a consistent involuntary witness of his own “pious hypocrisy”.

He was especially scornful of sophisms. He  disputes Platonic definitions and from this comes one of his more memorable actions: “Plato had defined the human being as an animal, biped and featherless, and was applauded. Diogenes plucked a fowl and brought it into the lecture-room with the words, ‘Here is Plato’s human being.’ In consequence of which there was added to the definition, ‘having broad nails’” . Diogenes was a harsh critic of Plato’s metaphysical notions and challenged them, whenever, he would get a chance.

Diogenes was contentious when it came to promoting reason and virtue. According to him, for a human to be in accord with nature is to be rational, for it is in the nature of a human being to act in accord with reason. Diogenes has trouble finding such humans, and expresses his sentiments regarding his difficulty theatrically. Diogenes is reported to have “lit a lamp in broad daylight and said, as he went about, ‘I am searching for a human being’” . We could reflect why he was having such a trouble in finding a human. He may have made a practical joke on the philosophers of his time. They would think up things in their mind and look around for its validity. They would project idealist formulations on to the natural world of all exceptions and contradictions. Human beings do not always rely on being rational; If it were so, then we would not see the kind of blind faith when it comes to religion. 

Plutarch, tells about an anecdote in his work  Diogenes Laërtius, about a short exchange of words between Diogenes and Alexander.

While Diogenes was relaxing in the morning sunlight, 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“.

In another story, 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?”Even in his death, Diogenes made fun of the society’s concern with the “proper” treatment of the dead.

Finally, a story of his for some contemplation:

A report that Philip II of Macedon was marching on the town had thrown all Corinth into a bustle; one was furbishing his arms, another wheeling stones, a third patching the wall, a fourth strengthening a battlement, every one making himself useful somehow or other. Diogenes having nothing to do – of course no one thought of giving him a job – was moved by the sight to gather up his philosopher’s cloak and begin rolling his tub energetically up and down the Craneum; an acquaintance asked for the reason, and got the explanation: “I do not want to be thought the only idler in such a busy multitude; I am rolling my tub to be like the rest.”



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