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ODE TO THE PAST (with the occasional nod to the present)

Diogenes: the original Cynic

Of all the ancient Greeks, Diogenes is, in my opinion, the most enigmatic. In an age when philosophy was prized more than treasure and men's characters mattered, Diogenes carved a place in history by deriding the greats and taking the path of extreme asceticism.

He lived in a barrel. He ate only onions. He went around with a lamp in daylight, claiming he sought an honest man. He defaced a bunch of coins (there is archaeological evidence of this) to make a statement against money. Simplicity was his calling card, and caustic cynicism what he brought to the party.

Plato, he said, was a pretentious ass. To Alexander the Great he said, "Stand away from my light." He called common men rogues and scoundrels. There was no one who could win his favor, so far above it all was he.

So what is Diogenes' contribution to philosophy? For one thing, he pretty much founded the concept of cynicism. By criticizing civilization and the men who subscribed to it, he upheld the notion that the integrity of man is within and is incompatible with the rules of society.

He was the original cynic, and probably the original idealist. Needless to say, he wasn't taken seriously by his peers, often dismissed as a madman or a silly old fool. And yet his legend survives.
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