Diogenes of Sinope

ancient Greek philosopher, one of the founders of the Cynic philosophy
I am looking for a human.

Diogenes of Sinope (or Diogenes the Cynic; c. 412 BC323 BC) was the most famous of the Cynic philosophers of ancient Greece. No writings of his survive, but his sayings are recorded by Diogenes Laërtius and others.



  • I do not know whether there are gods, but there ought to be.
    • As quoted in The Home Book of Quotations, Classical and Modern (1937) by Burton Egbert Stevenson

Quoted by PlutarchEdit

Stand a little out of my sunshine.
  • If you are to be kept right, you must possess either good friends or red-hot enemies. The one will warn you, the other will expose you.

Quoted by Diogenes LaërtiusEdit

I am looking for an honest man.
Quotations are taken from Book 6 of Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laërtius as translated by R. D. Hicks (1925) vol. 2.
It is not that I am mad, it is only that my head is different from yours
I wish it were as easy to banish hunger by rubbing the belly.
I sentenced them to stay at home.
I am a citizen of the world.
  • On reaching Athens he fell in with Antisthenes. Being repulsed by him, because he never welcomed pupils, by sheer persistence Diogenes wore him out. Once when he stretched out his staff against him, the pupil offered his head with the words, “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."
  • Being asked where in Greece he saw good men, he replied, "'Good men nowhere, but good boys at Sparta."
  • When some one boasted that at the Pythian games he had vanquished men, Diogenes replied, "Nay, I defeat men, you defeat slaves."
  • To Xeniades, who had purchased Diogenes at the slave market, he said, "Come, see that you obey orders."
  • One day, observing a child drinking out of his hands, he cast away the cup from his wallet with the words, "A child has beaten me in plainness of living."
  • Plato had defined Man as an animal, biped and featherless, and was applauded. Diogenes plucked a fowl and brought it into the lecture-room with the words, "Behold Plato's man!"
  • To one who asked what was the proper time for lunch, he said, "If a rich man, when you will; if a poor man, when you can."
  • He lit a lamp in broad daylight and said, as he went about, "I am looking for a human."
    • Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 41. This line is frequently translated as "I am looking for an honest man."
  • Perdiccas threatened to put him to death unless he came to him, "That's nothing wonderful," Diogenes said, "for a beetle or a tarantula would do the same."
  • Once he saw the officials of a temple leading away some one who had stolen a bowl belonging to the treasurers, and said, "The great thieves are leading away the little thief."
  • When scolded for masturbating in public, he said "I wish it were as easy to banish hunger by rubbing my belly."
    • Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 46, 69
    • Variant: If only it were as easy to banish hunger by rubbing the belly as it is to masturbate.
      • As quoted in Encarta Book of Quotations (2000) edited by Bill Swainson, p. 274
  • He once begged alms of a statue, and, when asked why he did so, replied, "To get practice in being refused."
  • To the question what wine he found pleasant to drink, he replied, "That for which other people pay."
  • He was breakfasting in the marketplace, and the bystanders gathered round him with cries of "dog." "It is you who are dogs," cried he, "when you stand round and watch me at my breakfast."
  • He was going into a theatre, meeting face to face those who were coming out, and being asked why, "This," he said, "is what I practise doing all my life."

Quoted by StobaeusEdit

Other dogs bite only their enemies, whereas I bite also my friends in order to save them.
Quoted by Stobaeus, compiler of a 5th century philosophical anthology.
Poverty is a virtue which one can teach oneself
  • It is not that I am mad, it is only that my head is different from yours.
  • When people laughed at him because he walked backward beneath the portico, he said to them: "Aren't you ashamed, you who walk backward along the whole path of existence, and blame me for walking backward along the path of the promenade?"
  • οἱ μὲν ἄλλοι κύνες τοὺς ἐχθροὺς δάκνουσιν, ἐγὼ δὲ τοὺς φίλους, ἵνα σώσω.
  • Boasting, like gilded armour, is very different inside from outside.
  • Virtue cannot dwell with wealth either in a city or in a house.
  • Poverty is a virtue which one can teach oneself.

Quoted by PhiloEdit

  • Diogenes the cynic, seeing one of the so-called freedmen pluming himself, while many heartily congratulated him, marveled at the absence of reason and discernment. “A man might as well,” he said, “proclaim that one of his servants became a grammarian, a geometrician, or musician, when he has no idea whatever of the art.” For as the proclamation cannot make them men of knowledge, so neither can it make them free.
    • Philo, Every Good Man is Free, F. Colson, trans. (1941), 157

Quoted by PorphyryEdit

Quotes about DiogenesEdit

Sell me to this man; he needs a master.
Even bronze is aged by time, but not all the ages, Diogenes, shall destroy thy fame, since you alone did show to mortals the rule of self-sufficiency and the easiest path of life. ~ Antiphilus of Byzantium
This cynic did nothing but saboter the civilisation of the time. He was the nihilist of Hellenism. He created nothing, he made nothing. ~ José Ortega y Gasset
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. ~ Rumi
My search is for the one who cannot be found. ~ Rumi
  • If I were not Alexander, I should wish to be Diogenes.
  • Even bronze is aged by time, but not all the ages, Diogenes, shall destroy thy fame, since you alone did show to mortals the rule of self-sufficiency and the easiest path of life.
  • As for Diogenes, Basil never ceased admiring him, the philosopher who was so set upon being content with nothing but the gifts of nature that he even threw away his drinking-cup, after he had learned from a boy how to bend over and drink from the hollow of his hands.
  • When some people urged that it is impossible for man to live like the animals owing to the tenderness of his flesh and because he is naked and unprotected, [Diogenes] would say in reply that men are so very tender because of their mode of life. ... Man’s ingenuity and his discovering and contriving so many helps to life had not been altogether advantageous to later generations, since men do not employ their cleverness to promote courage or justice, but to procure pleasure.
  • When [Diogenes] observed how other men were harassed throughout their whole lives, ever plotting against one another, ever encompassed by a thousand ills and never able to enjoy a moment’s rest, nay, not even during the great festivals nor when they proclaimed a truce; and when he beheld that they did or suffered all this simply in order to keep themselves alive, and that their greatest fear was lest their so-called necessities should fail them, and how, furthermore, they planned and strove to leave great riches to their children, he marvelled that he too did not do the like, but was the only independent man in the world.
  • All articles of great expense, of vexatious and operose provision, [Diogenes] disallowed, and demonstrated their pernicious effects upon the user; yet forbade none of those bodily conveniences, which may be procured without difficulty and molestation, whether to alleviate cold or hunger or other craving appetites, but manifested by his own practice a preference to healthy situations before sickly, and to such as were more tolerable than others through all the vicissitudes of seasons. Nor was he less attentive to a plentiful supply of wholesome food, and a moderate portion of apparel: but kept himself aloof from public business, from lawsuits, from animosities, from wars and political conspiracies. The life of the Gods was the principal model of his practice: for Homer characterizes them as living at their ease with reference to the laborious and troublesome condition of mankind.
    • Dio Chrysostom, “Diogenes, or, On Arbitrary Government,” Select Essays of Dio Chrysostom, G. Wakefiled, trans. (1800)
  • [Diogenes] was surprised by the fact that had he claimed to be a physician for the teeth, everybody would flock to him who needed to have a tooth pulled; yes, and by heavens, had he professed to treat the eyes, all who were suffering from sore eyes would present themselves, and similarly, if he had claimed to know of a medicine for diseases of the spleen or for gout or for running of the nose; but when he declared that all who should follow his treatment would be relieved of folly, wickedness, and intemperance, not a man would listen to him or seek to be cured by him, ... as though it were worse for a man to suffer from an enlarged spleen or a decayed tooth than from a soul that is foolish, ignorant, cowardly, rash, pleasure-loving, illiberal, irascible, unkind, and wicked, in fact utterly corrupt.
  • When [Diogenes of Sinope] was sold as a slave, he endured it most nobly. For on a voyage to Aegina he was captured by pirates under the command of Scirpalus, conveyed to Crete and exposed for sale. When the auctioneer asked in what he was proficient, he replied, "In ruling men." Thereupon he pointed to a certain Corinthian with a fine purple border to his robe, the man named Xeniades above-mentioned, and said, “Sell me to this man; he needs a master.”
  • No labor, according to Diogenes, is good but that which aims at producing courage and strength of soul rather than of body.
    • Epictetus, (ca. 55-135 AD)Golden Sayings of Epictetus (62)
  • Diogenes compared them to fig-trees growing over precipices; for their fruit was devoured by daws and crows, not by men.
    • Galen, on Diogenes's views on the ignorant rich, in Exhortation to Study the Arts, Wakefield (1796), p. 217; cf. Stobaeus, iv. 31b. 48
  • Diogenes the Cynic, it is related, was mighty of all people in regard to everything from self-control to endurance. He indulged in sexual lusts, not associating it with pleasure, an attractive good thing to some, but because of the harm that the retention of semen would cause if he avoided the habit of releasing it. When a prostitute who promised to visit him was delayed for some time, he rubbed his genitals with his hand, ejecting semen. After the whore arrived, he sent her away, saying: "my hand celebrated the wedding-hymn first." But it is clearly correct that, likewise, the disciplined man does not on account of pleasure indulge in lusts, but in order to relieve the hindrance acting as if this was not associated with pleasure.
    • Galen, On the Affected Parts, Alard (1813), p. 104
  • Diogenes received an invitation to dine with one whose house was splendidly furnished, in the highest order and taste, and nothing therein wanting. Diogenes, hawking, and as if about to spit, looked in all directions, and finding nothing adapted thereto, spat right in the face of the master. He, indignant, asked why he did so? "Because," Diogenes, "I saw nothing so dirty and filthy in all your house. For the walls were covered with pictures, the floors of the most precious tessellated character — and ranged with the various images of gods, and other ornamental figures."
  • Diogenes ... refuses to be taken in by complacent popular belief that we already know human goodness from our daily experience, or by confident professorial claims that we can capture the mystery of our humanity in definitions. But mocking or not, and perhaps speaking better than he knew, Diogenes gave elegantly simple expression to the humanist quest for self-knowledge: I seek the human being—my human being, your human being, our humanity. In fact, the embellished version of Diogenes' question comes to the same thing: To seek an honest man is, at once, to seek a human being worthy of the name, an honest-to-goodness exemplar of the idea of humanity, a truthful and truth-speaking embodiment of the animal having the power of articulate speech.
  • Diogenes, in his mud-covered sandals, tramps over the carpets of Aristippus. The cynic pullulated at every corner, and in the highest places. This cynic did nothing but saboter the civilisation of the time. He was the nihilist of Hellenism. He created nothing, he made nothing. His role was to undo — or rather to attempt to undo, for he did not succeed in his purpose. The cynic, a parasite of civilisation, lives by denying it, for the very reason that he is convinced that it will not fail. What would become of the cynic among a savage people where everyone, naturally and quite seriously, fulfils what the cynic farcically considers to be his personal role?
  • 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.

    • Rumi, in Divani Shams Ghazal #441, translated by Nader Khalili in Rumi, Fountain of Fire

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