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The Unusual Life and Though Provoking Wisdom of Diogenes the Cynic

When we think of Greek philosophers, we tend to have a clear image in our mind. A wise, elderly man with a neatly kept beard and a long pristine toga. These men were typically found around the acropolis spreading their wisdom, or with their students debating the nature of man and the world.

While this is an accurate picture for many philosophers like Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, and Archimedes, this isn’t how all of them lived. One of their most colorful contemporaries was a man named Diogenes of Sinope was well known as the father of Cynicism.

The term cynic came from the Greek word for dog, which precisely describes how Diogenes lived. He rejected all social norms and lived his life closer to an animal than a man. Diogenes was said to have begged for everything, eating raw meat, and living in a giant barrel.

Make no mistake, despite this strange behavior, Diogenes was unquestionably a genius. He believed that to achieve happiness, people should live simply, rejecting all social constraints, including the desires for wealth, power, and land.

So imagine how strange it must have been when Diogenes met one of history’s most famous conquerors, Alexander the Great. When visiting the city of Corinth in preparation for his invasion of Persia, Alexander found Diogenes relaxing under the sun and approached him. He had heard of Diogenes and offered him a favor.

Diogenes simply replied that Alexander stepped aside as he was blocking his sun.

Rather than be offended, the Macedonian king was impressed with the philosopher and remarked that if he wasn’t Alexander, he would wish to be Diogenes.

Thrilled to meet the famous thinker, Alexander asked if there was any favor he might do for him. To that, Diogenes replied:

“Move a little to the right; you are blocking my sun.”

Alexander then declared, “If I were not Alexander, then I should wish to be Diogenes.”   This famous anecdote is known across the world.

-Plutarch, writing on the famous meeting between Diogenes and Alexander.
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