I’ve been doing a bit of background reading on the Greek Cynics, and it’s pretty much the best ever. Here’s a passage from A.A. Long’s chapter “The Socratic Tradition: Diogenes, Crates, and Hellenistic Ethics” from Branham and Goulet-Caze’s The Cynics: The Cynic Movement in Antiquity and Its Legacy (University of California, 1996):
Antisthenes defends the claim that, although he is penniless, he prides himself on his wealth. True wealth and poverty, he argues, are possessed in people’s souls. He observes persons who are conventionally wealthy yet pathologically unsatisfied by their possessions. As for himself, he has sufficient to satisfy all his basic bodily needs, and, since he is not choosy, he can always find some willing woman if he wants sex. For enjoyment, instead of buying expensive things, he draws on his soul’s resources. Anticipating Epicurus, he says that it is more pleasurable to satisfy his appetite when genuinely hungry or thirsty than when not in need. Such frugality promotes honesty and contentment (32).
One of the most interesting things about ancient Cynicism (radically different from modern cynicism — on this, see Peter Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason) is its emphasis on the pleasure of self-denial. That is, denying oneself immediate and excessive gratification actually enhances pleasure eventually. Discipline, denial, self-mastery are all different paths to pleasure rather than virtuous acts in themselves. Nice.
Diogenes of Sinope, who Plato called “a Socrates gone mad,” is probably the most famous Cynic. From Diogenes Laertius’s (different guy) Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, written in the first half of the third century, A.D.:
Once, when a man had conducted him into a magnificent house, and had told him that he must not spit, after hawking a little, he spit in his face, saying that he could not find a worse place.
A profligate eunuch had written on his house, “Let no evil thing enter in.””Where,” said Diogenes, “is the master of the house going?”
Once at a banquet, some of the guests threw him bones, as if he had been a dog; so he, as he went away, put up his leg against them as if he had been a dog in reality.
Huh. Okay. Diogenes: never afraid to let shit get real.