They were quite eccentric, often going barefoot and living outside, which is where they picked up the moniker Cynic - based on the Greek word for dog. The most famous Cynic was Diogenes of Sinope. He commented, "I am called a dog because I fawn on those who give me anything, I yelp at those who refuse, and I set my teeth in rascals."
Diogenes was known for his scathing social criticism. He often carried a lantern around Athens in the daytime, claiming to be looking for an honest man. His teacher was Antisthenes, a disciple of Socrates who declared, "I would rather be mad than feel pleasure." Diogenes took the message to heart, voluntarily rejecting property and opining that Godlike men have few wants in life. Diogenes' life influenced Crates, a wealthy heir who abandoned his fortune to live on the streets of Athens. Cynics were also common in Rome later in antiquity.
Think there is nothing that we can learn from this band of wackos? Think again. We need not live a Cynic life ourselves to learn from the Cynic example. The best Cynic teachings offer us fabulous advice for practical living:
The Cynics put modern minimalists to shame. The Ancient Greeks in general were a relatively minimalist culture, and the Cynics were the most austere (by choice) among them.
Diogenes lived in barrel in Athens. Besides his robe, he also owned a bowl. On observing a child drinking from his hands he threw away his bowl and remarked, "A child has beat me at plain living." Crates and later Cynics had slightly more possessions which they carried in their characteristic knapsacks, but were still incredibly minimal. Crates describes the ideal Cynic life as:
"You will be able," he said, "to open your wallet easily and with your hand scoop out and dispense lavishly instead of, as you do now, squirming and hesitating and trembling like those with paralyzed hands. Rather, if the wallet is full, that is how you will view it; and if you see that it is empty, you will not be distressed. And once you have elected to use the money, you will easily be able to do so; and if you have none, you will not yearn for it, but you will live satisfied with what you have, not desiring what you do not have nor displeased with whatever comes your way."
2. Sense of Humor
Crates' writings include jokes gently making fun of the Cynic lifestyle by describing them as always eating lentils (an austere food). Diogenes has a bevy of hilarious quotes attributed to him including:
"Some people are so nearly mad that a finger makes all the difference. If you go about with your middle finger stretched out people will think you mad, but if it's the little finger you may be praised."
Of a dirty bath: When people have bathed here, where are they to go to get clean?
Why are you begging from a statue? To get practice in being refused.
Cynics believed that laughter is the best medicine. Things in life go easier if, like them, we can stop taking ourselves and everything else so seriously. A sense of humor is also great for our mental health.
3. Critical Thinking
Diogenes is rumored to have met Alexander the Great while scrounging around in a trash pile containing human remains. When Alexander asked what he was doing, Diogenes said, "I am searching for the bones of your father but cannot distinguish them from those of his slave."
The philosopher was pointing out that we are all equal when we die regardless of the hand that culture has dealt us, or our position in society.
The passengers were taken to Crete and sold at auction. Diogenes, using his typical wit and humor, saw a rich merchant in the audience and said, "That man could use a master, sell me to him!" Diogenes was bought by the merchant and became a beloved teacher to the man's sons.
We can all learn from Diogenes' example of taking a bad situation and using the resources that he did have at his disposal to his advantage. One of the life lessons that Cynicism has to teach is to be prepared for any fortune, good or bad.
In addition to their own enduring philosophical legacy, the Cynics directly influenced Stoicism - popular throughout antiquity, and now enjoying a large resurgence of interest.
Zeno of Citicum came to Athens and was perusing a bookshop where he found information about Socrates in Xenophon's Memorabilia. Intrigued, Zeno asked the bookseller where the authors of such texts could be found. As the story goes, Crates happened to be passing by the shop at that exact moment. "Follow that man!" the bookseller remarked. Zeno went on to study with Crates, and based on this knowledge, established the Stoic school.
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 Teles (1977). "Fragment 4a". Teles: The Cynic Teacher. By O'Neill, E. Missoula.
 Diogenes Laërtius 1925c.