Above, Edwin Landseer’s wonderful take on the meeting between the Cynic philosopher Diogenes and Alexander the Great. The Greek word ‘kynikos’, from which Cynicism took its name, means ‘dog-like.’ Diogenes is the scruffy dog in the barrel on the left. Alexander is of course the grand white dog. The posh dogs on the right represent his courtiers.
GRAND WHITE DOG: Anything you like, Scruffy Dog, anything at all. I’ll do it for you.
SCRUFFY DOG: In that case, stand out of my light.
This dialogue is by me, not Landseer, and is based on an anecdote told by the writer Diogenes Laertius.
Photo courtesy of Sabine Grauel-Baumann
THERE ARE A NUMBER OF REASONS why the name-tag ‘Dog-like’ or ‘Doggy’ may have been attached to the philosophers we call the Cynics. Perhaps it was because they despised social conventions, and insisted on doing in public many of the things which we ourselves are pretty keen to keep private. According to the Cynics all human bodily functions are natural, and nothing to be ashamed of. So why not perform them in full view of our fellow citizens? They put their beliefs into practice and like the dogs we know and love, used to pee, defecate, masturbate and fornicate on the street or in the theatre or market-place.
They may also have been called ‘Doggy’ because they saw themselves, like dogs, as guard animals, keeping a watchful eye on public morals and behaviour.