Friday 13 December 2013


Some strange goings-on in my work-world have brought out my cynical side. I identify with Diogenes, the founder of Cynicism, who carried a lantern in the daytime because he found it so difficult to find an honest man. (The Cynics’ lantern has been on my mind since Seamus Heaney died, because he was perhaps thinking of the impossibility of finding honesty in Northern Ireland at the height of the troubles when he called his 1987 collection The Haw Lantern).

Statue of Diogenes in his Turkish birthplace
After pretending to be Diogenes for a week. I feel much better, and have improved my relationships with colleagues and my dog. Nobody knows why the Cynics were called ‘canine ones’: it may be because they were thought to behave like dogs, to look and sound like barking dogs when they laughed, to live in the streets with dogs, or because they met in a place in Athens which had the word ‘dog’ in its name—Cynosarges, ‘White-Dog.’ 

Since it is trendy to name weeks after ancient philosophical schools (see my blog on STOIC WEEK last month), I am naming this coming week CYNIC WEEK and would encourage everyone to practise the following 7- step programme to Cynical nirvana: 

1. Ask to be addressed as Diogenes, or Diogeneia, and cultivate a Turkish accent (Diogenes’ native city was Sinope, in the middle of the Turkish Black Sea coast).

2. Locate a large barrel or other vessel in a public place and spend at least twenty minutes a day in it, dressed in rags, looking intense and intelligent.

3. You do not actually need to urinate or play with yourself in public, as Diogenes did, since these are illegal in most jurisdictions. But you do need to discover your Inner Hound, wolf food from off the floor, use your hands as a cup, and scratch yourself a lot instead.

Thomas Christian Wink, 'Alexander and Diogenes'
4. Answer all questions with rude and humorously pithy epigrams which stress that humans are fauna and that wealth, power, conventions, and intellectual pretension are ridiculous.  Here is a Cynic response to emulate: when Plato said that Socrates had defined men as ‘featherless bipeds’, Diogenes ridiculed the notion by taking a plucked chicken into the Academy and announcing ‘Behold! I bring you a Man!’ 

5. Cut down to size  at least one person who prides themselves on being richer or more powerful than you, as Diogenes told Alexander the Great, who was pestering him with idiotic questions, to get out of his sunlight. 

Landseer's Priceless 'Alexander and Diogenes'
6. Cheer yourself up with the best History Painting of all time, Sir Edwin Henry Landseer’s  'Alexander and Diogenes' (1848), in which dog breeds replace social classes. The arrogant white Alexander-dog looks like a member of UKIP, while Diogenes resembles Finlay, our own canny canine.

7. Consult the collection of very funny quips in The Cynics’ Word Book (1906), available freely online at Given my current experiences, the very first entry is my favourite:

ABASEMENT, n. A decent and customary mental attitude in the presence of wealth or power. Peculiarly appropriate in an employee when addressing an employer.
Finlay Poynder-Hall

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