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When Alexander the Great Met Diogenes the Cynic

diogenes alexander the great
Diogenes by Jean Leon Gerome. Credit: Public Domain

The ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes, known as the father of Cynicism, has become famous for his many interesting interactions, particularly with famous Greek leader Alexander the Great.

Diogenes the Cynic (also known as Diogenes of Sinope) lived against the norms of ancient Athens. He slept in an enormous ceramic pot, rejecting all comforts and luxuries, and even begged on the streets, which was very uncommon at the time.

In broad daylight, he would walk the streets while holding a lantern, telling people that he was looking for one honest man. He later claimed that he never found one.

Ancient Greek philosopher rejected societal norms

Born in Sinope, the Ionian city along the Black Sea in 412 or 404 BC, he is considered one of the founders of Cynic philosophy, along with Antisthenes and Crates.

The word “cynic” (in Greek kynikos, or κυνικός, meaning “dog-like”), derives from the word κύων, or kynos, meaning ‘dog’ and was used to describe the dog-like behavior of Diogenes, who lived in the streets, sometimes eating raw meat and performing his natural bodily functions in public much like a dog.

Despite his eccentricities, Diogenes was a sage philosopher. His observations about life, politics, and society were amazingly spot-on although they were often expressed in offensive language.

Diogenes famously cared little about the opinions of others and did not care if the person standing before him was a king or a slave; he would treat everyone the same—poorly.

When his strange lifestyle and wise beliefs became known across Greece, people from around the ancient world traveled to meet the philosopher in person, either out of respect or curiosity.

Alexander the Great meets Diogenes

Alexander the Great, the famed Greek leader who spread Hellenism across the world, was an admirer of Diogenes. A student of ancient philosopher and scientist Aristotle, Alexander had a great respect for wise men like Diogenes, so he decided to meet the philosopher for himself.

He traveled to Corinth, where Diogenes was living at the time. Based on the accounts of Plutarch, the two men exchanged only a few words. Alexander came upon Diogenes as the philosopher was basking in the morning sunlight.

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.

Alexander III, the “Basileus of Macedon”, the “Hegemon of the Hellenic League”, the “Shahanshah” of Persia, the “Pharaoh” of Egypt and the “Lord of Asia”—better known as Alexander the Great—was one of the most significant figures in human history.

Born in Pella, in modern-day Central Macedonia in northern Greece in 356 B.C., he was the son of Philip II, the King of Macedon and his wife, Olympias. However, Alexander was no royal place-holder. He became renowned at a very early age both for his military and political capabilities.

Alexander, whose name in Greek (Alexandros) means “defender of men,” knew as the son of a king that his destiny was predetermined, putting him at the forefront of history.

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