Just Don’t Call Me a “Cynic”

Cynic Philosopher

Right now I’m reading Augustine’s incredibly long “City of God” and it’s a cannonade of awesomeness.

It starts slow. Ancient people didn’t share our modern, cinematic sense of story. Their books can seem like two or three or four things stapled together: Augustine’s own “Confessions” hits a wall at Chapter IX and seems to digress into a treatise on Time and Memory and so on, and you need a Ph.D. to understand why it all hangs together.

So: What’s a cynic? In Book XIV Ch. 20 of “City of God,” we get a startling explanation. Our word “cynic” comes from the ancient Greek word for dog, as does canine. “Kynikos” means “doglike.” Cynics were philosophers. In what way did they resemble dogs?

Augustine tells us that the cynics:

“. . . boastfully proclaimed their unclean and shameless opinion, worthy indeed of dogs, viz., that as the matrimonial act [i.e., bonking] is legitimate, no one should be ashamed to perform it openly, in the street or in any public place.”

Well! Much like the Big Bang and Heretics, Cynics were named by their enemies. Their esteemed leader, Diogenes, apparently, actually walked the walk, so to speak, performing a sex act in public like a dog. (Or faking it?)

Why? “Under the impression,” says Augustine, “that his sect would be all the more famous if his egregious shamelessness were deeply graven in the memory of mankind.”

So here we have Diogenes — the first Reality TV star!

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One response to “Just Don’t Call Me a “Cynic”

  1. Oh my, didn’t know that!

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