Friday, October 21, 2005

In Our Time - Cynicism

Radio 4's In Our Time explores the history of ideas, particularly in philosophy, science, literature, culture and religion. I listened to the evening broadcast of this week's programme on cynicism last night. Here's Melvyn Bragg's introduction.

Eating live octopus with fresh lupins, performing intimate acts in public places and shouting at passers by from inside a barrel is behaviour not normally associated with philosophy. But the Cynics were different. They were determined to expose the meaninglessness of civilised life by action as well as by word. They slept rough, ate simply and gave their lectures in the market place. Perhaps surprisingly, their ideas and attitudes were immensely popular in the ancient world.

But how coherent was cynicism as a philosophy? What was its influence on literature and politics and is there any truth to the contention that Jesus himself was influenced by the Cynics?

From Midweek's row between Joan Rivers and Darcus Howe on Wednesday to Melvyn and chums on Thursday , what a great radio station it is. My one caveat is that I can't listen to John Humphreys - Welsh born though he may be - on the Today programme in the morning without wanting to smash his face in.

Anyway, back to Cynicism, I wasn't aware that Cynics form the link between Socrates and the Stoics.

Impressed after a meeting with Diogenes - a famous early Cynic - by his toughness and indifference, Alexander the Great apparently declared, "if I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes." I hadn't heard of this before, but it is very striking to me how similar it is to Arrian's report of Alexander's encounter with the Brahmin in India.

There is also Calanus, the Indian who joined Alexander in India and when he fell ill in Persia refused to live as an invalid, mounted his own funeral pyre and was consumed without flinching. I wonder what influence he had on the Stoics and Romans.

"More things in heaven and earth, Horatio."

Here is the further recommended reading from the show's website.
Miriam Griffin, Seneca: A Philosopher in Politics (Clarendon, 1992)
Miriam Griffin, The History of Cynicism: From Diogenes to the Sixth Century A.D. (Bristol Classical Press, 1998)
The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Political Thought (2000)
Donald R. Dudley, History of Cynicism: From Diogenes to the Sixth Century A.D. (1967)
Horace, Satires, (Penguin Classic, 1973)
Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers (2 vols, Loeb, 1925)

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