Sunday, March 27, 2016

Allison Grayhurst writes


Whenever roused with grief 
or shaken by the cynic's cry, 
I feed on your words and warmth 
then wonder why I stood so long 
held by the darkened grip. 
For in your subtle bend 
and caressing voice,  
the rain is petty, as are all the 
drunk and desolate things that 
send my spirit heaving.  

Whenever lost 
in the crushing swirl 
where sick and mindless crowds 
roam, I draw up your face 
from my memory's well and 
am eased, believing once again 
through fear and disappointment.



  1. Since the 19th century, cynicism has commonly meant a disposition to disbelieve in the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions, probably in reference to Diogenes' ostentatious "search for an honest man" by shining his light in the faces of his fellow Athenians. But the Cynics themselves thought the purpose of life was to live in virtuous agreement with nature, in a way which was natural for oneself; humans, as reasoning creatures, could gain happiness via rigorous training and by rejecting conventional desires for wealth, power, hedonism, and fame. The name is derived from the Greek "kynikos," meaning "dog-like." Early thinkers such as the Pythagoreans had advocated simple living, and a Sythian sage, Anacharsis, combined plain living with criticisms of Greek customs. Cynics may also have been influenced by what they heard about the Indian philosophers they called "gymnosophists," who practiced a strict asceticism and rejected established laws and customs. By the 5th century BCE, the sophists began openly questioning many aspects of religion, law, and ethics, but as an exercise of intellectual dexterity rather than a consistent viewpoint. Socrates, though not an ascetic, posited a love of virtue and an indifference to wealth, together with a disdain for popular opinion. For his most famous pupil, Plato, these socratic elements were of minor importance, but for an older disciple, Antisthenes, they became central. Teaching in the Cynosarges ("place of the white dog") gymnasium in Athens, he was the first to elucidate Cynicism in a rigorous, comprehensive manner: "I have enough to eat till my hunger is stayed, to drink till my thirst is sated; to clothe myself as well; and out of doors not [even] Callias there, with all his riches, is more safe than I from shivering; and when I find myself indoors, what warmer shirting do I need than my bare walls?" His most influential disciple (though it is not clear they ever actually met) was Diogenes, who had left his native Sinope after his father, in charge of the mint, had falsified the coinage; his critics maliciously condemned his rejection of convention as "defacing the currency." Perhaps more than any other Cynic, he pursued a life of self-sufficiency, austerity, and shamelessness, going about barefoot in wintertime and actually living in a tub on the streets of Athens. When personally denigrated as the "Dog," he replied, "Other dogs bite their enemies, I bite my friends to save them."
    His main disciple (though without any historical evidence of their meeting) was Crates of Thebes, who renounced his large fortune to live a life of Cynic poverty and lived together with his wife Hipparchia of Maroneia as beggars in Athens. He was the teacher of Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, a rival movement; in particular, Zeno's radical views on sexual equality were due to Crates' influence. Other Cynics, including Onesicritus (who sailed with Alexander the Great to India), and the moral satirists Bion of Borysthenes and Menippus of Gadara, continued to be active, but with the rise of Stoicism in the 3rd century BCE, the school declined in influence.

  2. Though Marcus Tullius Cicero denounced it ("It is to be shunned; for it is opposed to modesty, without which there can be neither right nor honor"), "the Army of the Dog," (as satirist Lucian of Samosata called them) could be found, identified by customarily wearing an old cloak and carrying a staff, begging and preaching throughout the Roman empire from the 1st century, believing they had a moral duty to hound people about the errors of their ways, particularly through biting satire and public demonstrations of their rejection of convention. According to an anonymous scholium on Aristotle's "Rhetoric," the Cynics "make a cult of indifference and, like dogs, eat and make love in public, go barefoot, and sleep in tubs and at crossroads.... They make a cult of shamelessness, not as being beneath modesty, but as superior to it.... They recognize as friends those who are suited to philosophy, and receive them kindly, while those unfitted they drive away, like dogs, by barking at them." They influenced other popular movements such as Christianity (Gadara, only a day's walk from Nazareth, was particularly a noted center of Cynic philosophy), despite the condemnation of such towering figures as Augustine of Hippo, who complained that they, "in violation of the modest instincts of men, boastfully proclaimed their unclean and shameless opinion, worthy indeed of dogs," even while the wandering mendicant monks of the early church differed little in outward appearance and in many of their practices and rhetorical approaqches
    from the Cynics. Leading Stoics often had deep regard for the tenets of Cynicism: Apollodorus called it "the short path to virtue," and Epictetus admired the ideal Cynic "as a messenger from Zeus to people concerning good and bad things, to show them that they have wandered" even while denouncing most of them as "dogs that wait at tables, and in no respect imitate the Cynics of old except perchance in breaking wind." Stoicism, however, declined as an independent philosophy after the 2nd century, while Cynicism did not disappear as a separate school until the late 5th century, in the person of Sallustius of Emesa, a student of the Neoplatonic philosopher Isidore of Alexandria.


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