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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
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8. Cynic Hero and King Ideology. The Heracles
mythology contained a great many features that let
themselves be easily applied to Cynic philosophy. The
suffering Heracles appears as a benefactor in the
drama. In Euripides' Heracles the theme philanthropia
through suffering is clearly delineated. But the drama
did not advance to the position of Antisthenes in re-
garding pain as something good. Antisthenes demon-
strated that pain is a good thing by instancing the great
Heracles and Cyrus, drawing the one example from
the Greek world and the other from the barbarians.
An important step towards the possibility of using
Heracles for philosophical, ethical purposes had al-
ready been taken in the Ionian criticism of the myths.
In the extensive Ionian literature about Heracles the
Sophist Herodorus of Heraclea in Pontus was the cre-
ator of the allegories of the philosophic Heracles. In
the Sophist Prodicus' allegory of the Choice of
Heracles there appears a philanthropical as well as an
ascetic theme, a hedonistic attraction towards a sim-
pler, more natural way of life as a reaction against
artificiality and excessive civilization. Antisthenes' view
of pain as something good is fully consistent with
Prodicus' description of Heracles. The myth of
Heracles offered a multitude of possibilities for a phil-
osophic sect which, because of its origin in circles
without full political rights, was burdened by social
and political discontent.

The fragments of Antisthenes' Heracles are not very
extensive. The main points are: Heracles receives in-
struction in virtue from the wise centaur Chiron, pain
is something good, the purpose of life is to live accord
ing to virtue, virtue can be taught and when once
acquired cannot be lost.

As to Diogenes the doxography Diog. L. VI 70 offers
an example of early Heracles ideology. Heracles is the
prototype for the pedagogic ideas propagated here.
The passage ends with a reference to Heracles:

... allowing [sc. Diogenes] convention no such authority
as he allowed to natural right, and asserting that the manner
of life he lived was the same as that of Heracles when he
preferred liberty to everything.

The Heracles mythology had been dealt with at
great length and in various aspects in the fifth century,
but Heracles declined rapidly in popularity both in
Cynic and in extra-Cynic literature. The vogue he
enjoyed during the whole fifth century in epic, lyric,
tragedy, and finally in the allegorical and rationalistic
interpretation of myth did not continue into the fourth
century. The only thing which survived apart from the
sterile references scattered throughout literature is the
allegory and the ethical propaganda in Cynic circles.

In Dio Chrysostomus in the first century A.D. we find
relatively unequivocal themes of Cynic Heracles prop-
aganda; there is an attempt to achieve a refined picture
of Heracles along Cynic lines, in which the divine
character of the hero is rationalized and his labors are
given an allegorical interpretation. His virtues are
individual-ethical, but the philanthropia theme is pre-
served and a firm front maintained against intellectual-
ism and athleticism. This use of Heracles by Dio was
due to Dio's becoming acquainted with a Cynic way
of life and Cynic literature. Diogenes in Dio Chrysos-
tomus Or. 8 compares himself with Heracles. The
moral struggle against pleasure is designated by the
term labor, and Heracles is held up as an example.
We find in Dio Chrysostomus a picture of Heracles
which has nothing in common with the athletic, sensual
Heracles of satyrical drama and comedy. He is adapted
to the Cynic ideal of behavior and appears in his new
guise as a Cynic saint, a portrait for which Dio was
indebted to earlier Cynic sources.

The most important feature in Dio's characterization
of Heracles is the education, the double paideia, the
“human” and the “divine”; the “divine” paideia repre-
sents the true Cynic pedagogics with Heracles as a
model in opposition to Sophistic Rhetoric and vulgar
Cynicism. Dio's views on this subject, maybe through
early Stoic intermediaries, were influenced by classical
Cynicism. In Dio we find the ideas and problems of
the fourth century B.C. with its interest in the rela-
tionship between education and politics, its opposition
to the Sophists' unsuccessful efforts in this field, and
the individual-ethical form given to educational and
political theories with the important central themes:


to govern oneself = to govern men; education =
authority; philosopher = ruler. The Cynic educational
theory is a pedagogy for rulers. From the point of view
of the history of ideas it belongs together with Xeno-
phon's Cyropaedia and the Aristippean polemic in
Xenophon's Memorabilia II 1. A basic idea common
to these texts is the part played by the paragon in their
pedagogic theory: the ruler is a model and his position
is based on his moral supremacy.

Antisthenes described Cyrus' development according
to the scheme slave-king (doulos-basileus), and used the
same theme in his portrayal of Odysseus. The theme
recurs in the idealization of Diogenes, and its main
point was to show the philosophical inner freedom
which is founded on moral perfection and not on out-
ward circumstances. The application of the theme to
Diogenes has taken place among the authors of the
generation after Diogenes. In Dio Chrysostomus we
find this Cynic theme elaborated in detail, and there
is no doubt that Dio reflects early Cynic basileus-
ideology. In Dio's Cynic speeches there occur a num-
ber of catalogues of virtues and vices of a relatively
fixed form. The man who does not possess the right
qualities, i.e., a character firmly formed along individ-
ual-ethical lines, is not a basileus at all. Although
Xerxes is by external standards the most powerful of
kings and by his external power can perform the most
unbelievable things, he is weaker than those who do
not even possess an obol, if he does not possess the
right, i.e., the Cynic character. The term “basileus”
belongs properly only to the morally perfect ruler, a
king with pronounced individual-ethical qualities, with
simple, uncomplicated social functions illustrated by
comparison to a herdsman, and by the father figure.
He is an idyllic type who belongs historically to Xeno-
phon's portrait of Cyrus.

But in his writings Dio presents a further portrait
of the king, namely the basileus as a solitary, poor,
and suffering figure. This portrait is modelled on
Diogenes, but probably originated in the works of
Antisthenes. The model for this type of basileus was
Heracles with his solitariness, nakedness, poverty,
homelessness, suffering. Yet with all this Heracles was
the son of Zeus and worthy of kingship. In Dio we
find that Diogenes plays the part of the suffering
basileus: in his humiliation, exposed to men's abuse and
ill-treatment he resembled a real king and ruler in his
garment of a poor man. The philosopher in his simple
tribon (the philosopher's cloak) must submit to suffer-
ing and ignominy. This “abuse” theme is an insep-
arable component of the Cynic type of behavior. The
Cynic is reviled for his poverty, for consorting with
bad men, for his humble origin, and for his appearance
and demeanor. We have in Dio veritable catalogues
of suffering and struggle. The philosopher must endure
hunger, thirst, cold, ill-treatment, poverty, and igno-
miny, but he does so without complaining; on the con-
trary, he considers these burdens easy to carry. The
eudaemonistic motivation of the moral struggle, the
endurance, the absence of effort and strain in this
struggle, in which, on the contrary, he engages with
ease and joy, are all typical Cynic traits. The noble
man, who is also perfect, is identical with the true king,
the basileus disguised as a slave.

The best known example of the use of the doulos-
motif is the antithesis Diogenes-Alexander the
Great. This antithesis belongs to the first half of the
third century B.C. Dio Chrysostomus describes Alex-
ander as an unfree and unhappy man full of erroneous
ideas about the true values of life. Diogenes' aim is
to teach Alexander what true kingship is. Diogenes not
only gives instruction about the true king, but he views
himself as the real king. Alexander is unfree or a slave,
whereas Diogenes is the freest of men. In order to
become a real king Alexander must exchange his royal
splendor for the philosopher's ragged cloak and first
learn to master himself before he can rule others. Still
more, he must put on the slave's garment and serve
those who are superior to himself. He must deliberately
walk the road of suffering and service and submit to
the philosopher's instruction and way of life, in order
that in this way he may avoid false kingship.

The Cynic preaching contained, among other things,
a conception of kingship of a unique character—the
solitary, poor, and suffering basileus. The Cynic
Heraclean allegory has played a decisive role in this
connection. Even Antisthenes' works on Odysseus and
Cyrus have been influenced by the same and similar
motifs. After his death Diogenes is described in the
role of the slave-king who is mocked and ridiculed,
but at last raised above all surrounding adversities.

The other side of this Cynic conception of kingship
is the purely ethical. We are concerned with a question,
popular and much discussed in the fourth century B.C.,
the question of the true king's ethical qualifications and
their indispensability as conditions for the position of
basileus. Xenophon and Plato have both given evi-
dence, each one in his own way, of the central role
which this pedagogical motif has played in the Socratic
circle. The Antisthenic-Diogenic theory of the double
paideia must be looked upon as emanating from the
same Socratic source. The stress falls on individual
ethics, the “divine” paideia. “Human” paideia, al-
though hazardous and misleading, is allowed to have
some value, but only in relation to “divine” paideia.
The pedagogical theories of Dio Chrysostomus,
brought forth in argument against the Sophists, are
directly influenced by the Socratic-Cynic pedagogy.