Where does the word “cynic” come from and What does cynic mean?

Among the students of Socrates was one named Antisthenes, a man who, as time went on, never abandoned the teachings of his master, but, rather, extended them and applied them to a philosophy of his own devising.

But because his mother was not an Athenian by birth, Antisthenes was obliged to meet his own students in a gymnasium outside the city of Athens, known as the Cynosarges.

He was not popular; he never had many pupils, although the celebrated Diogenes remained steadfast among them. Furthermore, the philosophy which he taught required too great an asceticism to be pleasing.

It required a contempt for sensual or intellectual pleasure, holding that virtue was the ultimate goal in life. Ultimately, therefore, his followers became noted for insolent self-righteousness.

It may be that originally the followers of Antisthenes were called Cynics through some reference to the gymnasium at which he taught, but the name early became associated with the habits that became outstanding characteristics of his disciples.

These were a dog-like insolence, a dog-like disregard of social customs, a dog-like use of tubs or kennels for sleeping, and a currish insistence upon one’s own opinion.

It may have been a coincidence that the Greek word for “dog-like” is cynikos.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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