In this Seminar we will discuss the ancient Cynics, Greek and Roman literary and philosophical works influenced by the “Cynics-discourse” and two modern receptions of Cyncism.

We will read

  • the few fragments of original Cynic writings that begin appear from the 4th century BCE (mainly Diogenes; Krates; Kerkidas)
  • samples of the rich tradition of anecdotes on Diogenes and other Cynics (most of it in Diogenes Laërtius, Book 6)
  • Hellenistic and later epigrams in which Cyncis are praised or mocked (collected in the so-called Anthologia Palatina or Anthologia Graeca)
  • texts that develop or question Cynic ideologies (Seneca, Epictetus, Lucian, Dio Chrysostomus, Julian Apostata), including my favourite dialogue by Lucian, a parody of Plato’s Symposium, in which we find a very impressive exemplar of a Cynic
  • Cynicising rhetoric, in particular the “Diatribes” of Bion and Teles and Arrian’s Epictetus
  • some satires by Horace and Juvenal
  • Tom Wolfe, A Man in Full
  • Peter Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason

You will see what you get out of this course. Please do not hesitate to indicate your interests, desires and needs and any other suggestion how I may help you to make this course a worthwhile learning experience for you. My teaching is very text-based, so, basically, we will always ask what the texts may tell us. Theory is important, in particular in this seminar, but always secondary.

My interest in the Cynics is threefold and, unavoidably, these interests will inform my teaching:

(1) The Cynics have always fascinated me because here we have a very influential philosophical movement that is paradoxical in so many ways; it seems that precisely these paradoxes are the strength of the movement.

  • A very plausible reading asserts that Cynic philosophy consists in precisely NOT being a philosophy (at least according to the ancient definitions of philosophy).
  • Cynicism professes to be a practice and not an intellectual activity; it consists in doing things, not in thinking, speaking, or writing (which explains, to some extent, the scarcity of original Cynic texts). On the other hand, what we know as Cynicism and Cynics is completely based on texts: our Cynics are mere words.
  • Already in antiquity, when real-life Cynics were still around, there was a wide range of texts about Cyncis or inspired by Cynicism. Diogenes soon became a stock figure, the subject of jokes and anecdotes; all kinds of aphorisms were ascribed to him; Cynic ideas were commonplaces of moral preaching, to be found in poetry as well as forensic or epideictic rhetoric, in fiction as well as non-fiction. How did it happen that, of all philosophical schools, these philosophers were selected as a topic for literary treatment? What caused the text-averse Cynics to be turned into texts? And what did this do to their philosophy?

(2) I’m currently working on a research project “Pragmatics of Diatribe”, asking myself what a range of texts that have been called “diatribes” have in common and whether there is any meaningful sense in which one could use the term. (Common opinion in modern scholarship is that there is no such thing as a literary genre or form “diatribe” in Greco-Roman antiquity.)

(3) I suspect that, as a worker in the intellectual sector and as a person, I’m very much of a Cynic myself, and I wish to explore and this idea and question it for its theoretical and practical consequences. I can’t think of a better partner for doing this than you, my customers and public. Reading the two modern voices on Cynicsm, both critical in different ways and on different levels, might help also.

STUDENT LEARNING GOALS:

  • Acquaintance with ancient Cynicism and some of its modern reception.
  • Introduction to methods of scholarship, in particular source criticism.
  • Develop and rethink conceptions of philosophy, literature, intellectual culture and their boundaries.
  • Develop and sharpen the ability for critical assessment of a) factual information given in primary or secondary literature; b) ethical ideas, stances, theories or ideologies, in particular by seeing the social or cultural agenda that drive them; c) one’s own intellectual and moral activity as an agent in a cultural context, in particular higher education.
  • Ability to address a question on several levels.
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