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Diogenes Seeking an Honest Man

Diogenes of Sinope, the most famous of the Cynic philosophers, lived in Athens during the fourth century BC. Several proverbial episodes of his life served to illustrate his break with the customs and prejudices of his society. In one such legend, he takes a lamp out into the broad daylight to search the marketplace of Athens for a “true” man. Despite the crowd, Diogenes observed, “I see not one, for there is no reason in our hearts. You may be men in name, but your brutish lives betray you as animals in reality.”

In a playful twist on the narrative, Castiglione shows the people of Athens not as humans, but as Diogenese described them—as a monkey, an owl, and a tortoise. The foreground skull of an elephant (associated with the Cyclops) may also relate to the idea of “seeing.” Images of Diogenes were particularly popular during the seventeenth century, when the pagan philosopher’s ideas of poverty and simplicity were used to reinforce contemporary Christian virtues.

Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione
Italian, 1609–1664
Diogenes Seeking an Honest Man
1645–47
Etching on paper
Image/plate: 9 9/16 x 11 7/8 in. (24.3 x w. 30.2 cm); sheet: 11 13/16 x 15 3/16 in. (27.9 x 38.6 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Collection of Diether Thimme, 98.253