Dogs' Tales: Representations of Ancient Cynicism in French Renaissance Texts

Dogs' Tales: Representations of Ancient Cynicism in French Renaissance Texts

Dogs' Tales: Representations of Ancient Cynicism in French Renaissance Texts

Dogs' Tales: Representations of Ancient Cynicism in French Renaissance Texts

Synopsis

"Sleeping rough, having sex in public and insulting the most powerful men in the world earned the ancient Cynic or 'dog' philosophers fame and infamy in antiquity and beyond. This book reveals that French Renaissance texts features a rich and varied set of responses to the Dogs, including especially Diogenes of Sinope (4th century B. C.), whose life was a subversive performance combining wisdom and wisecracks."

Excerpt

Chaque siècle, et le nôtre surtout, auraient besoin d’un Diogène; mais la
difficulté est de trouver des hommes qui aient le courage de l’être, et des
hommes qui aient le courage de le souffrir.

D’Alembert, Essai sur la société des gens de lettres (1759)

In Paris on Mardi Gras 1606, the celebrated lawyer Julien Peleus pleaded in favour of Nicolas Joubert, known as Angoulevent, who was Prince of Fools of Louis xiii. Angoulevent stood accused of not having performed his duty of a triumphal entry into Paris. in defence of the Prince of Fools, Peleus maintained that his client was wholly worthy of his principality, because he never studied anything other than “la philosophie cynique”, which is why he was only knowledgeable about “bas souhaits”. in this book, I show how Cynicism, uniquely of all ancient philosophies, became associated with sex, folly and carnival by the time of Peleus’s successful plea. the Cynic philosophy which Peleus mentions is far removed from the modern meanings of ‘cynicism’ or ‘cynisme’, even if the French term still has connotations of ‘impudence’. It refers instead to a long and varied tradition of sayings and stories surrounding the ancient Cynic philosophers of whom Diogenes of Sinope, of the fourth century bc, is the archetypal representative. Diogenes achieved fame and infamy through a range of eccentric antics, including his making his home out of a large wine-jar, popularly taken to be a barrel, his instructing the most powerful man in the world, Alexander the Great, to get out of the way of the sun and his masturbating openly in the market-place while cracking a joke (“I wish it were as easy to satisfy my hunger by rubbing my belly”).

Julien Peleus, Les Plaidoyez (Paris: F. Huby, 1614), fol. 35 ; cited by Maurice
Lever, Le Sceptre et la marotte: histoire des fous de cour (Paris: Fayard, 1983),
p. 284.

dl, 6.20-81

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