Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What is Diogenes Syndrome?

My psychiatry attending has mentioned "Diogenes Syndrome" several times in the past two days. As the linked article states, it is a self-neglect syndrome in which elderly people who were previously high-functioning and who have no other medical issues cease to take proper care of themselves. Curious, I looked up this Diogenes fellow. Per Wikipedia, he was an "interesting" guy:
Many anecdotes of Diogenes refer to his doglike behavior, and his praise of a dog's virtues. It is not known whether Diogenes was insulted with the epithet "doggish" and made a virtue of it, or whether he first took up the dog theme himself. The modern terms cynic and cynical derive from the Greek word kynikos, the adjective form of kyon, meaning dog [4]. Diogenes believed human beings live artificially and hypocritically and would do well to study the dog. Besides performing natural bodily functions in public without unease, a dog will eat anything, and make no fuss about where to sleep. Dogs live in the present without anxiety, and have no use for the pretensions of abstract philosophy. In addition to these virtues, dogs are thought to know instinctively who is friend and who is foe. Unlike human beings who either dupe others or are duped, dogs will give an honest bark at the truth.

The most well-known anecdotes about Diogenes relate to his ascetic / dog-like behavior:
The stories told of Diogenes illustrate the logical consistency of his character. He inured himself to the vicissitudes of weather by living in a tub belonging to the temple of Cybele.[16] He destroyed the single wooden bowl he possessed on seeing a peasant boy drink from the hollow of his hands.[17] He once masturbated in the Agora; when rebuked for doing so, he replied, "If only it was as easy to soothe my hunger by rubbing my belly."[6] He used to stroll about in full daylight with a lamp; when asked what he was doing, he would answer, "I am just looking for an honest man."[18] Diogenes looked for an honest man and reputedly found nothing but rascals and scoundrels.

Umm... and you thought the other shoppers at your mall were bad. At least you weren't standing in the checkout line next to an antsy Diogenes at the agora...

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