Crates

Crates was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Thebes in 365 BC. He came to Athens and became a follower of Diogenes of Sinope, who was a Cynic. He embraced the Cynic’s philosophy and way of life, living a life of hardship. He acquired the nickname “The Door Opener” because he would be accepted into people’s houses and would advise them on how to get along with one another. He is famous for having married a woman who embraced his way of life. Both his wife and himself had given up their personal possessions to live the life of a Cynic. Crates believed that through philosophy, one is able to do without the things other people think are important. Crates would become the teacher of Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoic philosophy.

Crates was inspired by Diogenes of Sinope, who lived in a tub in the marketplace of Athens. As a Cynic, Diogenes believed that the ultimate goal of live was to live virtuously, and that this was done by living a natural way of life. For this reason, the Cynics rejected social customs and laws (nomos). Crates embraced this way of life as his own, and gave away all his money. He is said to have given it to a banker, and requested that the money be given to his sons in the event that they didn’t become philosophers, since as philosophers they wouldn’t need it. Like Socrates, he was also not concerned with pain or pleasure. He went so far as to intentionally wear summer clothes in the winter, and heavy winter robes in the summer. Like his teacher Diogenes, he embraced the Cynic’s belief in shamelessness, that whatever could be done in private was acceptable to do in public.

Unlike other Cynics, Crates married a woman, Hipparchia. Their marriage was unique in ancient Greece, for it was based on equality and mutual respect. Hipparchia had many suitors, but she went against social conventions and chose Crates, who was 20 years older than she. He is said to have removed his clothes and said “This is your bridegroom. These are his possessions. Plan accordingly!” She also gave away all her money in order to become a cynic. When confronted by a male philosopher, she replied “Do I appear to you to have come to a wrong decision, if I devote that time to philosophy, which I otherwise should have spent at the loom?” The couple embraced the Cynic’s belief in shamelessness by having sex in public. Crates introduced his son to sex by taking him to a brothel.

Crates was asked what are the benefits of studying philosophy. He replied that as a philosopher, “You will be able to open your wallet easily and with your hand scoop out and dispense lavishly instead of, as you do now, squirming and hesitating and trembling like those with paralyzed hands.” For Crates, philosophy allowed one to be content with whatever they had or didn’t have. He opposed luxury, recommending people only eat lentils. He said that most people’s mind are wrapped in a fog, which inhibits them from seeing the world as it really is. He would parody the poetry others took seriously. Along with the other Cynics, Crates stands in contrast to the hedonistic Cyrenaics. His lack of concern for pleasure or pain, as well as his view of women, were embraced by his student Zeno of Citium, who developed his own school of philosophy known as Stoicism.