Crates of Thebes (c. 368 – 288 B.C.E.), a Hellenistic philosopher, was one of the Cynics and the teacher of Zeno of Citium. Crates was a student of Diogenes of Sinope. He gave up his wealth to live an ascetic life in pursuit of virtue. His habit of entering houses, uninvited, to give advice, earned him the nickname "Door-opener."
He married Hipparchia, daughter of a wealthy Thracian family, who was said to have wholeheartedly taken up the Cynic lifestyle with Crates. The great importance of Crates' work is that he formed the link between Cynicism and the Stoics, Zeno of Citium being his pupil.
Crates was a Boeotian, from Thebes, and was born around 368 B.C.E. The knowledge of his life comes from his biography in Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of Eminent Philosophers and from references to him made by other philosophers in their writings. Much of the information is anecdotal, and may have been exaggerated to illustrate the Cynic point of view. Crates studied under Diogenes of Sinope. He was originally a man of wealth and there are several accounts of how he became reduced to poverty; one that he lost his fortune due to the Macedonian invasion led by Alexander the Great, another that he sold everything and threw the money into a river, or that he distributed it to the poor. The most interesting story is that he entrusted all his wealth to a banker, instructing him to give it to his sons if they turned out to be ordinary people of ignorance, and to the poor if they turned out to be philosophers, because a philosopher already had all he needed.
Crates followed the tradition of Antisthenes and Zeno of Sinope, challenging established thought and openly flaunting the social and cultural customs of the time. He taught in the streets and confronted people in their homes to make some point about virtue or self-sufficiency. He appears to have been very influential among the philosophers of his day, attending symposiums, conducting discourses, and giving speeches. He is credited with being the first teacher of Zeno of Citium, who is considered the founder of the Stoic school. According to Diogenes Laertius, Zeno asked a bookseller where he could find a man like those who had written some philosophical treatises which had inspired him. At that moment Crates happened to be passing by, and the bookseller pointed him out and told Zeno to follow him.
Crates died around 288 B.C.E. at the age of 80.
The marriage between Crates and Hipparchia, the first-known woman Cynic, is legendary. Antisthenes and Diogenes of Sinope had both said that a philosopher should not marry. Hipparchia’s family was from Maroneia in Thrace. Her brother, Metrocles, was a devoted disciple of Crates. Hipparchia herself became a dedicated Cynic, and fell in love with Crates, who was 20 years older than her. She rejected all her younger suitors and told her parents that she would commit suicide if she were not allowed to marry Crates. Diogenes Laertius relates that her parents called Crates to their home and asked him to discourage Hipparchia from marrying him, but she was insistent. Finally, he removed his clothes and said, "This is the bridegroom whom you are choosing, and this is the whole of his property; consider these facts, for it will not be possible for you to become his partner, if you do not also apply yourself to the same studies, and conform to the same habits that he does" (Diogenes Laertius, Life of Hipparchia, II).
Hipparchia married Crates and assumed his lifestyle. She wore the same type of clothing and went everywhere with him, in opposition to the tradition of keeping women sequestered in the home. On one occasion, in a confrontation with Theodorus, she asked, “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?" She bore several children, and the Cynic Letters (probably written several hundred years later but attributed to various Cynics) mention that she gave birth easily because she “worked like an athlete,” and that she used cold water to bathe her babies.
According to Diogenes Laertius, Crates was the author of a number of letters on philosophical subjects; but those extant under the name of Crates are spurious, the work of later rhetoricians. Diogenes Laertius credits him with a short poem and several philosophic tragedies. Crates’ thought is mostly understood through his way of life and the stories related about him. Socrates emphasized disregard for pain or pleasure; Crates took this to extremes by deliberately subjecting himself to a life of hardship. The Cynic precept that virtue is the only good meant that nothing had value that did not contribute to the attainment of virtue. Philemon, the comic poet, said about Crates that he wore a hot shaggy gown in the summer and mere rags in the winter, to inure himself to hardship. Crates placed great emphasis on self-sufficiency, and often said that a philosopher is wealthy because he does not need what he does not have. He sought to live in accordance with nature, in the most basic way.
Crates also practiced anaidei (shamelessness), the idea that anything which is virtuous enough to be done in privacy can be done in public. He was known for challenging his acquaintances’ modesty with comments or gestures. He used rhetoric and discourse to expose the weaknesses of popular beliefs, but had no use for theories that had no practical proof or application.
The marriage of Hipparchia and Crates was also an expression of their Cynic principles. They appear to have profoundly influenced Zeno of Citium, who included, in his description of an ideal state, equality for men and women, public exercise together in public, and shameless love.
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