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Periander

This webpage reproduces one of the
Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

by
Diogenes Laërtius

published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1925

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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Myson

(Vol. I) Diogenes Laërtius
Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

Book I

 p105  Chapter 8
Anacharsis

[link to original Greek text] 101 Anacharsis the Scythian was the son of Gnurus and brother of Caduidas, king of Scythia. His mother was a Greek, and for that reason he spoke both languages. He wrote on the institutions of the Greeks and the Scythians, dealing with simplicity of life and military matters, a poem of 800 lines. So outspoken was he that he furnished occasion for a proverb, "To talk like a Scythian."

Sosicrates makes him come to Athens about the 47th Olympiad1 in the archonship of Eucrates. Hermippus relates that on his arrival at the house of Solon he told one of the servants to announce that Anacharsis had come and was desirous of seeing him and, if possible, of becoming his guest. [link to original Greek text] 102 The  p107 servant delivered his message and was ordered by Solon to tell him that men as a rule choose their guests from among their own countrymen. Then Anacharsis took him up and said that he was now in his own country and had a right to be entertained as a guest. And Solon, struck with his ready wit, admitted him into his house and made him his greatest friend.

After a while Anacharsis returned to Scythia, where, owing to his enthusiasm for everything Greek, he was supposed to be subverting the national institutions, and was killed by his brother while they were out hunting together. When struck by the arrow he exclaimed, "My reputation carried me safe through Greece, but the envy it excited at home has been my ruin." In some accounts it is said that he was slain while performing Greek rites.a

Here is my own epitaph upon him:2

[link to original Greek text] 103 Back from his travels Anacharsis came,

To hellenize the Scythians all aglow;

Ere half his sermon could their minds inflame,

A wingèd arrow laid the preacher low.

It was a saying of his that the vine bore three kinds of grapes: the first of pleasure, the next of intoxication, and the third of disgust. He said he wondered why in Greece experts contest in the game and non‑experts award the prizes. Being asked how one could avoid becoming a toper, he answered, "By keeping before your eyes the disgraceful exhibition made by the drunkard." Again, he expressed surprise that the Greek lawgivers should impose penalties on wanton outrage, while they honour athletes for bruising one another. After  p109 ascertaining that the ship's side was four fingers' breadth in thickness, he remarked that the passengers were just so far from death.

[link to original Greek text] 104 Oil he called a drug which produced madness, because the athletes when they anoint themselves with it are maddened against each other. How is it, he asked, that the Greeks prohibit falsehood and yet obviously tell falsehoods in retail trade? Nor could he understand why at the beginning of their feasts they drink from small goblets and when they are "full" from large ones. The inscription on his statues is: "Bridle speech, gluttony, and sensuality." Being asked if there were flutes in Scythia, he replied, "No, nor yet vines." To the question what vessels were the safest his reply was, "Those which have been hauled ashore." And he declared the strangest thing he had seen in Greece to be that they leave the smoke on the mountains and convey the fuel into the city.3 When some one inquired which were more in number, the living or the dead, he rejoined, "In which category, then, do you place those who are on the seas?" When some Athenian reproached him with being a Scythian, he replied, "Well, granted that my country is a disgrace to me, you are a disgrace to your country." [link to original Greek text] 105 To the question, "What among men is both good and bad?" his answer was "The tongue." He said it was better to have one friend of great worth than many friends worth nothing at all. He defined the market as a place set apart where men may deceive and overreach one another. When insulted by a boy over the wine he said, "If you cannot carry your liquor when you are young, boy, you will be a water carrier when you are old."

 p111  According to some he was the inventor of the anchor and the potter's wheel.

To him is attributed the following letter:

Anacharsis to Croesus

"I have come, O King of the Lydians, to the land of the Greeks to be instructed in their manners and pursuits. And I am not even in quest of gold, but am well content to return to Scythia a better man. At all events here I am in Sardis, being greatly desirous of making your acquaintance."


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 591‑588 B.C.

2 Anth. Pal. VII.92.

3 i.e. in the form of charcoal. Cf. A. S. Ferguson in Class. Rev. vol. XXXI p97.


Thayer's Note:

a See for example the detailed account given by Herodotus, IV.76.


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Page updated: 9 May 18