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This webpage reproduces one of the
Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

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

Book I

 p115  Chapter 10
Epimenides (c. 600 B.C.)

[link to original Greek text] 109 Epimenides, according to Theopompus and many other writers, was the son of Phaestius; some, however, make him the son of Dosiadas, others of Agesarchus. He was a native of Cnossos in Crete, though from wearing his hair long he did not look like a Cretan. One day he was sent into the country by his father to look for a stray sheep, and at noon he turned out of the way, and went to sleep in a cave, where he slept for fifty-seven years. After this he got up and went in search of the sheep, thinking he had been asleep only a short time. And when he could not find it, he came to the farm, and found everything changed and another owner in possession. Then he went back to the town in utter perplexity; and there, on entering his own home, he fell in with people who wanted to know who he was. At length he found his younger brother, now an old man, and learnt the truth from him. [link to original Greek text] 110 So he became famous throughout Greece, and was believed to be a special favourite of heaven

Hence, when the Athenians were attacked by pestilence, and the Pythian priestess bade them purify the city, they sent a ship commanded by Nicias, son of Niceratus, to Crete to ask the help of Epimenides. And he came in the 46th Olympiad,1 purified their city, and stopped the pestilence in the following way. He took sheep, some black and others white, and brought them to the Areopagus; and there he let them go whither they pleased, instructing those who followed them to mark the spot where each sheep lay down and offer a sacrifice to the local divinity. And thus, it is said, the plague was stayed. Hence even to this day altars may be  p117 found in different parts of Athens with no name inscribed upon them, which are memorials of this atonement. According to some writers he declared the plague to have been caused by the pollution which Cylon brought on the citya and showed them how to remove it. In consequence two young men, Cratinus and Ctesibius, were put to death and the city was delivered from the scourge.

[link to original Greek text] 111 The Athenians voted him a talent in money and a ship to convey him back to Crete. The money he declined, but he concluded a treaty of friendship and alliance between Cnossos and Athens.

So he returned home and soon afterwards died. According to Phlegon in his work On Longevity he lived one hundred and fifty-seven years; according to the Cretans two hundred and ninety-nine years. Xenophanes of Colophon gives his age as 154, according to hearsay.

He wrote a poem On the Birth of the Curetes and Corybantes and a Theogony,2 5000 lines in all; another on the building of the Argo and Jason's voyage to Colchis in 6500 lines. [link to original Greek text] 112 He also compiled prose works On Sacrifices and the Cretan Constitution, also On Minos and Rhadamanthus, running to about 4000 lines. At Athens again he founded the temple of the Eumenides, as Lobon of Argos tells us in his work On Poets. He is stated to have been the first who purified houses and fields, and the first who founded temples. Some are found to maintain that he did not go to sleep but withdrew himself3 for a while, engaged in gathering simples.

 p119  There is extant a letter of his to Solon the lawgiver, containing a scheme of government which Minos drew up for the Cretans. But Demetrius of Magnesia, in his work on poets and writers of the same name, endeavours to discredit the letter on the ground that it is late and not written in the Cretan dialect but in Attic, and New Attic too. However, I have found another letter by him which runs as follows:

Epimenides to Solon

[link to original Greek text] 113 "Courage, my friend. For if Pisistratus had attacked the Athenians while they were still serfs and before they had good laws, he would have secured power in perpetuity by the enslavement of the citizens. But, as it is, he is reducing to subjection men who are no cowards, men who with pain and shame remember Solon's warning and will never endure to be under a tyrant. But even should Pisistratus himself hold down the city, I do not expect that his power will be continued to his children; for it is hard to contrive that men brought up as free men under the best laws should be slaves. But, instead of going on your travels, come quietly to Crete to me; for here you will have no monarch to fear, whereas, if some of his friends should fall in with you while you are travelling about, I fear you may come to some harm."

[link to original Greek text] 114 This is the tenor of the letter. But Demetrius reports a story that he received from the Nymphs food of a special sort and kept it in a cow's hoof; that he took small doses of this food, which was entirely absorbed into his system, and he was never seen to eat. Timaeus mentions him in his second book. Some writers say that the Cretans sacrifice to him  p121 as a god; for they say that he had superhuman foresight. For instance, when he saw Munichia,b at Athens, he said the Athenians did not know how many evils that place would bring upon them; for, if they did, they would destroy it even if they had to do so with their teeth. And this he said so long before the event. It is also stated that he was the first to call himself Aeacus; that he foretold to the Lacedaemonians their defeat by the Arcadians; and that he claimed that his soul had passed through many incarnations.

[link to original Greek text] 115 Theopompus relates in his Mirabilia that, as he was building a temple to the Nymphs, a voice came from heaven: "Epimenides, not a temple to the Nymphs but to Zeus," and that he foretold to the Cretans the defeat of the Lacedaemonians by the Arcadians, as already stated; and in very truth they were crushed at Orchomenus.

And he became old in as many days as he had slept years; for this too is stated by Theopompus. Myronianus in his Parallels declares that the Cretans called him one of the Curetes. The Lacedaemonians guard his body in their own keeping in obedience to a certain oracle; this is stated by Sosibius the Laconian.

There have been two other men named Epimenides, namely, the genealogist and another who wrote in Doric Greek about Rhodes.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 595‑592 B.C.

2 These long poems may have been written by Lobon himself on the Hesiodic model; or Lobon may merely have affirmed their existence in his treatise On Poets.

3 This is the meaning of ἐκπατεῖν in three other passages, IV.19, IX.363, in the last of which it is glossed by ἐρημάζειν, as if the sage were a recluse, a lover of solitude.

Thayer's Notes:

a Plut. Solon 12, which includes additional tales about Epimenides.

b More often Munychia: a hill dominating Athens' port of Piraeus, recurring frequently in Athenian history and notably for the battle fought there in 403 B.C., in which the Thirty Tyrants were defeated by democratic forces, Diodorus, XIV.33; Xenophon, Hell. II.4.11 ff.

For the religious festival local to this hill, see the article Munychia in Smith's Dictionary.

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Page updated: 15 Feb 18