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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.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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

Book IV

 p381  Chapter 2
Xenocrates (396‑314 B.C.)
(Head of the Academy 339‑314 B.C.)

[link to original Greek text] Xenocrates, the son of Agathenor, was a native of Chalcedon. He was a pupil of Plato from his earliest youth; moreover he accompanied him on his journey to Sicily. He was naturally slow and clumsy. Hence Plato, comparing him to Aristotle, said, "The one needed a spur, the other a bridle." And again, "See what an ass I am training and what a horse he has to run against." However, Xenocrates was in all besides dignified and grave of demeanour, which made Plato say to him continually, "Xenocrates, sacrifice to the Graces." He spent most of his time in the Academy; and whenever he was going to betake himself to the city, it is said that all the noisy rabble and hired porters made way for him as he passed. [link to original Greek text] And that once the notorious Phryne tried to make his acquaintance and, as if she were being chased by some people, took refuge under his roof; that he admitted her out of ordinary humanity and, there being but one small couch in the room, permitted her to share it with him, and at last, after  p383 many importunities, she retired without success, telling those who inquired that he whom she quitted was not a man but a statue. Another version of the story is that his pupils induced Laïs to invade his couch; and that so great was his endurance that he many times submitted to amputation and cautery.a His words were entirely worthy of credit, so much so that, although it was illegal for witnesses to give evidence unsworn, the Athenians allowed Xenocrates alone to do so. [link to original Greek text] Furthermore, he was extremely independent; at all events, when Alexander sent him a large sum of money, he took three thousand Attic drachmas and sent back the rest to Alexander, whose needs, he said, were greater than his own, because he had a greater number of people to keep. Again, he would not accept the present sent him by Antipater, as Myronianus attests in his Parallels. And when he had been honoured at the court of Dionysius with a golden crown as the prize for his prowess in drinking at the Feast of Pitchers,b he went out and placed it on the statue of Hermes just as he had been accustomed to place there garlands of flowers. There is a story that, when he was sent, along with others also, on an embassy to Philip, his colleagues, being bribed, accepted Philip's invitations to feasts and talked with him. Xenocrates did neither the one nor the other. Indeed on this account Philip declined to see him. [link to original Greek text] Hence, when the envoys returned to Athens, they complained that Xenocrates had accompanied them without rendering any service. Thereupon the people were ready to fine him. But when he told them that now more than ever they ought to consider the interests of the state — "for," said he, "Philip knew  p385 that the others had accepted his bribes, but that he would never win me over" — then the people paid him double honours. And afterwards Philip said that, of all who had arrived at his court, Xenocrates was the only man whom he could not bribe. Moreover, when he went as envoy to Antipater to plead for Athenians taken as prisoners in the Lamian war,1 being invited to dine with Antipater, he quoted to him the following lines:2

O Circe! what righteous man would have the heart to taste meat and drink ere he had redeemed his company and beheld them face to face?

and so pleased Antipater with his ready wit that he at once released them.

[link to original Greek text] 10 When a little sparrow was pursued by a hawk and rushed into his bosom, he stroked it and let it go, declaring that a suppliant must not be betrayed. When bantered by Bion, he said he would make no reply. For neither, said he, does tragedy deign to answer the banter of comedy. To some one who had never learnt either music or geometry or astronomy, but nevertheless wished to attend his lectures, Xenocrates said, "Go your ways, for you offer philosophy nothing to lay hold of." Others report him as saying, "It is not to me that you come for the carding of a fleece."

[link to original Greek text] 11 When Dionysius told Plato that he would lose his head, Xenocrates, who was present, pointed to his own and added, "No man shall touch it till he cut off mine." They say too that, when Antipater came to Athens and greeted him, he did not address him in return until he had finished what he was saying. He was singularly free from pride; more than once  p387 a day he would retire into himself, and he assigned, it is said, a whole hour to silence.

He left a very large number of treatises, poems and addresses, of which I append a list:

On Nature, six books.

On Wisdom, six books.

On Wealth, one book.

The Arcadian, one book.

On the Indeterminate, one book.

[link to original Greek text] 12 On the Child, one book.

On Continence, one book.

On Utility, one book.

On Freedom, one book.

On Death, one book.3

On the Voluntary, one book.

On Friendship, two books.

On Equity, one book.

On that which is Contrary, two books.

On Happiness, two books.

On Writing, one book.

On Memory, one book.

On Falsehood, one book.

Callicles, one book.

On Prudence, two books.

The Householder, one book.

On Temperance, one book.

On the Influence of Law, one book.

On the State, one book.

On Holiness, one book.

That Virtue can be taught, one book.

On Being, one book.

On Fate, one book.

p389 On the Emotions, one book.

On Modes of Life, one book

On Concord, one book.

On Students, two books.

On Justice, one book.

On Virtue, two books.

On Forms, one book.

On Pleasure, two books.

On Life, one book.

On Bravery, one book.

On the One, one book.

On Ideas, one book.

[link to original Greek text] 13 On Art, one book.

On the Gods, two books.

On the Soul, two books.

On Science, one book.

The Statesman, one book.

On Cognition, one book.

On Philosophy, one book.

On the Writings of Parmenides, one book.

Archedemus or Concerning Justice, one book.

On the Good, one book.

Things relating to the Understanding, eight books.

Solution of Logical Problems, ten books.

Physical Lectures, six books.

Summary, one book.

On Genera and Species, one book.

Things Pythagorean, one book.

Solutions, two books.

Divisions, eight books.

Theses, in twenty books, 30,000 lines.

The Study of Dialectic, in fourteen books, 12,740 lines.

 p391  After this come fifteen books, and then sixteen books of studies relating to Style.

None books on Ratiocination.

Six books concerned with Mathematics.

Two other books entitled Things relating to the Intellect.

On Geometers, five books.

Commentaries, one book.

Contraries, one book.

On Numbers, one book.

Theory of Numbers, one book.

On Dimensions, one book.

On Astronomy, six books.

[link to original Greek text] 14 Elementary Principles of Monarchy, in four books, dedicated to Alexander.

To Arybas.

To Hephaestion.

On Geometry, two Books.

These works comprise in all 224,239 lines.

Such was his character, and yet, when he was unable to pay the tax levied on resident aliens, the Athenians put him up for sale. And Demetrius of Phalerum purchased him, thereby making twofold restitution, to Xenocrates of his liberty, and to the Athenians of their tax. This we learn from Myronianus of Amastris in the first book of his Chapters on Historical Parallels. He succeeded Speusippus and was head of the school for twenty-five years from the archonship of Lysimachides, beginning in the second year of the 110th Olympiad.4 He died in his 82nd year from the effects of a fall over some utensil in the night.

[link to original Greek text] 15 Upon him I have expressed myself as follows:5

 p393  Xenocrates, that type of perfect manliness, stumbled over a vessel of bronze and broke his head, and, with a loud cry, expired.

There have been six other men named Xenocrates: (1) a tactician in very ancient times; (2) the kinsman and fellow-citizen of the philosopher: a speech by him is extant entitled the Arsinoëtic, treating of a certain deceased Arsinoë;6 (4) a philosopher and not very successful writer of elegies; it is a remarkable fact that poets succeed when they undertake to write prose, but prose-writers who essay poetry come to grief; whereby it is clear that the one is a gift of nature and the other of art; (5) a sculptor; (6) a writer of songs mentioned by Aristoxenus.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 322 B.C.

2 Hom. Od. X.383‑5.

3 Supposed by Marsilius Ficinus to be the extant dialogue Axiochus attributed to Plato (cf. supra, III.62).

4 339‑338 B.C.

5 Anth. Pal. VII.102.

6 In the enumeration of the first three one has accidentally dropped out.

Thayer's Notes:

a The Loeb editor's persistent delicacy has him skimming right over the key phrase of the Greek, περὶ τὸ αἰδοῖονaround his genitals. That in turn leads him to a further inaccuracy in translation, which is, however, easy to fix; after all, there's only so many times you can amputate something:

. . . and that so great was his endurance that he often subjected his genital area to cutting and burning.

b The Dionysiac festival of the Anthesteria.

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Page updated: 1 Mar 18