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Melissus

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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Leucippus

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

Book IX

 p435  Chapter 5
Zeno of Elea

[link to original Greek text] 25 Zeno was a citizen of Elea. Apollodorus in his Chronology says that he was the son of Teleutagoras by birth, but of Parmenides by adoption, while Parmenides was the son of Pyres. Of Zeno and Melissus Timon1 speaks thus:2

Great Zeno's strength which, never known to fail,

On each side urged, on each side could prevail.

In marshalling arguments Melissus too,

Mork skilled than many a one, and matched by few.

Zeno, then, was all through a pupil of Parmenides and his bosom friend. He was tall in stature, as Plato says in his Parmenides.3 The same philosopher <mentions him> in his Sophist,4 <and Phaedrus>,5 and calls him the Eleatic Palamedes. Aristotle says that Zeno was the inventor of dialectic, as Empedocles was of rhetoric.

[link to original Greek text] 26 He was a truly noble character both as philosopher and as politician; at all events, his extant books are brimful of intellect. Again, he plotted to overthrow Nearchus the tyrant (or, according to others, Diomedon) but was arrested: so Heraclides in his epitome of Satyrus. On that occasion he was cross-examined as to his accomplices and about the arms  p437 which he was conveying to Lipara; he denounced all the tyrant's own friends, wishing to make him destitute of supporters. Then, saying that he had something to tell him about certain people in his private ear, he laid hold of it with his teeth and did not let go until stabbed to death, meeting the same fate as Aristogiton the tyrannicide.

[link to original Greek text] 27 Demetrius in his work on Men of the Same Name says that he bit off, not the ear, but the nose. According to Antisthenes in his Successions of Philosophers, after informing against the tyrant's friends, he was asked by the tyrant whether there was anyone else in the plot; whereupon he replied, "Yes, you, the curse of the city!"; and to the bystanders he said, "I marvel at your cowardice, that, for fear of any of those things which I am now enduring, you should be the tyrant's slaves." And at last he bit off his tongue and spat it to him; and his fellow citizens were so worked upon that they forthwith stoned the tyrant to death.6 In this version of the story most authors nearly agree, but Hermippus says he was cast into a mortar and beaten to death.

[link to original Greek text] 28 Of him also I have written as follows:7

You wished, Zeno, and noble was your wish, to slay the tyrant and set Elea free from bondage. But you were crushed; for, as all know, the tyrant caught you and beat you in a mortar. But what is this that I say? It was your body that he beat, and not you.

In all other respects Zeno was a gallant man; and in particular he despised the great no less than  p439 Heraclitus. For example, his native place, the Phocaean colony, once known as Hyele and afterwards as Elea, a city of moderate size, skilled in nothing but to rear brave men, he preferred before all the splendour of Athens, hardly paying the Athenians a visit, but living all his life at home.

[link to original Greek text] 29 He was the first to propound the argument of the "Achilles," which Favorinus attributes to Parmenides, and many other arguments. His views are as follows. There are worlds, but there is no empty space. The substance of all things came from hot and cold, and dry and moist, which change into one another. The generation of man proceeds from earth, and the soul is formed by a union of all the foregoing, so blended that no one element predominates.

We are told that once when he was reviled he lost his temper, and, in reply to some one who blamed him for this, he said, "If when I am abused I pretend that I am not, then neither shall I be aware of it if I am praised."8

The fact that there were eight men of the name of Zeno we have already mentioned under Zeno of Citium.9 Our philosopher flourished in the 79th Olympiad.10


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Fr. 45 D.

2 Cf. Il. XXIII.827; V.783.

3 127B.

4 p216A.

5 261D.

6 The heroic death of Zeno and his defiance of the tyrant furnished a theme for various writers; cf. Plutarch, Adv. Col. p1126D; De garrulitate, p505D; De Stoicorum repugn. p1051C, where he is ranked with Socrates, Pythagoras and Antiphon. Cf. also Clem. Alex. Strom. IV.57, citing Eratosthenes.

7 Anth. Pal. VII.129.

8 A similar answer is ascribed to Empedocles in Gnomologion Parisinum, n. 153.

9 VII.35.

10 464‑460 B.C.


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