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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

 p3  Prologue

[link to original Greek text] There are some who say that the study of philosophy had its beginning among the barbarians. They urge that the Persians have had their Magi, the Babylonians or Assyrians their Chaldaeans, and the Indians their Gymnosophists; and among the Celts and Gauls there are the people called Druids or Holy Ones, for which they cite as authorities the Magicus of Aristotle and Sotion in the twenty-third1 book of his Succession of Philosophers. Also they say that Mochus was a Phoenician, Zamolxis a Thracian, and Atlas a Libyan.

If we may believe the Egyptians, Hephaestus was the son of the Nile, and with him philosophy began, priests and prophets being its chief exponents. [link to original Greek text] Hephaestus lived 48,863 years before Alexander of Macedon, and in the interval there occurred 373 solar and 832 lunar eclipses.​a

 p5  The date of the Magians, beginning with Zoroaster the Persian, was 5000 years before the fall of Troy, as given by Hermodorus the Platonist in his work on mathematics; but Xanthus the Lydian reckons 6000 years from Zoroaster to the expedition of Xerxes, and after that event he places a long line of Magians in succession, bearing the names of Ostanas, Astrampsychos, Gobryas, and Pazatas, down to the conquest of Persia by Alexander.

[link to original Greek text] These authors forget that the achievements which they attribute to the barbarians belong to the Greeks, with whom not merely philosophy but the human race itself began. For instance, Musaeus is claimed by Athens, Linus by Thebes. It is said that the former, the son of Eumolpus, was the first to compose a genealogy of the gods and to construct a sphere, and that he maintained that all things proceed from unity and are resolved again into unity. He died at Phalerum, and this is his epitaph:2

Musaeus, to his sire Eumolpus dear,

In Phalerean soil lies buried here;

and the Eumolpidae at Athens get their name from the father of Musaeus.

[link to original Greek text] Linus again was (so it is said) the son of Hermes and the Muse Urania. He composed a poem describing the creation of the world, the courses of the sun and moon, and the growth of animals and plants. His poem begins with the line:

Time was when all things grew up at once;

and this idea was borrowed by Anaxagoras when he  p7 declared that all things were originally together until Mind came and set them in order. Linus died in Euboea, slain by the arrow of Apollo, and this is his epitaph:3

Here Theban Linus, whom Urania bore,

The fair-crowned Muse, sleeps on a foreign shore.

And thus it was from the Greeks that philosophy took its rise: its very name refuses to be translated into foreign speech.

[link to original Greek text] But those who attribute its invention to barbarians bring forward Orpheus the Thracian, calling him a philosopher of whose antiquity there can be no doubt. Now, considering the sort of things he said about the gods, I hardly know whether he ought to be called a philosopher; for what are we to make of one who does not scruple to charge the gods with all human suffering, and even the foul crimes wrought by the tongue amongst a few of mankind? The story goes that he met his death at the hands of women; but according to the epitaph at Dium in Macedonia he was slain by a thunderbolt; it runs as follows:4

Here have the Muses laid their minstrel true,

The Thracian Orpheus whom Jove's thunder slew.

[link to original Greek text] But the advocates of the theory that philosophy took its rise among the barbarians go on to explain the different forms it assumed in different countries. As to the Gymnosophists and Druids we are told that they uttered their philosophy in riddles, bidding men to reverence the gods, to abstain from wrong-doing, and to practise courage. That the Gymnosophists  p9 at all events despise even death itself is affirmed by Clitarchus in his twelfth book; he also says that the Chaldaeans apply themselves to astronomy and forecasting the future; while the Magi spend their time in the worship of the gods, in sacrifices and in prayers, implying that none but themselves have the ear of the gods. They propound their views concerning the being and origin of the gods, whom they hold to be fire, earth, and water; they condemn the use of images, and especially the error of attributing to the divinities difference of sex. [link to original Greek text] They hold discourse of justice, and deem it impious to practise cremation; but they see no impiety in marriage with a mother or daughter, as Sotion relates in his twenty-third book. Further, they practise divination and forecast the future, declaring that the gods appear to them in visible form. Moreover, they say that the air is full of shapes which stream forth like vapour and enter the eyes of keen-sighted seers. They prohibit personal ornament and the wearing of gold. Their dress is white, they make their bed on the ground, and their food is vegetables, cheese,​5 and coarse bread; their staff is a reed and their custom is, so we are told, to stick it into the cheese and take up with it the part they eat.

[link to original Greek text] With the art of magic they were wholly unacquainted, according to Aristotle in his Magicus and Dinon in the fifth book of his History. Dinon tells us that the name Zoroaster, literally interpreted, means "star-worshipper";​6 and Hermodorus agrees  p11 with him in this. Aristotle in the first book of his dialogue On Philosophy declares that the Magi are more ancient than the Egyptians; and further, that they believe in two principles, the good spirit and the evil spirit, the one called Zeus or Oromasdes, the other Hades or Arimanius. This is confirmed by Hermippus in his first book about the Magi, Eudoxus in his Voyage round the World, and Theopompus in the eighth book of his Philippica. [link to original Greek text] The last-named author says that according to the Magi men will live in a future life and be immortal, and that the world will endure through their invocations.​7 This is again confirmed by Eudemus of Rhodes. But Hecataeus relates that according to them the gods are subject to birth. Clearchus of Soli in his tract On Education further makes the Gymnosophists to be descended from the Magi; and some trace the Jews also to the same origin. Furthermore, those who have written about the Magi criticize Herodotus. They urge that Xerxes would never have cast javelins at the sun nor have let down fetters into the sea, since in the creed of the Magi sun and sea are gods. But that statues of the gods should be destroyed by Xerxes was natural enough.

[link to original Greek text] 10 The philosophy of the Egyptians is described as follows so far as relates to the gods and to justice. They say that matter was the first principle, next the four elements were derived from matter, and thus living things of every species were produced.  p13 The sun and the moon are gods bearing the names of Osiris and Isis respectively; they make use of the beetle, the dragon, the hawk, and other creatures as symbols of divinity, according to Manetho in his Epitome of Physical Doctrines,​b and Hecataeus in the first book of his work On the Egyptian Philosophy. They also set up statues and temples to these sacred animals because they do not know the true form of the deity. [link to original Greek text] 11 They hold that the universe is created and perishable, and that it is spherical in shape. They say that the stars consist of fire, and that, according as the fire in them is mixed, so events happen upon earth; that the moon is eclipsed when it falls into the earth's shadow; that the soul survives death and passes into other bodies; that rain is caused by change in the atmosphere; of all other phenomena they give physical explanations, as related by Hecataeus and Aristagoras. They also laid down laws on the subject of justice, which they ascribed to Hermes; and they deified those animals which are serviceable to man. They also claimed to have invented geometry, astronomy, and arithmetic. Thus much concerning the invention of philosophy.

[link to original Greek text] 12 But the first to use the term, and to call himself a philosopher or lover of wisdom, was Pythagoras;​8 for, said he, no man is wise, but God alone. Heraclides of Pontus, in his De mortua,​c makes him say this at Sicyon in conversation with Leon, who was the prince of that city or of Phlius. All too quickly the study was called wisdom and its professor a sage, to denote his attainment of mental perfection; while the student who took it up was a philosopher or lover of wisdom. Sophists was another name for  p15 the wise men, and not only for philosophers but for the poets also. And so Cratinus when praising Homer and Hesiod in his Archilochi gives them the title of sophist.

[link to original Greek text] 13 The men who were commonly regarded as sages were the following: Thales, Solon, Periander, Cleobulus, Chilon, Bias, Pittacus. To these are added Anacharsis the Scythian, Pherecydes of Syros, Epimenides the Cretan; and by some even Pisistratus the tyrant. So much for the sages or wise men.9

But philosophy, the pursuit of wisdom, has had a twofold origin; it started with Anaximander on the one hand, with Pythagoras on the other. The former was a pupil of Thales, Pythagoras was taught by Pherecydes. The one school was called Ionian, because Thales, a Milesian and therefore an Ionian, instructed Anaximander; the other school was called Italian from Pythagoras, who worked for the most part in Italy. [link to original Greek text] 14 And the one school, that of Ionia, terminates with Clitomachus and Chrysippus and Theophrastus, that of Italy with Epicurus. The succession passes from Thales through Anaximander, Anaximenes, Anaxagoras, Archelaus, to Socrates, who introduced ethics or moral philosophy; from Socrates to his pupils the Socratics, and especially to Plato, the founder of the Old Academy; from Plato, through Speusippus and Xenocrates, the succession passes to Polemo, Crantor, and Crates, Arcesilaus, founder of the Middle Academy, Lacydes,10  p17 founder of the New Academy, Carneades, and Clitomachus. This line brings us to Clitomachus.

[link to original Greek text] 15 There is another which ends with Chrysippus, that is to say by passing from Socrates to Antisthenes, then to Diogenes the Cynic, Crates of Thebes, Zeno of Citium, Cleanthes, Chrysippus. And yet again another ends with Theophrastus; thus from Plato it passes to Aristotle, and from Aristotle to Theophrastus. In this manner the school of Ionia comes to an end.

In the Italian school the order of succession is as follows: first Pherecydes, next Pythagoras, next his son Telauges, then Xenophanes, Parmenides,​11 Zeno of Elea, Leucippus, Democritus, who had many pupils, in particular Nausiphanes [and Naucydes], who were teachers of Epicurus.

[link to original Greek text] 16 Philosophers may be divided into dogmatists and sceptics: all those who make assertions about things assuming that they can be known are dogmatists; while all who suspend their judgement on the ground that things are unknowable are sceptics. Again, some philosophers left writings behind them, while others wrote nothing at all, as was the case according to some authorities with Socrates, Stilpo, Philippus, Menedemus, Pyrrho, Theodorus, Carneades, Bryson; some add Pythagoras and Aristo of Chios, except that they wrote a few letters. Others wrote no more than one treatise each, as Melissus, Parmenides, Anaxagoras. Many works were written by Zeno, more by Xenophanes, more by Democritus, more by Aristotle, more by Epicurus, and still more by Chrysippus.

 p19  [link to original Greek text] 17 Some schools took their name from cities, as the Elians and the Megarians, the Eretrians and the Cyrenaics; others from localities, as the Academics and the Stoics; others from incidental circumstances, as the Peripatetics; others again from derisive nicknames, as the Cynics; others from their temperaments, as the Eudaemonists or Happiness School; others from a conceit they entertained, as Truth-lovers, Refutationists, and Reasoners from Analogy; others again from their teachers, as Socratics, Epicureans, and the like; some take the name of Physicists from their investigation of nature, others that of Moralists because they discuss morals; while those who are occupied with verbal jugglery are styled Dialecticians.

[link to original Greek text] 18 Philosophy has three parts, physics, ethics, and dialectic or logic. Physics is the part concerned with the universe and all that it contains; ethics that concerned with life and all that has to do with us; while the processes of reasoning employed by both form the province of dialectic. Physics flourished down to the time of Archelaus; ethics, as we have seen, started with Socrates; while dialectic goes as far back as Zeno of Elea. In ethics there have been ten schools: the Academic, the Cyrenaic, the Elian, the Megarian, the Cynic, the Eretrian, the Dialectic, the Peripatetic, the Stoic, and the Epicurean.

[link to original Greek text] 19 The founders of these schools were: of the Old Academy, Plato; of the Middle Academy, Arcesilaus; of the New Academy, Lacydes; of the Cyrenaic, Aristippus of Cyrene; of the Elian, Phaedo of Elis; of the Megarian, Euclides of Megara; of the Cynic, Antisthenes of Athens; of the Eretrian, Menedemus  p21 of Eretria; of the Dialectical school, Clitomachus of Carthage; of the Peripatetic, Aristotle of Stagira; of the Stoic, Zeno of Citium; while the Epicurean school took its name from Epicurus himself.

Hippobotus in his work On Philosophical Sects declares that there are nine sects or schools, and gives them in this order: (1) Megarian, (2) Eretrian, (3) Cyrenaic, (4) Epicurean, (5) Annicerean,​12 (6) Theodorean, (7) Zenonian or Stoic, (8) Old Academic, (9) Peripatetic. [link to original Greek text] 20 He passes over the Cynic, Elian, and Dialectical schools; for as to the Pyrrhonians, so indefinite are their conclusions that hardly any authorities allow them to be a sect; some allow their claim in certain respects, but not in others. It would seem, however, that they are a sect, for we use the term of those who in their attitude to appearance follow or seem to follow some principle; and on this ground we should be justified in calling the Sceptics a sect. But if we are to understand by "sect" a bias in favour of coherent positive doctrines, they could no longer be called a sect,​13 for they have no positive doctrines. So much for the beginnings of philosophy, its subsequent developments, its various parts, and the number of the philosophic sects.

[link to original Greek text] 21 One word more: not long ago an Eclectic school was introduced by Potamo of Alexandria,​14 who  p23 made a selection from the tenets of all the existing sects. As he himself states in his Elements of Philosophy, he takes a criteria of truth (1) that by which the judgement is formed, namely, the ruling principle of the soul; (2) the instrument used, for instance the most accurate perception. His universal principles are matter and the efficient cause, quality, and place; for that out of which and that by which a thing is made, as well as the quality with which and the place in which it is made, are principles. The end to which he refers all actions is life made perfect in all virtue, natural advantages of body and environment being indispensable to its attainment.

It remains to speak of the philosophers themselves, and in the first place of Thales.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 The alteration of the numeral from 23 to 13 is supported by what little we know of Sotion's work: see Introduction, p. xxiv. It was from a similar source that Clement of Alexandria must have taken what we find in Strom. I.71 concerning Chaldaeans, Druids, Magians, Gymnosophists, and other barbarian philosophers.

2 Anth. Pal. VII.615.

3 Anth. Pal. VII.616.

4 Anth. Plan. II.99.

5 Compare Pliny, N. H. XI.242:º Zoroaster lived in the wilderness on cheese (cf. Yasht, XXII.18 "Spring butter is the ambrosia of the blessed"). For fuller comments on §§ 7‑9 see J. H. Moulton's Early Zoroastrianism, pp410‑418.

6 This popular etymology, though wide-spread, is erroneous, the true form of the prophet's name being Zarathustra, almost certainly derived from zarath = "old" (a Zend stem, parallel to γέροντ) and ustra = "camel." Cf.  J. H. Moulton, op. cit. p426, and, for star-lore in the Avesta, ib. p210.

7 In this clause the word ἐπικλήσεσι is usually taken as equivalent to ὀνόμασι (names). The meaning then would be: "What exists now will exist hereafter under its own present name." Diels would alter ἐπικλήσεσι to περικυκλήσεσι, thus obtaining something very like the Heraclitean union of opposites: "the things which are will continue to be through all their revolutions." But ἐπίκλησις like ἐπικαλεῖσθαι can be used of prayer, and there is some evidence that Avestan religion fully recognized the efficacy of prayers and spells. The testimony of Theopompus, who wrote in the fourth century, to the Zoroastrian doctrine of immortality is regarded by J. H. Moulton as specially important; cf. Early Zoroastrianism, pp177 sq. and 416.

8 This is confirmed by Clement, Strom. I.61, who also repeats (Strom. I.24) the statement that σοφιστήςσοφός.

9 Compare Clem. Alex. Strom. I.59. His authority includes another candidate for admission to the Seven, Acusilaus of Argos, but makes no mention of Pisistratus.

10 See IV.59‑61, where Lacydes is made the founder of the New Academy, although other authorities, e.g. Sext. Emp. Pyrrh. Hyp. I.220, say the Third or New Academy began with Carneades. But the claim of Lacydes is supported by Ind. Acad. pp76.37 sq. Mekler, and the article s.v. in Suidas, which comes from Hesychius.

11 This succession (Pythagoras, Telauges, Xenophanes, Parmenides) does not exactly agree with what is said in the lives of Xenophanes and Parmenides, IX.1821, where Parmenides, not Xenophanes, is made a pupil of the Pythagoreans. The arrangements followed in I.12‑15 treats the Italian school as a true succession, whereas in Book IX many of them are regarded as sporadic thinkers, according to the view expressed in VIII.91.

12 The separation of the followers of Anniceris from the Cyrenaic school was made by the author whom Clement of Alexandria followed in II.130. This author may have been Antiochus of Ascalon. Strabo XVII.837 s. f.º supports the same view: Ἀννίκερις ὁ δοκῶν ἐπανορθῶσαι τὴν Κυρηναϊκὴν αἵρεσιν, καὶ παραγαγεῖν ἀντ’ αὐτῆς τὴν Ἀννικερείαν.

13 Cf. the distinction drawn by Sextus Empiricus in Pyrrh. Hyp. I.16, 17. If by rules for conduct dogmas are implied, then the Pyrrhonians are not a sect, i.e. a dogmatic school.

14 Certainly not the same as the person mentioned by Porphyry in his Life of Plotinus, 9, 11, for Polemo, not Potamo, is the correct form of the name in that place. Potamo is said by Suidas (s.v. Ποτάμων Ἀλ.) to have lived shortly before and contemporary with Augustus, whence it follows that Diogenes has taken without alteration a statement by an earlier writer who might truthfully say "not long ago" of the reign of Augustus. Suidas, whose article αἵρεσις agrees closely with our text, naturally omits πρὸ ὀλίγου.

Thayer's Notes:

a Something is seriously wrong here, even according to the astronomical knowledge of the ancients themselves. In any given year, no fewer than two solar eclipses and two lunar eclipses occur.

For solar eclipses, there is an out: they are seen only over a restricted portion of the earth's surface, and a very restricted one indeed if eclipses detectable by the naked eye are counted, i.e. total or near-total eclipses: so that the number visible in Egypt would be far fewer than two a year. A spot-check for the 3C A.D., which may be taken as the century in which Diogenes Laertius lived, confirms it, showing a total of only 4 solar eclipses visible over modern Egypt: 2 total and 2 annular, and one of those only marginally in the remote southwestern desert. In 48,000 years at that rate, one would expect roughly 1500 to 2000 solar eclipses to have been visible in Egypt, but the figure of those actually seen might be significantly lower for a variety of reasons, the main ones being exact geographical location and cloud cover.

But for lunar eclipses, there is no excuse at all: when a lunar eclipse occurs, it is seen over the entire half of the earth facing the moon, thus on average, one lunar eclipse a year is seen in Egypt, a fact which the ancients themselves knew; and in 48,000 years, that would be 48,000 eclipses.

A number of possible emendations immediately suggest themselves, most of them involving the textual transmission of the numbers, especially considering that behind the Greek numbers there were probably Egyptian numbers; I suspect we have just too little information to work with.

b Manetho, Frag. 82 Waddell.

c "On the Dead Woman": more properly, "The Woman not breathing". Diogenes summarizes the work, and may even be excerpting or paraphrasing parts of it, in Empedocles, VIII.67 ff.; see the editor's notes there.

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