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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.
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Plato

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

Book II

 p257  Chapter 17
Menedemus (fourth century B.C.)

[link to original Greek text] (125) Menedemus belonged to Phaedo's school; he was the son of Clisthenes, a member of the clan called the Theopropidae, of good family, though a builder and a poor man; others say that he was a scene-painter and that Menedemus learnt both trades. Hence, when he had proposed a decree, a certain Alexinius attacked him, declaring that the philosopher was not a proper person to design either a scene or a decree. When Menedemus was dispatched by the Eretrians to Megara on garrison duty, he paid a visit to Plato at the Academy and was so captivated that he abandoned the service of arms. [link to original Greek text] 126 Asclepiades of Phlius drew him away, and he lived at Megara with Stilpo, whose lectures they both attended.  p259 Thence they sailed to Elis, where they joined Anchipylus and Moschus of the school of Phaedo. Down to their time, as was stated in the Life of Phaedo, the school was called the Elian school. Afterwards it was called the Eretrian school, from the city to which my subject belonged.

It would appear that Menedemus was somewhat pompous. Hence Crates burlesques him thus:1

Asclepiades the sage of Phlius and the Eretrian bull;

and Timon as follows:2

A puffing, supercilious purveyor of humbug.

[link to original Greek text] 127 He was a man of such dignity that, when Eurylochus of Casandrea was invited by Antigonus to court along with Cleïppides, a youth of Cyzicus, he declined the invitation, being afraid that Menedemus would hear of it, so caustic and outspoken was he. When a young gallant would have taken liberties with him, he said not a word but picked up a twig and drew an insulting picture on the ground, until all eyes were attracted and the young man, perceiving the insult, made off. When Hierocles, who was in command of the Piraeus, walked up and down with him in the shrine of Amphiaraus, and talked much of the capture of Eretria, he made no other reply beyond asking him what Antigonus's object was in treating him as he did.

[link to original Greek text] 128 To an adulterer who was giving himself airs he said, "Do you not know that, if cabbage has a good flavour, so for that matter has radish?"a Hearing a youth who was very noisy, he said, "See what there is behind you." When Antigonus consulted him as whether he should go to a rout, he sent  p261 a message to say no more than this, that he was the son of a king. When a stupid fellow related something to him with no apparent object, he inquired if he had a farm. And hearing that he had, and that there was a large stock of cattle on it, he said, "Then go and look after them, lest it should happen that they are ruined and a clever farmer thrown away." To one who inquired if the good man ever married, he replied, "Do you think me good or not?" The reply being in the affirmative, he said, "Well, I am married." [link to original Greek text] 129 Of one who affirmed that there were many good things, he inquired how many, and whether he thought there were more than a hundred. Not being able to curb the extravagance of some one who had invited him to dinner, he said nothing when he was invited, but rebuked his host tacitly by confining himself to olives. However, on account of this freedom of speech he was in great peril in Cyprus with his friend Asclepiades when staying at the court of Nicocreon. For when the king held the usual monthly feast and invited these two along with the other philosophers, we are told that Menedemus said that, if the gathering of such men was a good thing, the feast ought to have been held every day; if not, then it was superfluous on the present occasion. [link to original Greek text] 130 The tyrant having replied to this by saying that on this day he had the leisure to hear philosophers, he pressed the point still more stubbornly, declaring, while the feast was going on, that any and every occasion should be employed in listening to philosophers. The consequence was that, if a certain flute-player had not got them away, they would have been put to death. Hence when they were in a storm in the boat  p263 Asclepiades is reported to have said that the flute-player through good playing had proved their salvation when the free speech of Menedemus had been their undoing.

He shirked work, it is said, and was indifferent to the fortunes of his school. At least no order could be seen in his classes, and no circle of benches; but each man would listen where he happened to be, walking or sitting. Menedemus himself behaving in the same way. [link to original Greek text] 131 In other respects he is said to have been nervous and careful of his reputation; so much so that, when Menedemus himself and Asclepiades were helping a man who had formerly been a builder to build a house, whereas Asclepiades appeared stripped on the roof passing the mortar, Menedemus would try to hide himself as often as he saw anyone coming. After he took part in public affairs, he was so nervous that, when offering the frankincense, he would actually miss the censer. And once, when Crates stood about him and attacked him for meddling in politics, he ordered certain men to have Crates locked up. But Crates none the less watched him as he went by and, standing on tiptoe, called him a pocket Agamemnon and Hegesipolis.

[link to original Greek text] 132 He was also in a way rather superstitious. At all events once, when he was at an inn with Asclepiades and had inadvertently eaten some meat which had been thrown away, he turned sick and pale when he learnt the fact, until Asclepiades rebuked him, saying that it was not the meat which disturbed him but merely his suspicion of it. In all other respects he was magnanimous and liberal. In his habit of body, even in old age, he was as firm and sunburnt in appearance as any athlete, being stout and always  p265 in the pink of condition; in stature he was well-proportioned, as may be seen from the statuette in the ancient stadium at Eretria. For it represents him, intentionally no doubt, almost naked, and displays the greater part of his body.

[link to original Greek text] 133 He was fond of entertaining and used to collect numerous parties about him because Eretria was unhealthy; amongst these there would be parties of poets and musicians. He welcomed Aratus also and Lycophron the tragic poet, and Antagoras of Rhodes, but, above all, he applied himself to the study of Homer and, next, the Lyric poets; then to Sophocles, and also to Achaeus, to whom he assigned the second place as a writer of satiric dramas, giving Aeschylus the first. Hence he quoted against his political opponents the following lines:3

Ere long the swift is overtaken by the feeble,

And the eagle by the tortoise,

[link to original Greek text] 134 which are from the Omphale, a satiric drama of Achaeus. Therefore it is a mistake to say that he had read nothing except the Medea of Euripides, which some have asserted to be the work of Neophron of Sicyon.

He despised the teachers of the school of Plato and Xenocrates as well as the Cyrenaic philosopher Paraebates. He had a great admiration for Stilpo; and on one occasion, when he was questioned about him, he made no other answer than that he was a gentleman. Menedemus was difficult to see through, and in making a bargain it was difficult to get the better of him. He would twist and turn in every direction, and he excelled in inventing objections. He was a great contro­versialist, according to Antisthenes  p267 in his Successions of Philosophers. In particular he was fond of using the following argument: "Is the one of two things different from the other? "Yes." "And is conferring benefits different from the good?" "Yes." "Then to confer benefits is not good."

[link to original Greek text] 135 It is said that he disallowed negative propositions, converting them into affirmatives, and of these he admitted simple propositions only, rejecting those which are not simple, I mean hypothetical and complex propositions. Heraclides declares that, although in his doctrines he was a Platonist, yet he made sport of dialectic. So that, when Alexinus once inquired if he had left off beating his father, his answer was, "Why, I was not beating him and have not left off"; and upon Alexinus that he ought to have cleared up the ambiguity by a plain "Yes" or "No," "It would be absurd," he said, "for me to conform to your rules when I can stop you on the threshold." And when Bion persistently ran down the soothsayers, Menedemus said he was slaying the slain.

[link to original Greek text] 136 On hearing some one say that the greatest good was to get all you want, he rejoined, "To want the right things is a far greater good." Antigonus of Carystus asserts that he never wrote or composed anything, and so never held firmly by any doctrine. He adds that in discussing questions he was so pugnacious that he would only retire after he had been badly mauled. And yet, though he was so violent in debate, he was as mild as possible in his conduct. For instance, though he made sport of Alexinus and bantered him cruelly, he was nevertheless very kind to him, for, when his wife was afraid  p269 that on her journey she might be set upon and robbed, he gave her an escort from Delphi to Chalcis.

[link to original Greek text] 137 He was a very warm friend, as is shown by his affection for Asclepiades, which was hardly inferior to the devotion shown by Pylades. But, Asclepiades being the elder, it was said that he was the playwright and Menedemus the actor. They say that once, when Archipolis had given them a cheque for half a talent, they stickled so long over the point as to whose claim came second that neither of them got the money. It is said that they married a mother and her daughter; Asclepiades married the daughter and Menedemus the mother. But after the death of his own wife, Asclepiades took the wife of Menedemus; and afterwards the latter, when he became head of the state, married a rich woman as his second wife. [link to original Greek text] 138 Nevertheless, as they kept one household, Menedemus entrusted his former wife with the care of his establishment. However, Asclepiades died first at a great age at Eretria, having lived with Menedemus economically, though they had ample means. Some time afterwards a favourite of Asclepiades, having come to a party and being refused admittance by the pupils, Menedemus ordered them to admit him, saying that even now, when under the earth, Asclepiades opened the door for him. It was Hipponicus the Macedonian and Agetor of Lamia who were their chief supporters; the one gave each of the two thirty minae, while Hipponicus furnished Menedemus with two thousand drachmae with which to portion his daughters. There were three of them according to Heraclides, his children by a wife who was a native of Oropus.

 p271  [link to original Greek text] 139 He used to give his parties in this fashion: he would breakfast beforehand with two or three friends and stay until it was late in the day. And in the next place some one would summon the guests who had arrived and who had themselves already dined, so that, if anyone came too soon, he would walk up and down and inquire from those who came out of the house what was on the table and what o'clock it was. If then it was only vegetables or salt fish, they would depart; but if there was meat, they would enter the house. In the summer time a rush mat was put upon each couch, in winter time a sheep-skin. The guest brought his own cushion. The loving‑cup which was passed round was no larger than a pint cup. The dessert consisted of lupins or beans, sometimes of ripe fruit such as pears, pomegranates, a kind of pulse, or even dried figs. [link to original Greek text] 140 All of these facts are mentioned by Lycophron in his satiric drama entitled Menedemus, which was composed as a tribute to him. Here is a specimen of it:4

And after a temperate feast the modest cup was passed round with discretion, and their dessert was temperate discourse for such as cared to listen.

At first he was despised, being called a cynic and a humbug by the Eretrians. But afterwards he was greatly admired, so much so that they entrusted him with the government of the state. He was sent as envoy to Ptolemy and to Lysimachus, being honoured wherever he went. He was, moreover, envoy to Demetrius, and he caused the yearly tribute of two hundred talents which the city used to pay Demetrius to be reduced by fifty talents. And when he was accused to Demetrius of intriguing to hand over the city to Ptolemy, he defended  p273 himself in a letter which commences thus: [link to original Greek text] 141 "Menedemus to King Demetrius, greeting. I hear that a report has reached you concerning me." There is a tradition that one Aeschylus who belonged to the opposite party had made these charges against him. He seems to have behaved with the utmost dignity in the embassy to Demetrius on the subject of Oropus, as Euphantus relates in his Histories. Antigonus too was much attached to him and used to proclaim himself his pupil. And when he vanquished the barbarians near the town of Lysimachia, Menedemus moved a decree in his honour in simple terms and free from flattery, beginning thus: [link to original Greek text] 142 "On the motion of the generals and the councillors — Whereas King Antigonus is returning to his own country after vanquishing the barbarians in battle, and whereas in all his undertakings he prospers according to his will, the senate and the people have decreed . . ."

On these grounds, then, and from his friendship for him in other matters, he was suspected of betraying the city to Antigonus, and, being denounced by Aristodemus, withdrew from Eretria and stayed awhile in Oropus in the temple of Amphiaraus. And, because some golden goblets were missing from the temple, he was ordered to depart by a general vote of the Boeotians, as is stated by Hermippus; and thereupon in despair, after a secret visit to his native city, he took with him his wife and daughters and came to the court of Antigonus, where he died of a broken heart.

[link to original Greek text] 143 Heraclides tells quite another story, that he was made councillor of the Eretrians and more than once saved the city from a tyranny by calling in Demetrius — so then he would not be likely to betray the city  p275 to Antigonus, but was made the victim of a false charge; that he betook himself to Antigonus and was anxious to regain freedom for his country; that, as Antigonus would not give way, in despair he put an end to his life by abstaining from food for seven days. The account of Antigonus of Carystus is similar.5 With Persaeus alone he carried on open warfare, for it was thought that, when Antigonus was willing for Menedemus's sake to restore to the Eretrians their democracy, Persaeus prevented him. [link to original Greek text] 144 Hence on one occasion over the wine Menedemus refuted Persaeus in argument and said, amongst other things, "Such he is as a philosopher but, as a man, the worst of all that are alive or to be born hereafter."

According to the statement of Heraclides he died in his seventy-fourth year. I have written the following epigram upon him:6

I heard of your fate, Menedemus, how, of your own free will, you expired by starving yourself for seven days, a deed right worthy of an Eretrian, but unworthy of a man; but despair was your leader and urged you on.

These then are the disciples of Socrates or their immediate successors. We must now pass to Plato, the founder of the Academy, and his successors, so far as they were men of reputation.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Fr. 2 D.

2 Fr. 29 D.

3 Nauck, T. G. F.2, Achaeus, 34.

4 Nauck, T. G. F.2 p818.

5 Antigonus of Carystus (see Introd. p. xxiii) is the older authority, from whom Heraclides (probably Heraclides Lembos, see Introd., p. xxv) directly or indirectly derived his information.

6 Anth. Plan. V.40.


Thayer's Note:

a The reference is to radishing, a punishment inflicted on adulterers, in which a radish is inserted up the anus; it is attested by Aristophanes, The Clouds, 1083.


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Page updated: 15 Feb 18