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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.

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

Book IV

 p405  Chapter 6
Arcesilaus (c. 318‑242 B.C.)

[link to original Greek text] 28 Arcesilaus, the son of Seuthes, according to Apollodorus in the third book of his Chronology, came from Pitane in Aeolis. With him begins the Middle Academy; he was the first to suspend his judgment owing to the contradictions of opposing arguments. He was also the first to argue on both sides of a question, and the first to meddle with the system handed down by Plato and, by means of question and answer, to make it more closely resemble eristic.  p407 He came across Crantor in this way. He was the youngest of four brothers, two of them being his brothers by the same father, and two by the same mother. Of the last two Pylades was the elder, and of the former two Moereas, and Moereas was his guardian. [link to original Greek text] 29 At first, before he left Pitane for Athens, he was a pupil of the mathematician Autolycus, his fellow-countryman, and with him he also travelled to Sardis. Next he studied under Xanthus, the musician, of Athens; then he was a pupil of Theophrastus. Lastly, he crossed over to the Academy and joined Crantor. For while his brother Moereas, who has already been mentioned, wanted to make him a rhetorician, he was himself devoted to philosophy, and Crantor, being enamoured of him, cited the line from the Andromeda of Euripides:1

O maiden, if I save thee, wilt thou be grateful to me?

and was answered with the next line:2

Take me, stranger, whether for maidservant or for wife.

[link to original Greek text] 30 After that they lived together. Whereupon Theophrastus, nettled at his loss, is said to have remarked, "What a quick-witted and ready pupil has left my school!" For, besides being most effective in argument and decidedly fond of writing books, he also took up poetry. And there is extant an epigram of his upon Attalus which runs thus:3

Pergamos, not famous in arms alone, is often celebrated for its steeds in divine Pisa. And if a mortal may make bold to utter the will of heaven, it will be much more sung by bards in days to come.

 p409  And again upon Menodorus, the favourite of Eugamus, one of his fellow-students:4

[link to original Greek text] 31 Far, far away are Phrygia and sacred Thyatira, thy native land, Menodorus, son of Cadanus. But to unspeakable Acheron the ways are equal, from whatever place they be measured, as the proverb saith. To thee Eugamus raised this far‑seen monument, for thou wert dearest to him of all who for him toiled.

He esteemed Homer above all the poets and would always read a passage from him before going to sleep. And in the morning he would say, whenever he wanted to read Homer, that he would pay a visit to his dear love. Pindar too he declared matchless for imparting fullness of diction and for affording a copious store of words and phrases. And in his youth he made a special study of Ion.

[link to original Greek text] 32 He also attended the lectures of the geometer Hipponicus, at whom he pointed a jest as one who was in all besides a listless, yawning sluggard but yetproficient in his subject. "Geometry," he said, "must have flown into his mouth while it was agape." When this man's mind gave way, Arcesilaus took him to his house and nursed him until he was completely restored. He took over the school on the death of Crates, a certain Socratides having retired in his favour. According to some, one result of his suspending judgement on all matters was that he never so much as wrote a book.​5 Others relate that he was caught revising some works of Crantor, which according to some he published, according to others he burnt. He would seem to have held Plato in admiration, and he possessed a copy of his works. [link to original Greek text] 33 Some represent him as emulous of Pyrrho as well. He was devoted to dialectic and adopted the methods  p411 of argument introduced by the Eretrian school. On account of this Ariston said of him:

Plato the head of him, Pyrrho the tail, midway Diodorus.​6

And Timon speaks of him thus:7

Having the lead of Menedemus at his heart, he will run either to that mass of flesh, Pyrrho, or to Diodorus.

And a little farther on he introduces him as saying:

I shall swim to Pyrrho and to crooked Diodorus.

He was highly axiomatic and concise, and in his discourse fond of distinguishing the meaning of terms. He was satirical enough, and outspoken. [link to original Greek text] 34 This is why Timon speaks of him again as follows:

And mixing sound sense with wily cavils.​8

Hence, when a young man talked more boldly than was becoming, Arcesilaus exclaimed, "Will no one beat him at a game of knuckle-bone?" Again, when some one of immodest life denied that one thing seemed to him greater than another, he rejoined, "Then six inches and ten inches are all the same to you?" There was a certain Hemon, a Chian, who, though ugly, fancied himself to be handsome, and always went about in fine clothes. He having propounded as his opinion that the wise man will never fall in love, Arcesilaus replied, "What, not with one so handsome as you and so handsomely dressed?" And when one of loose life,​a to imply that Arcesilaus was arrogant, addressed him thus:9

p413 [link to original Greek text] 35 Queen, may I speak, or must I silence keep?

his reply was:10

Woman, why talk so harshly, not as thou art wont?

When some talkative person of no family caused him considerable trouble, he cited the line:11

Right ill to live with are the sons of slaves.

Of another who talked much nonsense he said that he could not have had even a nurse to scold him. And some persons he would not so much as answer. To a money-lending student, upon his confessing ignorance of something or other, Arcesilaus replied with two lines from the Oenomaus of Sophocles:12

Be sure the hen‑bird knows not from what quarter the wind blows until she looks for a new brood in the nest.​13

[link to original Greek text] 36 A certain dialectic, a follower of Alexinus, was unable to repeat properly some argument of his teacher, whereupon Arcesilaus reminded him of the story of Philoxenus and the brickmakers. He found them singing some of his melodies out of tune; so he retaliated by trampling on the bricks they were making, saying, "If you spoil my work, I'll spoil yours." He was, moreover, genuinely annoyed with any who took up their studies too late. By some natural impulse he was betrayed into using such phrases as "I assert," and "So‑and‑so" (mentioning the name) "will not assent to this."​14 And this trait  p415 many of his pupils imitated, as they did also his style of speaking and his whole address.

[link to original Greek text] 37 Very fertile in invention, he could meet objection acutely or bring the course of discussion back to the point at issue, and fit it to every occasion. In persuasiveness he had no equal, and this all the more drew pupils to the school, although they were in terror of his pungent wit. But they willingly put up with that; for his goodness was extraordinary, and he inspired his pupils with hopes. He showed the greatest generosity in private life, being ever ready to confer benefits, yet most modestly anxious to conceal the favour. For instance, he once called upon Ctesibius when he was ill and, seeing in what straits he was, quietly put a purse under his pillow. He, when he found it, said, "This is the joke of Arcesilaus." Moreover, on another occasion, he sent him 1000 drachmas.

[link to original Greek text] 38 Again, by introducing Archias the Arcadian to Eumenes, he caused him to be advanced to great dignity. And, as he was very liberal, caring very little for money, so he was the first to attend performances where seats were paid for, and he was above all eager to go to those of Archecrates and Callicrates, for which the fee was a gold piece. And he helped many people and collected subscriptions for them. Some one once borrowed his silver plate in order to entertain friends and never brought it back, but Arcesilaus did not ask him for it and pretended it had not been borrowed. Another version of the story is that he lent it on purpose, and, when it was returned, made the borrower a present of it because he was poor. He had property in Pitane from which his brother Pylades sent him supplies. Furthermore, Eumenes,  p417 the son of Philetaerus, furnished him with large sums, and for this reason Eumenes was the only one of the contemporary kings to whom he dedicated any of his works.

[link to original Greek text] 39 And whereas many persons courted Antigonus and went to meet him, whenever he came to Athens, Arcesilaus remained at home, not wishing to thrust himself upon his acquaintance. He was on the best of terms with Hierocles, the commandant in Munichia and Piraeus, and at every festival would go down to see him. And though Hierocles joined in urging him to pay his respects to Antigonus, he was not prevailed upon, but, after going as far as the gates, turned back. And after the battle at sea,​15 when many went to Antigonus or wrote him flattering letters, he held his peace. However, on behalf of his native city, he did go to Demetrias as envoy to Antigonus, but failed in his mission. He spent his time wholly in the Academy, shunning politics.

[link to original Greek text] 40 Once indeed, when at Athens, he stopped too long in the Piraeus, discussing themes, out of friendship for Hierocles, and for this he was censured by certain persons.​16 He was very lavish, in short another Aristippus, and he was fond of dining well, but only with those who shared his tastes. He lived openly with Theodete and Phila, the Elean courtesans, and to those who censured him he quoted the maxims of Aristippus. He was also fond of boys and very susceptible. Hence he was accused by Ariston of  p419 Chios, the Stoic, and his followers, who called him a corrupter of youth and a shameless teacher of immorality. [link to original Greek text] 41 He is said to have been particularly enamoured of Demetrius who sailed to Cyrene, and of Cleochares of Myrlea; of him the story is told that, when a band of revellers came to the door, he told them that for his part he was willing to admit them but that Cleochares would not let him. This same youth had amongst his admirers Demochares the son of Laches, and Pythocles the son of Bugelus, and once when Arcesilaus had caught them, with great forbearance he ordered them off. For all this he was assailed and ridiculed by the critics above-mentioned, as a friend of the mob who courted popularity. The most virulent attacks were made upon him in the circle of Hieronymus the Peripatetic,​17 whenever he collected his friends to keep the birthday of Halcyoneus, son of Antigonus, an occasion for which Antigonus used to send large sums of money to be spent in merrymaking. [link to original Greek text] 42 There he had always shunned discussion over the wine; and when Aridices, proposing a certain question, requested him to speak upon it, he replied, "The peculiar province of philosophy is just this, to know that there is a time for all things." As to the charge brought against him that he was the friend of the mob, Timon, among many other things, has the following:18

So saying, he plunged into the surrounding crowd. And they were amazed at him, like chaffinches about an owl, pointing him out as vain, because he was a flatterer of the mob. And why, insignificant thing that you are, do you puff yourself out like a simpleton?​19

And yet for all that he was modest enough to  p421 recommend his pupils to hear other philosophers. And when a certain youth from Chios was not well pleased with his lectures and preferred those of the above-mentioned Hieronymus, Arcesilaus himself took him and introduced him to that philosopher, with an injunction to behave well.

[link to original Greek text] 43 Another pleasant story told of him is this. Some one had inquired why it was that pupils from all the other schools went over to Epicurus, but converts were never made from the Epicureans: "Because men may become eunuchs, but a eunuch never becomes a man," was his answer.

At last, being near his end, he left all his property to his brother Pylades, because, unknown to Moereas, he had taken him to Chios and thence brought him to Athens. In all his life he never married nor had any children. He made three wills: the first he left at Eretria in the charge of Amphicritus, the second at Athens in the charge of certain friends, while the third he dispatched to his home to Thaumasias, one of his relatives, with the request that he would keep it safe. To this man he also wrote as follows:

"Arcesilaus to Thaumasias greeting.

[link to original Greek text] 44 I have given Diogenes my will to be conveyed to you. For, owing to my frequent illnesses and the weak state of my body, I decided to make a will, in order that, if anything untoward should happen, you, who have been so devotedly attached to me, should not suffer by my decease. You are the most deserving of all those in this place to be entrusted with the will, on the score both of age and of relation­ship to me. Remember then that I have reposed the most absolute confidence in you, and strive to  p423 deal justly by me, in order that, so far as you are concerned, the provisions I have made may be carried out with fitting dignity. A copy is deposited at Athens with some of my acquaintance, and another in Eretria with Amphicritus."

He died, according to Hermippus, through drinking too freely of unmixed wine which affected his reason; he was already seventy-five and regarded by the Athenians with unparalleled good-will.

[link to original Greek text] 45 I have written upon him as follows:20

Why, pray, Arcesilaus, didst though quaff so unsparingly unmixed wine as to go out of thy mind? I pity thee not so much for thy death as because thou didst insult the Muses by immoderate potations.

Three other men have borne the name of Arcesilaus: a poet of the Old Comedy, another poet who wrote elegies, and a sculptor besides, on whom Simonides composed this epigram:21

This is a statue of Artemis and its cost two hundred Parian drachmas, which bear a goat for their device. It was made by Arcesilaus, the worthy son of Aristodicus, well practised in the arts of Athena.

According to Apollodorus in his Chronology, the philosopher described in the foregoing flourished about the 120th Olympiad.22

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Nauck, T. G. F.2, Eur. 129.

2 Ib. 132.

3 Anth. Plan. III.56.

4 Anth. Plan. II.382.

5 If this be so, the study of the poet Ion (§31) must have remained unpublished.

6 A parody of Homer, Il. VI.181: a chimaera has a lion's front, a dragon's tail, and the body of a goat.

7 Cf. Hom. Od. V.346.

8 Or possibly with Wachsmuth: "mixing jest in wily fashion (αἱμυλίως) with abuse."

9 Nauck, T. G. F.2, Adesp. 282.

10 Nauck, T. G. F.2, Adesp. 283; cf. Wilam. Antiq. v. Kar p74.

11 Nauck, T. G. F.2, Eur. 976.

12 Nauck, T. G. F.2, Soph. 436.

13 "Men pay little heed to obvious facts except when their own interests are concerned." So A. C. Pearson, ad loc., Soph. Fragments, 477 (vol. II p130), who takes διέξοδοι in the more specific sense: "passage of the winds (through her body)," the reference being to the old fable of the wind‑egg (Aristoph. Aves, 695, Aristot. Hist. An. VI.2, 560a6). To the usurer τόκος would suggest interest on loans.

14 The use of these phrases was inconsistent with the suspension of judgement professed by Arcesilaus.

15 The reference may be to one of the naval victories gained by Antigonus over the Egyptian fleet towards the end of his reign, at Cos and again at Andros. See W. W. Tarn, Antigonus Gonatas, pp378, 461‑6.

16 It has been suggested that the sense would be improved if Ἀθήνησι were transposed to come between τὸν and πολιτισμὸν, adding καὶ πρὸς τὰς θέσεις λέγων after πολιτισμὸν ἐκτοπίζων instead of after Πειραιεῖ. This account seems in some respects to confirm the impression conveyed by the sentence a little higher up, beginning Ἀντίγονον . . . ἑκάστοτε.

17 οἱ περὶ Ἱερώνυμον τὸν Περιπατητικόν is said by Stephanus to be a marginal gloss. The reading of the MSS. is παρὰ Ἱερωνύμῳ τῷ Π.

18 Cf. infra, V.59.º

19 Frag. 34 D. Cf. the rhythm, Hom. Il. I.326 and IV.482.

20 Anth. Pal. VII.104.

21 Anth. Plan. III.9.

22 300‑296 B.C.

Thayer's Note:

a παρακίναιδος, which appears to be a ἅπαξ: a derivative of κίναιδοςcatamite. The prefix παρὰ often means (1) "like", as in our paramilitary, but is sometimes (2) an intensive. Corresponding to (1), Michael Hendry has suggested "quasi-catamite", which fits the context nicely; a guess corresponding to (2) would be "a man addicted to the passive rôle in sodomy", "a notorious catamite", etc.

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