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Xenocrates

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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Crates

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

Book IV

 p393  Chapter 3
Polemo
(Head of the Academy from 314 to c. 276 B.C.)

[link to original Greek text] 16 Polemo, the son of Philostratus, was an Athenian who belonged to the deme of Oea. In his youth he was so profligate and dissipated that he actually carried about with him money to procure the immediate gratification of his desires, and would even keep sums concealed in lanes and alleys.1 Even in the Academy a piece of three obols was found close to a pillar, where he had buried it for the same purpose. And one day, by agreement with his young friends, he burst into the school of Xenocrates quite drunk, with a garland on his head. Xenocrates, however, without being at all disturbed, went on with his discourse as before, the subject being temperance. The lad, as he listened, by degrees was taken in the toils. He became so industrious  p395 as to surpass all the other scholars, and rose to be himself head of the school in the 116th Olympiad.2

[link to original Greek text] 17 Antigonus of Carystus in his Biographies says that his father was foremost among the citizens and kept horses to compete in the chariot-race; that Polemo himself had been defendant in an action brought by his wife, who charged him with cruelty owing to the irregularities of his life; but that, from the time when he began to study philosophy, he acquired such strength of character as always to maintain the same unruffled calm of demeanour. Nay more, he never lost control of his voice. This in fact accounts for the fascination which he exercised over Crantor.3 Certain it is that, when a mad dog bit him in the back of his thigh, he did not even turn pale, but remained undisturbed by all the clamour which arose in the city at the news of what had happened. In the theatre too he was singularly unmoved. [link to original Greek text] 18 For instance, Nicostratus, who was nicknamed Clytemnestra, was once reading to him and Crates something from Homer; and, while Crates was deeply affected, he was no more moved than if he had not heard him. Altogether he was a man such as Melanthius the painter describes in his work On Painting. There he says that a certain wilfulness and stubbornness should be stamped on works of art, and that the same holds good of character. Polemo used to say that we should exercise ourselves with facts and not with mere logical speculations, which leave us, like a man who has got by heart some paltry handbook on harmony but never practised, able, indeed, to win admiration for skill in asking questions, but utterly at variance with ourselves in the ordering of our lives.

 p397  He was, therefore, refined and generous, and would beg to be excused, in the words of Aristophanes about Euripides, the "acid, pungent style," [link to original Greek text] 19 which, as the same author says, is "strong seasoning for meat when it is high."4 Further, he would not, they say, even sit down to deal with the themes of his pupils, but would argue walking up and down. It was, then, for his love of what is noble that he was honoured in the state. Nevertheless would he withdraw from society5 and confine himself to the Garden of the Academy, while close by his scholars made themselves little huts and lived not far from the shrine of the Muses and the lecture-hall. It would seem that in all respects Polemo emulated Xenocrates. And Aristippus in the fourth book of his work On the Luxury of the Ancients affirms him to have been his favourite. Certainly he always kept his predecessor before his mind and, like him, wore that simple austere dignity which is proper to the Dorian mode. [link to original Greek text] 20 He loved Sophocles, particularly in those passages where it seemed as if, in the phrase of the comic poet,

A stout Molossian mastiff lent him aid,

and where the poet was, in the words of Phrynichus,6

Nor must, nor blended vintage, but true Pramnian.

He died at an advanced age of gradual decay, leaving behind him a considerable number of works. I have composed the following epigram upon him:7

Dest thou not hear? We have buried Polemo, laid here by that fatal scourge of wasted strength. Yet not Polemo,  p399 but merely his body, which on his way to the stars he left to moulder in the ground.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Cf. Lucian's account of his follies (Bis accusatus, 16), the more piquant because put into the mouth of Academy pleading against Carouse, Μέθη.

2 316‑312 B.C.

3 Cf. infra, § 24.

4 Frag. 180 Dind.

5 Cf. supra, I. § 112 note.

6 Meineke, C. G. F. II.605.

7 Anth. Plan. II.380.


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