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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.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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

Book VII

 p273  Chapter 5
Cleanthes (331‑232 B.C.)

[link to original Greek text] 168 Cleanthes, son of Phanias, was a native of Assos. This man, says Antisthenes in his Successions of Philosophers, was at first a pugilist. He arrived in Athens, as some people say, with four drachmas only, and meeting with Zeno he studied philosophy right nobly and adhered to the same doctrines throughout. He was renowned for his industry, being indeed driven by extreme poverty to work for a living. Thus, while by night he used to draw water in gardens, by day he exercised himself in arguments: hence the nickname Phreantles or Well-lifter was given judgment. He is said to have been brought into court to answer the inquiry how so sturdy a fellow as he made his living, and then to have been acquitted on producing as his witnesses the gardener in whose garden he drew water [link to original Greek text] 169 and the woman who sold the meal which he used to crush. The Areopagites were satisfied and voted him a  p275 donation of ten minas, which Zeno forbade him to accept. We are also told that Antigonus made him a present of three thousand drachmas. Once, as he was conducting some youths to a public spectacle, the wind blew his cloak aside and disclosed the fact that he wore no shirt, whereupon he was applauded by the Athenians, as is stated by Demetrius of Magnesia in his work on Men of the Same Name. This then also increased the admiration felt for him. There is another story that Antigonus when attending his lectures inquired of him why he drew water and received the reply, "Is drawing water all I do? What? Do I not dig? What? Do I not water the garden? or undertake any other labour for the love of philosophy?" For Zeno used to discipline him to this and bid him return him an obol from his wages.​1 [link to original Greek text] 170 And one day he produced a handful of small coin before his acquaintance and said, "Cleanthes could even maintain a second Cleanthes, if he liked, whereas those who possess the means to keep themselves yet seek to live at the expense of others, and that too though they have plenty of time to spare from their studies." Hence Cleanthes was called a second Heracles. He had industry, but no natural aptitude for physics, and was extraordinarily slow. On which account Timon describes him thus:2

Who is this that like a bell-wether ranges over the ranks of men, a dullard, lover of verse, hailing from Assos,​3 a mass of rock, unventuresome.

And he used to put up with gibes from his fellow-pupils and did not mind being called the ass, telling  p277 them that he alone was strong enough to carry the load of Zeno. [link to original Greek text] 171 Once when he was reproached with cowardice, he replied, "That is why I so seldom go wrong." Again, when extolling his own manner of life above that of the wealthy, he used to say that, while they were playing at ball, he was at work digging hard and barren ground. He would often find fault with himself too, and one day when Ariston heard him doing this and asked, "Who is it you are scolding so?" he, laughing, said, "An old man with grey hairs and no wits." To some one who declared that Arcesilaus did not do what he ought, his reply was, "No more of this; do not censure him. For if by his words he does away with duty, he maintains it at all events by his deeds." And Arcesilaus rejoined, "I am not to be won by flattery." Whereupon Cleanthes said, "True, but my flattery consists in alleging that your theory is incompatible with your practice."

[link to original Greek text] 172 When some one inquired of him what lesson he ought to give his son, Cleanthes in reply quoted words from the Electra:

Silence, silence, light be thy step.​4

A Lacedaemonian having declared that toil was a good thing, he was overjoyed and said,

Thou art of gentle blood, dear child.​5

Hecato in his Personal Anecdotes reports that when a good-looking young man said, "If a man who slaps himself on the stomach does a 'belly-thump', so also a man who slaps himself on the thighs does a 'thigh‑thump'." Cleanthes said, "You go ahead, have your thigh-thumpings, young man — but parallel words don't always have parallel meanings."a Once in conversation with a youth he put the question, "Do you see?" and when the  p279 youth nodded assent, he went on, "Why, then, don't I see that you see?"

[link to original Greek text] 173 He was present in the theatre when the poet Sositheus uttered the verse —

Driven by Cleanthes' folly like dumb herds,​6

and he remained unmoved in the same attitude. At which the audience were so astonished that they applauded him and drove Sositheus off the stage. Afterwards when the poet apologized for the insult, he accepted the apology, saying that, when Dionysus and Heracles were ridiculed by the poets without getting angry, it would be absurd for him to be annoyed at casual abuse. He used to say that the Peripatetics were in the same case as lyres which, although they give forth sweet sounds, never hear themselves. It is said that when he laid it down as Zeno's opinion that a man's character could be known from his looks, certain witty young men brought before him a rake with hands horny from toil in the country and requested him to state what the man's character was. Cleanthes was perplexed and ordered the man to go away: but when, as he was making off, he sneezed, "I have it," cried Cleanthes," he is effeminate." [link to original Greek text] 174 To the solitary man who talked to himself he remarked, "You are not talking to a bad man." When some one twitted him on his old age, his reply was, "I too am ready to depart; but when again I consider that I am in all points in good health and that I can still write and read, I am content to wait." We are told that he wrote down Zeno's lectures on oyster-shells and the blade-bones of oxen through lack of money to buy paper.​b Such was he; and yet, although Zeno  p281 had many other eminent disciples, he was able to succeed him in the headship of the school.

He has left some very fine writings, which are as follows:

Of Time.

Of Zeno's Natural Philosophy, two books.

Interpretation of Heraclitus, four books.

De Sensu.

Of Art.

A Reply to Democritus.

A Reply to Aristarchus.

A Reply to Herillus.

Of Impulse, two books.

[link to original Greek text] 175 Antiquities.

Of the Gods.

Of Giants.

Of Marriage.

On Homer.

Of Duty, three books.

Of Good Counsel.

Of Gratitude.

An Exhortation.

Of the Virtues.

Of Natural Ability.

Of Gorgippus.

Of Envy.

Of Love.

Of Freedom.

The Art of Love.

Of Honour.

Of Fame.

The Statesman.

Of Deliberation.

Of Laws.

 p283  Of Litigation.

Of Education.

Of Logic, three books.

Of the End.

Of Beauty.

Of Conduct.

Of Knowledge.

Of Kingship.

Of Friendship.

On the Banquet.

On the Thesis that Virtue is the same in Man and in Woman.

On the Wise Man turning Sophist.

Of Usages.

Lectures, two books.

Of Pleasure.

On Properties.

On Insoluble Problems.

Of Dialectic.

Of Moods or Tropes.

Of Predicates.

This, then, is the list of his works.

[link to original Greek text] 176 His end was as follows. He had severe inflammation of the gums, and by the advice of his doctors he abstained from food for two whole days. As it happened, this treatment succeeded, so that the doctors were for allowing him to resume his usual diet. To this, however, he would not consent, but declaring that he had already got too far on the road, he went on fasting the rest of his days until his death at the same age as Zeno according to some authorities, having spent nineteen years as Zeno's pupil.

My lighter verse​7 on him runs thus:

 p285  I praise Cleanthes, but praise Hades more,

Who could not bear to see him grown so old,

So gave him rest at last among the dead,

Who'd drawn such load of water while alive.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 A slave allowed by his master to hire himself out to another master was bound by Attic law to refund to his own master a part (ἀποφορά) of the wages he received. Zeno claimed a part of his pupil's earnings.

2 Frag. 41 D.

3 Diels' reading λίθος gives the line a far better rhythm.

4 Eur. El. 140.

5 Hom. Od. IV.611.

6 Nauck, T. G. F.2, p823.

7 Anth. Plan. V.36.

Thayer's Notes:

a My translation. The Loeb editor — not quite right to call him a translator here — prints

Dicit autem Hecato in Sententiis eum, cum adulescens quidam formosus dixisset, Si pulsans ventrem ventrizat, pulsans coxas coxizat, dixisse, Tibi habeas, adulescens, coxizationes: nempe vocabula quae conveniunt analogia non semper etiam significatione conveniunt.

which is copied with slight changes from any one of several 17c Latin translations of Diogenes.

The passage turns on the three words that I've translated using the verb "to thump", where the Greek literally rendered has 'to stomach himself' (γαστρίζειν), 'to thigh himself' (μηρίζειν), and 'between-the‑thighings' (διαμηρισμοί): as in English, to speak of thumping yourself on the stomach is perfectly acceptable, but the same verb transposed elsewhere is not, because of its use in sexual cant. That Gilles Ménage († 1692) and others long ago concluded that μηρίζειν was just such a word, I find in a note (V.603) in Hemsterhuis and Reitz's 1790 edition of Lucian of Samosata (to Amores, 53).

Amusingly, the Latin is not only not quite accurate — μηροί, thighs, being translated as coxae, hips — but slightly bowdlerized: coxizationes is "hippings"; it should be interfemorizationes, which makes it all too clear. (Despite my best efforts, this Latin had me briefly turned around, so to speak: I am indebted to Michael Gilleland — who follows up with a good deal of spadework on the passage and more recent citations on ancient sexual practices — for setting me straight.)

b χαρτίον. As Dard Hunter would say, not true paper: properly, papyrus, a different material altogether. A small anachronism in the translation.

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Page updated: 16 Feb 18